RIP Bobby “Blue” Bland
I was amazed on the morning of Monday, June 24 to hear of the death of one of my heroes, the American blues, r ‘n’ b and soul singer Bobby “Blue” Bland. I wasn’t surprised that the great man had died – he was 83 – but what was not expected was that the news was delivered to me on a bulletin on Radio 4’s Today programme.
This was belated recognition for a performer who I’d always regarded as one for the insider, the r ‘n’ b buff. Despite a career lasting more than 60 years – a pal of mine was due to see Bobby perform in Las Vegas earlier this year, but ill-health caused him to cancel the gig – Bobby was something of a lost treasure. I hope his death brings his amazing body of work to a new audience.
Although he started making records in the early 1950s, his first major US hit was in 1957 with Further Up The Road, which made No 1 on the R ‘n’ B charts. but Bobby was not really a hits machine. He last appeared high on the singles listings in 1974 with I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me), a single I’m delighted to own.
What links these hits, and all his great recordings, is the way his voice is used as an instrument that complements the brilliant musicians that he recorded with.
My favourite period for Bobby is the mid-1950s until the late 1960s, when he recorded for the Houston-based Duke label. His work on MCA in the 1970s is almost as essential and even his mature output for the Malaco label in the 1980s and beyond produced some great readings of new soul tunes and very familiar titles like In The Ghetto.
Bobby was hugely influential on black performers and white “soul boys” artists like Van Morrison and Rod Stewart. Van starts his astonishing live double LP It’s Too Late To Stop Now with a version of Bobby’s Ain’t Nothing You Can Do and Bobby’s seminal His California Album from 1973 clearly influenced Rod’s Atlantic Crossing album two years later. Check out their respective versions of It’s Not The Spotlight on the links here.
I saw Bobby “Blue” Bland only once, about 15 or more years ago, when, he guested on a Van Morrison bill at the Royal Albert Hall. As he was already in his late 60s, the raw power of years before was gone, but I saw a man with huge stage presence, charisma, massive musicality and still a great voice. On the news of his death, I checked how many of Bobby Bland’s recordings I have on iTunes; it’s way over 150. If you don’t know the man’s work, treat yourself to a voyage of discovery.
Try this for starters. The title itself sums up this immense talent: Ask Me ‘Bout Nothing (But The Blues)
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