Bobby “Blue” Bland died on June 23, 2013 at the age of 83. He was a distinctive vocalist who blended Southern blues, r’n’b and soul on 28 studio albums and in songs such as Turn on Your Love Light and Further On Up the Road. He died from an ongoing illness at his Memphis home surrounded by relatives.
Bland was born Robert Calvin Brooks on January 27, 1930 in Rosemark, Tennessee. His father left the family home when he was an infant and the name Bland came from his stepfather. Bobby Bland never went to school, and remained illiterate throughout his life.
Between 1950 and 1952, he recorded unsuccessful singles for Modern Records and, at Ike Turner's suggestion, for Sun Records — who licensed their recordings to the Chess label — before signing for Duke Records. Bland then spent two years in the Army. When the singer returned to Memphis in 1954 he found several of his former associates, including Johnny Ace, enjoying considerable success. He joined Ace's revue, and returned to Duke Records, which by that time had started to be run by Houston entrepreneur Don Robey.
His final R&B no.1 came with That's The Way Love Is in 1963. However, he continued to enjoy a consistent run of R&B chart entries throughout the mid-1960s. Never truly breaking into the mainstream market, Bland's highest charting song on the pop chart, Ain't Nothing You Can Do peaked at #20 in the same week in 1964 that the Beatles held down the top five spots. Bland's records mostly sold on the R&B market rather than achieving crossover success. He had 23 Top Ten hits on the Billboard R&B charts.
Financial pressures forced the singer to cut his touring band and in 1968 the group broke up. He suffered from depression and became increasingly dependent on alcohol, but stopped drinking in 1971. His record company Duke Records was sold by owner Don Robey to the larger ABC Records group. This resulted in several successful and critically acclaimed contemporary blues/soul albums including His California Album and Dreamer, arranged by Michael Omartian and produced by ABC staff man Steve Barri. The rest of the 70s were spent trying to expand his fan based with more pop efforts and even disco inflections at time. The 80s marked a return to his roots.
In 1985, Bland was signed by Malaco Records, specialists in traditional Southern black music for whom he made a series of albums while continuing to tour and appear at concerts with fellow blues singer B. B. King. The two had collaborated for two albums in the 1970s. Despite occasional age-related ill health, Bland continued to record new albums for Malaco and perform occasional tours alone, with guitarist/producer Angelo Earl and also with B.B. King, plus appearances at blues and soul festivals worldwide. Bland was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame described him as "second in stature only to B. B. King as a product of Memphis's Beale Street blues scene". Bland was also inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981 and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.
Van and Bobby Bland
Bobby worked with a lot of artists but Van was probably one of the earliest artists to pick up Bland’s music. In the early 1960s he covered Turn On Your Love Light with Them. He later covered Bland’s Ain't Nothing You Can't Do on Van’s 1974 live album It's Too Late to Stop Now. Van has worked with Bland in concert when he has brought Bland on as a guest singer. He also included a previously unreleased version of a March 2000 duet of Morrison and Bland singing "Tupelo Honey" on his 2007 compilation album, The Best of Van Morrison Volume 3. A tribute to Bobby Bland was quickly put up on Van’s website after Bland’s death.
Mang - Blues is literally dying off in America. I remember when Bobby played this hole-in-the-wall bar in my neighbourhood. Hardly anybody under the age of 40 was there aside from me. He was about 65 at that point…
Mostincredible - I grew up listening to Bobby Blue Bland, my grandfather would play the cassettes in the car everyday all day. Blues played in the garage all summer.
Bob Everett - I saw Mr. Bland a number of times. My favourite event was at Radio City Music Hall in the late 1970s when he appeared with B.B. King. Also on the bill were Albert King and Muddy Waters. It was a great show and probably the best I ever saw. I also love the two albums, (especially the second, ‘Together Again Live’), that Bobby did with B.B. King. Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland was a great singer. His tunes remain ingrained in my memory. He will be sorely missed.
Jay Greene - Yeah our blues/soul men are steady passing away. I remember my mom, dad, and aunt would go see Bobby, Johnnie, and Stevie Ray at some hole in a wall every time we’d visit my aunt in Houston. My aunt would act like the old woman at the Apollo.a_protohominid - Bummer. I do love the great old bluesmen. So few of these national treasures left.
Vibrissae - No! I loved BBB! What a silky smooth blues that man sang. No forgetting him, ever!Spitbull - Oh my. One of the mightiest of his era. Gonna recommend Charles Keil's 1964 book Urban Blues, which has a delicious description of a BBB club show in it.
Jonmc - RIP to one of the truly great ones. Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City, is a true masterpiece.Bukvich - On the intro to his Further on up the Road I swear Clapton says "Bobby Blue band" but the song sounds pretty great.
Esteemed Offendi - When I was a student in Chicago there was a late night public radio program which had Bland's Love to See You Smile as the theme...always made pulling an all-nighter more pleasurable.Biscotti - Little Boy Blue. The range of texture and sound he could get out of his voice. Starts out all croony and controlled, gets awesomely screamy (and very modern-sounding), then back to croony. Amazing control. I hadn't really listened to him before, happened to hear that track on a tribute on the radio, now I have some new-to-me blues to listen to. I'll be in my bunk.