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Bobby Bland
Bobby Blue Bland.jpg
Background information
Birth name Robert Calvin Brooks
Also known as Bobby "Blue" Bland
Born (1930-01-27)January 27, 1930
Barretville, Tennessee, U.S.
Died June 23, 2013(2013-06-23) (aged 83)
Germantown, Tennessee, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)
Instruments Vocals
Labels
  • Duke
  • ABC
  • MCA
  • Malaco
Associated acts

Robert Calvin Bland (born Robert Calvin Brooks; January 27, 1930 – June 23, 2013), known professionally as Bobby "Blue" Bland, was an American blues singer.

Bland developed a sound that mixed gospel with the blues and R&B. He was described as "among the great storytellers of blues and soul music... [who] created tempestuous arias of love, betrayal and resignation, set against roiling, dramatic orchestrations, and left the listener drained but awed." He was sometimes referred to as the "Lion of the Blues" and as the "Sinatra of the Blues". His music was also influenced by Nat King Cole.

Bland was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2012. He received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. 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".

Life and career

Early life

Bland was born Robert Calvin Brooks in the small town of Barretville, Tennessee. His father, I. J. Brooks, abandoned the family not long after Robert's birth. Robert later acquired the name "Bland" from his stepfather, Leroy Bridgeforth, who was also called Leroy Bland. Robert dropped out of school in third grade to work in the cotton fields and never graduated from school.

With his mother, Bland moved to Memphis in 1947, where he started singing with local gospel groups, including the Miniatures. Eager to expand his interests, he began frequenting the city's famous Beale Street, where he became associated with a circle of aspiring musicians, including B.B. King, Rosco Gordon, Junior Parker and Johnny Ace, who collectively were known as the Beale Streeters.

Early career

In 1951, talent scout Ike Turner recorded Bland for Modern Records at Tuff Green's house in Memphis. Because Bland was illiterate, they first recorded the one song he knew, "They Call It Stormy Monday." While the recording was never released, Bland later recorded the song in 1961, which became one of his hit singles. Turner backed Bland on piano for his first two records which were released under the name Robert Bland. Between 1951 and 1952, Bland recorded commercially unsuccessful singles for Modern and Sun Records (which licensed its recordings to Chess Records). However, these records caught the attention of Duke Records. Bland's recordings from the early 1950s show him striving for individuality, but his progress was halted for two years while he served in the U.S. Army, during which time he performed in a band with the singer Eddie Fisher.

When Bland returned to Memphis in 1954, several of his former associates, including Johnny Ace, were enjoying considerable success. He joined Ace's revue and returned to Duke Records, which was then being run by the Houston entrepreneur Don Robey. According to his biographer Charles Farley, "Robey handed Bobby a new contract, which Bobby could not read, and helped Bobby sign his name on it". The contract gave Bland just half a cent per record sold, instead of the industry standard of 2 cents.

Bland released his first single for Duke in 1955. In 1956 he began touring on the Chitlin' Circuit with Junior Parker in a revue called Blues Consolidated, initially doubling as Parker's valet and driver. He began recording for Duke with the bandleader Bill Harvey and the arranger Joe Scott, asserting his characteristic vocal style and, with Harvey and Scott, beginning to craft the melodic big-band blues singles for which he became famous, often accompanied by the guitarist Wayne Bennett. Unlike many blues musicians, Bland played no instrument.

Commercial success

Bland's first chart success came in 1957 with "Farther Up the Road", which reached number 1 on the R&B chart and number 43 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was followed by a series of hits on the R&B chart, including "Little Boy Blue" (1958). He also recorded an album with Parker, Blues Consolidated, in 1958. Bland's craft was most clearly heard on a series of early-1960s releases, including "Cry Cry Cry", "I Pity the Fool" (number 1 on the R&B chart in 1961) and "Turn On Your Love Light", which became a much-covered standard by many bands. Despite credits to the contrary—often claimed by Robey—many of these classic works were written by Joe Scott. Bland also recorded a hit version of T-Bone Walker's "Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad)", which was erroneously given the title of a different song, "Stormy Monday Blues".

His last record to reach number 1 on the R&B chart was "That's the Way Love Is", in 1963, but he continued to produce a consistent run of R&B chart entries through the mid-1960s. He barely broke into the mainstream market; his highest-charting song on the pop chart, "Ain't Nothing You Can Do", peaked at number 20 in 1964, in the same week in which 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 chart. In the book Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–1995, by Joel Whitburn, Bland was ranked number 13 of the all-time top-charting artists.

Later career

Bobby Bland 1974
Bland, 1974

Financial pressures forced the singer to cut his touring band and in 1968 the group broke up. His record company, Duke Records, was sold to the larger ABC Records group. This resulted in several successful and critically acclaimed contemporary blues and soul albums including His California Album and Dreamer, arranged by Michael Omartian and produced by ABC staffer Steve Barri. The albums, including the later "follow-up" in 1977, Reflections in Blue, were recorded in Los Angeles and featured many of the city's top session musicians at the time.

The first single released from His California Album, "This Time I'm Gone for Good" took Bland back into the pop Top 50 for the first time since 1964 and made the R&B top 10 in late 1973. The opening track from Dreamer, "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City", was a strong R&B hit. A version of it was released in 1978 by the hard-rock band Whitesnake, featuring the singer David Coverdale. Much later it was sampled by Kanye West on Jay-Z's hip-hop album The Blueprint (2001). The song is also featured on the soundtrack of the crime drama The Lincoln Lawyer (2011), starring Matthew McConaughey. The follow-up, "I Wouldn't Treat a Dog" was his biggest R&B hit for some years, climbing to number 3 in late 1974, but as usual his strength was never the pop chart (on which it reached number 88). Subsequent attempts at adding a disco flavor were mostly unsuccessful. A return to his roots in 1980 for a tribute album to his mentor Joe Scott, produced by music veterans Monk Higgins and Al Bell, resulted in the album Sweet Vibrations, but it failed to sell well outside of his traditional "chitlin circuit" base.

In 1985, Bland signed a contract with Malaco Records, specialists in traditional Southern black music, for which he made a series of albums while continuing to tour and appear at concerts with B. B. King. The two had collaborated on 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 the guitarist and producer Angelo Earl and also with B. B. King, and performed at blues and soul festivals worldwide. In 1985, the album Members Only on Malaco reached number 45 on Billboard's R&B albums chart, and the title song reached number 54 for R&B singles. It was his last chart single, and became Bland's signature song for the rest of his career. 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".

Collaborations and tributes

The Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison was an early adherent of Bland, covering "Turn On Your Love Light" while with the band Them (he later covered "Ain't Nothing You Can't Do" on his 1974 live album It's Too Late to Stop Now), and Bland was an occasional guest singer at Morrison's concerts. 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.

In 2008 the British singer and lead vocalist of Simply Red, Mick Hucknall, released the album Tribute to Bobby, containing songs associated with Bland. The album reached 18 in the UK Albums Chart.

Death

Bland continued performing until shortly before his death. He died on June 23, 2013, at his home in Germantown, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis, after what family members described as "an ongoing illness." He was 83. He is interred at Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis. He is survived by his wife, Willie Martin Bland, and his son Rodd, who is also a musician. After his death, his son Rodd told news media that Bland had recently told him that the blues musician James Cotton was Bland's half-brother.

Accolades

Bland was nominated for seven Grammy Awards in the course of his career.

He received the following honors:

  • Blues Hall of Fame - inducted 1981
  • Rhythm and Blues Pioneer Award - 1992
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - inducted 1992
  • Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award - 1997
  • Rhythm & Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award - 1998
  • Grammy Hall of Fame - "Turn On Your Love Light" (1999)
  • Memphis Music Hall of Fame - inducted 2012
  • National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame - inducted 2021

Discography

Studio albums

Year Album Peak chart positions Label
US
US R&B
US Blues
1961 Two Steps from the Blues Duke
1962 Here's the Man! 53
1963 Call on Me/That's the Way Love Is 11
1964 Ain't Nothing You Can Do 119
1966 The Soul of the Man 17
1967 Touch of the Blues 38
1969 Spotlighting the Man 24
1973 His California Album 136 3 Dunhill
1974 Dreamer 172 5
1975 Get On Down 154 14 ABC
1977 Reflections in Blue 185 47
1978 Come Fly with Me 185 31
1979 I Feel Good, I Feel Fine 187 34 MCA
1980 Sweet Vibrations 29
1981 Try Me, I'm Real 52
1982 Here We Go Again 22
1983 Tell Mr Bland 50
1984 You've Got Me Loving You 35
1985 Members Only 45 Malaco
1986 After All 65
1987 Blues You Can Use 71
1989 Midnight Run 26
1991 Portrait of the Blues 50
1993 Years of Tears 80
1995 Sad Street 11
1998 Memphis Monday Morning 12
2003 Blues at Midnight 4
"–" denotes releases that did not chart.

Live albums

Year Album Peak chart positions Label
US
US R&B
US Blues
1974 Together for the First Time (with B. B. King) 43 2 ABC
1976 Bobby Bland and B. B. King Together Again...Live 73 9
1998 Live on Beale Street 8 Malaco
"–" denotes releases that did not chart.

Collaborative album

Compilations

  • The Best of Bobby Bland, 1967 (Duke Records)
  • The Best of Bobby Bland, vol. 2, 1968 (Duke Records)
  • First Class Blues, 1987 (Malaco Records)
  • The "3B" Blues Boy: The Blues Years 1952-1959, 1991 (Ace Records)
  • I Pity the Fool: The Duke Recordings, vol. 1, 1992 (MCA)
  • Turn on Your Love Light: The Duke Recordings, vol. 2, 1994 (MCA)
  • That Did It!: The Duke Recordings, vol. 3, 1996 (MCA)
  • Greatest Hits, Vol. 1: The Duke Recordings, 1998 (MCA, Duke/Peacock)
  • Greatest Hits, Vol. 2: The ABC–Dunhill/MCA Recordings, 1998 (MCA)
  • The Anthology, 2001 (MCA)
  • Unmatched: The Very Best of Bobby Bland, 2011 (Malaco)
  • Angel in Anguish: The Deep, Deep Soul of Bobby Blue Bland, 2013 (Fingertips)

Singles

Year A-side B-side Label Chart positions
US
US R&B
1951 "Crying All Night Long" "Dry Up Baby" Modern
1952 "Good Lovin'" "Drifting from Town to Town"
"Crying" "A Letter from a Trench In Korea" Chess
"Lovin' Blues" "I.O.U. Blues" Duke
1953 "Army Blues" "No Blow, No Show"
1955 "Time Out" "It's My Life Baby"
"You or None" "Woke Up Screaming"
1956 "I Can't Put You Down" "You've Got Bad Intentions"
"I Learned My Lesson" "I Don't Believe"
1957 "Don't Want No Woman" "I Smell Trouble"
"Farther Up the Road" "Sometime Tomorrow" 43 1
"Teach Me (How to Love You)" "Bobby's Blues"
1958 "You Got Me Where You Want Me" "Loan a Helping Hand"
"Little Boy Blue" "Last Night" 10
1959 "You Did Me Wrong" "I Lost Sight of the World"
"I'm Not Ashamed" "Wishing Well" 13
"Is It Real" "Someday" 28
"I'll Take Care of You" "That's Why" 89 2
1960 "Lead Me On" "Hold Me Tenderly" 9
"Cry Cry Cry" "I've Been Wrong So Long" 71 9
1961 "I Pity the Fool" "Close to You" 46 1
"Don't Cry No More" "Saint James Infirmary" 71 2
"Turn On Your Love Light" "You're the One (That I Need)" 28 2
1962 "Ain't That Loving You" "Jelly, Jelly, Jelly" 86 9
"Who Will the Next Fool Be" "Blue Moon" 76 12
"Yield Not to Temptation" "How Does a Cheating Woman Feel" 56 10
"Stormy Monday Blues" "Your Friends" 43 5
1963 "That's the Way Love Is" "Call on Me" 33 / 22 1 / 6
"Sometimes You Gotta Cry a Little" "You're Worth It All" 56 28
"The Feeling Is Gone" "I Can't Stop Singing" 91 / 106 N/A
1964 "Ain't Nothing You Can Do" "Honey Child" 20
"Share Your Love with Me" "After It's Too Late" 42 / 111
"Ain't Doing Too Bad (Part 1)" "Ain't Doing Too Bad (Part 2)" 49
1965 "Blind Man" "Black Night" 78 / 99
"Ain't No Telling" "Dust Got in Daddy's Eyes" 93 / 125 25 / 23
"These Hands (Small but Mighty)" "Today" 63 4
1966 "I'm Too Far Gone (To Turn Around)" "If You Could Read My Mind" 62 8
"Good Time Charlie" "Good Time Charlie (Working His Groove Bag)" 75 6
"Poverty" "Building a Fire with Rain" 65 9
"Back in the Same Old Bag Again" "I Ain't Myself Anymore" 102 13
1967 "You're All I Need" "Deep in My Soul" 88 6
"That Did It" "Getting Used to the Blues" 6
"A Touch of the Blues" "Shoes" 30
1968 "Driftin' Blues" "You Could Read My Mind" 96 23
"Honey Child" "A Piece of Gold"
"Save Your Love for Me" "Share Your Love With Me" 16
"Rockin' in the Same Old Boat" "Wouldn't You Rather Have Me" 58 12
1969 "Gotta Get to Know You" "Baby, I'm on My Way" 91 14
"Chains of Love" "Ask Me 'Bout Nothing (But the Blues)" 60 9
1970 "If You've Got a Heart" "Sad Feeling" 96 10
"If Love Ruled the World" "Lover with a Reputation" 16 / 28
"Keep On Loving Me (You'll See the Change)" "I've Just Got to Forget About You" 89 20
1971 "I'm Sorry" "Yum Yum Tree" 97 18
"Shape Up or Ship Out" "The Love That We Share (Is True)"
1972 "Do What You Set Out to Do" "Ain't Nothing You Can Do" 64 6
"I'm So Tired" "If You Could Read My Mind" 36
1973 "That's All There Is (There Ain't No More)" "I Don't Want Another Mountain to Climb" 42 5
"This Time I'm Gone for Good" "Where Baby Went" Dunhill 42 5
1974 "Goin' Down Slow" "Up and Down World" 69 17
"Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City" "Twenty-Four Hour Blues" 91 9
"I Wouldn't Treat a Dog (The Way You Treated Me)" "I Ain't Gonna Be (The First to Cry)" 88 3
1975 "Yolanda" "When You Come to the End of Your Road" ABC 104 21
"I Take It On Home" "You've Never Been This Far Before" 41
1976 "Today I Started Loving You Again" "Too Far Gone" 103 34
"It Ain't the Real Thing" "Who's Foolin' Who" 12
"Let The Good Times Roll"
Bobby Bland & B. B. King
"Strange Things Happening" ABC Impulse 101 20
1977 "The Soul of a Man" "If I Weren't a Gambler" ABC 18
1978 "Sittin' on a Poor Man's Throne" "I Intend to Take Your Place" 82
"Love to See You Smile" "I'm Just Your Man" 14
"Come Fly with Me" "Ain't God Something" 55
1979 "Tit For Tat" "Come Fly with Me" MCA 71
1980 "Soon As the Weather Breaks" "To Be Friends" 76
1981 "You'd Be a Millionaire" "Swat ..." 92
1982 "What a Difference a Day Makes" "Givin' Up the Streets for Love"
"Recess In Heaven" "Exactly, Where It's At" 40
"Here We Go Again" "You're About to Win"
1983 "Is This the Blues" "You're About to Win"
"If It Ain't One Thing" "Tell Mr. Bland"
1984 "Looking Back" "You Got Me Loving You"
"Get Real Clean" "It's Too Bad"
"You Are My Christmas" "New Merry Christmas Baby"
1985 "Members Only" "I Just Got to Know" Malaco 54
1986 "Can We ... Tonight" "In the Ghetto"
1988 "Get Your Money Where You Spend Your Time" "For the Last Time"
"24 Hours a Day" "I've Got a Problem"
1989 "You've Got to Hurt Before You Heal" "I'm Not Ashamed to Sing the Blues"
"Ain't No Sunshine" "If I Don't Get Involved"
1990 "Starting All Over Again" "Midnight Run"
"Take Off Your Shoes" "If I Don't Get Involved"
1992 "She's Putting Something in My Food" "Let Love Have Its Way"
1993 "There's a Stranger in My House" "Hurtin' Time Again"
1994 "I Just Tripped on a Piece of Your Broken Heart" "Hole in the Wall"
1995 "Double Trouble" "Double Trouble (long version)"
"–" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that territory.

See also

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