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Monday, June 24, 2013


Whoever coined the nickname "the Sinatra of the blues" for Bobby Bland couldn't have been more correct; during his golden years of the 50's and '60's, there were no better blues vocalists than Mr. Bland. Sadly, his voice had deteriorated quite a bit in his later years, but Bobby Bland still managed to deliver the goods on stage up until the end.

Bobby's discography is just as large as the influence that he cast through blues, soul (and beyond)- it wasn't easy picking only four records to share here. In addition to his oodles of 45's (and 78's), his LP's Two Steps From The Blues and Here's The Man are two of the greatest blues LP's ever cut to wax.

Bobby grew up in Memphis, and like so many other musicians who call that city home, Bobby's music combined elements of so many different styles that limiting his work to the label "blues" is both unfair and misleading. While his recording career began in the early '50's, he was drafted in to the army which took him out of circulation for several years. When he returned to civilian life, not only did his records (and his vocal style) hit their stride, but he also worked as a chauffeur to make ends meet. By the time "Farther Up The Road" was released in 1957, Bobby was a musician full time, and his records and live appearances were becoming very popular.

"Lead Me On" (1960) is one of the most haunting records I've ever heard; in addition to the gorgeous, aching vocal performance,  the addition of strings was a brilliant and innovative move that adding an air of sophistication to the music that took it to a completely new level.

"Turn On Your Love Light" (1961) is one of Bobby's most loved records, and it also became one of his most famous, thanks to the (fantastic) cover by the Grateful Dead. "Love Light" is one of those records that was a blueprint for the upcoming soul sounds that were just a few years ahead.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Bobby was able to gracefully adapt to the soul style that all but swept blues aside in the mid-60's, and records such as "Shoes" (1966- a past 45 of the day) and "Gotta Get To Know You" (1969) combine Bobby's incredible vocals with a hard edged soul sound making for sublime results. Sadly, at the time "Gotta Get To Know You" was released, Bobby's band had disintegrated, and he was deep in a battle with the bottle. Fortunately, the man was able to clean up in '71 and his LP's from the '70's and touring brought him great success. My mom took me to see him and BB King together when I was 4 years old, and that concert cut a lasting impression on my young psyche. Thank you for the music, Bobby- you were pure class.

1 comment:

David Cartwright said...

'Lead Me On' was written by Miss Lavelle White, who still performs occasionally in Austin. Her version of this song from her CD, 'Miss Lavelle' (1994), is a killer with a great horn arrangement. Have you ever heard this one? I did a tribute to Bobby on Monday morning and included this version of the song.