Born: January 27, 1930 in Rosemark TN
One of the premiere blues and soul singers of a generation, the great Bobby "Blue" Bland successfully bridged the blues and R&B era of the 1950s and the soul era of the 1960s with a number of hit singles and albums. Along the way, Bland would influence scores of imitators and followers, including great singers like Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye as well as rockers like Van Morrison and Eric Clapton.
The Beale Streeters
Born Robert Calvin Bland in Rosemark, Tennessee in rural Shelby County, Bland moved to Memphis with his mother as a teenager in 1947. Like many artists of his generation, Bland began singing in the church, which led to his performing with various gospel groups, foremost among these the Miniatures. He would later become part of a loose-knit blues group called the Beale Streeters that included future blues and R&B stars Johnny Ace, Rosco Gordon, Junior Parker, and B.B. King, who would become Bland's longtime friend and musical partner.
Bland recorded a number of singles for Chess Records (produced by the legendary Sam Phillips of Sun Records), Modern Records, and the Duke Records labels in 1951 and '52, none of which sold especially well. The singer's fledgling career was sidetracked when he was drafted into the Army in 1952, but Bland picked back up in 1954 when he was discharged from the military, returning to Duke Records (which had been bought by Houston promoter and label executive Don Robey during Bland's absence).
The Duke Records Years
Robey wisely paired Bland with songwriter, bandleader, and trumpeter Joe Scott for a series of R&B chart-topping singles, beginning with 1955's "It's My Life, Baby." Bland's vocal style had progressed greatly since his early singles, the singer showing greater range and confidence. With songs provided by Scott, and featuring guitar from talents like Pat Hare (who would late play with Muddy Waters), Clarence Hollimon, and Wayne Bennett, Bland delivered such red-hot platters as "Farther Up The Road," "I Pity The Fool," and "Turn On Your Love Light," among many others, between 1957 and 1961.
During this time, Bland toured with Junior Parker and his band the Blue Flames, and he often doubled as Parker's valet and driver (a role he also performed for B.B. King). Bland broke with Parker in 1961 and struck out on his own, finding even greater success and popularity. Still working with Joe Scott, Bland's string of hits continued through the mid-1960s, songs like "Call On Me," "Ain't Nothing You Can Do," and a cover of T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday" riding high on the R&B charts. However, financial problems and an increased reliance on alcohol, combined with Bland's growing depression, caused him to break up his touring band in 1968.
B.B. King & 1970s Stardom
Bland had stopping drinking by 1971 and began restoring his once high-flying career. Robey sold Duke Records to ABC-Dunhill Records in 1972, with Bland's contract as part of the deal. The label wisely hooked up the singer with producer Steve Garrie and bandleader Ernie Fields, Jr., who took Bland away from the R&B ballads that had been his bread-and-butter during the 1960s, moving him towards a blues and soul-based sound that was both more contemporary and timeless. Recording in Los Angeles, Bland produced two of his best-selling albums in 1973's His California Album and 1974's Dreamer, the former providing a Top 50 pop hit in "This Time I'm Gone For Good," the latter scoring a R&B chart hit with "Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City," later a hit for British blues-rockers Whitesnake.
During this time, Bland reunited with King and the two artists would become one of the most popular touring acts of the 1970s and early '80s. The musical partnership resulted in a pair of critically-acclaimed mid-1970s releases, Together For The First Time...Live (1974) and Together Again...Live (1976), both of which were Top 10 R&B chart hits (the first album also hitting #43 on the pop chart). Bland's solo work during the later part of the decade would veer into disco and middle-of-the-road with diminishing commercial returns, but Bland would return to his trademark soul-blues sound for 1980's Sweet Vibrations, a Joe Scott tribute album.
The Chitlin' Circuit
In 1985, Bland signed with the Jackson, Mississippi Malaco Records label where he would spend the rest of his career. Specializing in old-school soul and blues music, Malaco was the perfect home for Bland's talents, the label plugged into the Southern "chitlin' circuit" of nightclubs and small, independent record stores. The partnership between Bland and Malaco would result in a number of fine records, and through the years Bland would be a consistent seller for the label. Members Only, released in 1985, brought the singer back to the R&B charts on the strength of the hit title track, while 1987's First Class Blues mixed material from Bland's first two albums for Malaco with re-recorded versions of several of his Duke Records era hits.
Bland continued to tour, both solo and with King, through the late 1980s and well into the 2000s until health problems sidelined the singer in 2011. He also continued to record for Malaco, among his many albums for the label such creative high points as 1998's Memphis Monday Morning and Live On Beale Street, which included guest appearances from Johnnie Taylor and Bobby Rush, and 2003's Blues At Midnight. A well-respected elder statesman of the blues, Bobby "Blue" Bland was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Capping off an amazing career that spans seven decades, Bland received a Grammy® Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.
Recommended Albums: With a discography as scattered and in-and-out-of-print as Bland's, the newcomer can rely on two solid "best of" compilations, Greatest Hits Volume One offering 16 red-hot slabs from the Duke Records era while Greatest Hits Volume Two covers the singer's years with ABC-Dunhill and MCA Records.Fans of Bland's early hits will also find a lot to like on Malaco's First Class Blues set.
Bobby "Blue" Bland Select Discography
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- Two Steps From The Blues (Duke Records, 1961)
- Here's The Man! (Duke Records, 1962)
- Call On Me (Duke Records, 1963)
- Ain't Nothing You Can Do (Duke Records, 1964)
- Soul Of The Man (Duke Records, 1966)
- Touch Of The Blues (Duke Records, 1967)
- Spotlighting The Man (Duke Records, 1967)
- His California Album (ABC-Dunhill Records, 1973)
- Dreamer (ABC-Dunhill Records, 1974)
- Together For The First Time...Live w/B.B. King (ABC-Dunhill Records, 1974)
- Get On Down With Bobby Bland (ABC-Dunhill Records, 1975)
- Together Again...Live w/B.B. King (ABC-Dunhill Records, 1976)
- Reflections In Blue (ABC-Dunhill Records, 1977)
- Come Fly With Me (ABC-Dunhill Records, 1978)
- Sweet Vibrations (MCA Records, 1980)
- Here We Go Again (MCA Records, 1982)
- Members Only (Malaco Records, 1985)
- After All (Malaco Records, 1986)
- Blues You Can Use (Malaco Records, 1987)
- First Class Blues (Malaco Records, 1987)
- Midnight Run (Malaco Records, 1989)
- Portrait Of The Blues (Malaco Records, 1991)
- Years of Tears (Malaco Records, 1993)
- Sad Street (Malaco Records, 1995)
- Live On Beale Street (Malaco Records, 1998)
- Memphis Monday Morning (Malaco Records, 1998)
- Greatest Hits Volume One – The Duke Recordings (MCA Records, 1998)
- Greatest Hits Volume Two – The ABC-Dunhill/MCA Recordings (MCA Records, 1998)
- Blues At Midnight (Malaco Records, 2003)