June 29, 2013


Bobby Bland's Influential Voice/ (Les Back,  1999 Music Issue, Oxford American)

About the music that has influenced him, [Bobby "Blue" Bland] has said, "I like the soft touch. I don't like the harsh. I listened to a lot of Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole for diction, for delivery. And I still know more about hillbilly tunes than I do blues. Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Eddy Arnold--so much feeling, so much sadness." In the mid-'80s he started recording for the Malaco blues label based in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1997 his Sad Street album was nominated for a Grammy in the best contemporary blues category, and his recent album "Live" on Beale Street proves his voice is as robust as ever.

In the early '60s a young blue-eyed soul singer named Dan Penn modeled his sound on Bland's unique voice. Penn went on to become a leading r&b songwriter through the success of such hits as "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" for Aretha Franklin, "Dark End of the Street" for James Carr, "Out of Left Field" for Percy Sledge, and "I'm Your Puppet" for James and Bobby Purify. Before establishing his reputation as a songwriter, Penn fronted bands like the Pallbearers and the Mark V who played frat parties, sock hops, and local dances all over the South, covering the gamut of Bland's repertoire. From his home in Nashville he offered his appreciation of Bobby "Blue" Bland's music.

LES BACK: How would you sum up Bobby Bland as a vocalist?

DAN PENN: Bobby Bland was just the Man. You wanted to be like him, at least I did--just a great, great singer. He had exceptional delivery and understanding. He made you understand what the song means to him. He didn't just shuffle through, you know--it's also blood and guts. The r&b records that I loved are not prominent or in your face. Listen to "Share Your Love with Me," the one with the strings--that's my favorite. That one, and "Two Steps from the Blues" are the two that stick out for me. I have to say that I've never heard records any better than those. No gimmicks, just pure blues pop. Nobody's ever beat 'em.

LB: I guess you could say those records are blues with a heavy gospel influence and feel, too.

DP: Once you've been to the church as a child, there's a streak of something that goes right through you. Put it this way: you've got to go a long way to beat spiritual music. They've got something to talk about, and it's so emotional. I got the r&b and the gospel feel from Ray Charles and Bland; I also got that from Aretha and all the black gospel acts. John Richbourg on WLAC played nothing but black music right here in Nashville. It was all over the South. It was one of the biggest things of the '50s. I mean, if you didn't know where WLAC was on your radio, then you weren't hip. My world was lily-white as far as my church music, but even lily-white people got soul, you know? Once I heard black people on the radio--Ray Charles and Bobby "Blue" Bland--it was all over for me. I said to myself, This is the best stuff around, and I still hold that opinion. I still think that black church music is as good as it's gonna get. I've never heard anything better.

Bobby (Blue) Bland, Soul and Blues Balladeer, Dies at 83 (BILL FRISKICS-WARREN, 6/24/13, NY Times)

Mr. Bland's signature mix of blues, jazz, pop, gospel and country music was a good decade in the making. His first recordings, made in the early 1950s, found him working in the lean, unvarnished style of Mr. King, even to the point of employing falsetto vocal leaps patterned after Mr. King's. Mr. Bland's mid-'50s singles were more accomplished; hits like "It's My Life, Baby" and "Farther Up the Road" are now regarded as hard-blues classics, but they still featured the driving rhythms and stinging electric guitar favored by Mr. King and others. It wasn't until 1958's "Little Boy Blue," a record inspired by the homiletic delivery of the Rev. C. L. Franklin, that Mr. Bland arrived at his trademark vocal technique.

"That's where I got my squall from," Mr. Bland said, referring to the sermons of Mr. Franklin -- "Aretha's daddy," as he called him -- in a 1979 interview with the author Peter Guralnick. "After I had that I lost the high falsetto. I had to get some other kind of gimmick, you know, to be identified with."

The corresponding softness in Mr. Bland's voice, a refinement matched by the elegant formal wear in which he appeared onstage, came from listening to records by pop crooners like Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett and Perry Como.

Just as crucial to the evolution of Mr. Bland's sound was his affiliation with the trumpet player and arranger Joe Scott, for years the director of artists and repertory for Duke Records in Houston. Given to dramatic, brass-rich arrangements, Mr. Scott, who died in 1979, supplied Mr. Bland with intricate musical backdrops that set his supple baritone in vivid relief.

The two men accounted for more than 30 Top 20 rhythm-and-blues singles for Duke from 1958 to 1968, including the No. 1 hits "I Pity the Fool" and "That's the Way Love Is." Steeped in vulnerability and emotional candor, his performances earned him a devoted female audience.

Though only four of his singles from these years -- "Turn On Your Love Light," "Call on Me," "That's the Way Love Is" and "Ain't Nothing You Can Do" -- crossed over to the pop Top 40, Mr. Bland's recordings resonated with the era's blues-leaning rock acts. The Grateful Dead made "Love Light" a staple of their live shows. The Band recorded his 1964 single "Share Your Love With Me" for their 1973 album, "Moondog Matinee." Van Morrison included a version of "Ain't Nothing You Can Do" on his 1974 live set, "It's Too Late to Stop Now."

Mr. Bland himself broke through to pop audiences in the mid-'70s with "His California Album" and its more middle-of-the-road follow-up, "Dreamer." But his greatest success always came in the rhythm-and-blues market, where he placed a total of 63 singles on the charts from 1957 to 1985. He signed with the Mississippi-based Malaco label in 1985 and made a series of well-received albums that appealed largely to fans of traditional blues and soul music.

Mr. Bland was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 1997.

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Posted by at June 29, 2013 7:23 AM

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