Bobby "Blue" Bland
In the 50s and early 60s, Bobby "Blue" Bland was one of the main creators of the modern soul-blues sound. Along with such artists as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Junior Parker, Bland developed a sound that mixed gospel with blues and R&B. Bobby's style of soul-blues was punctuated with a big-band sound and slick, B.B. King-flavored guitar riffs.
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Bland was born and raised in Rosemark, a small town just outside Memphis. In 1947 he moved to the city with his mother and began his career, first as a singer in the gospel group the Miniatures, then in the loosely knit blues group the Beale Streeters, which included such future blues stars as Johnny Ace, B.B. King, Junior Parker, and Rosco Gordon.
Bland's first recordings were from 1950 to 1952, when he cut sides for the Modern and Chess labels. Being drafted into the army in 1952 put his career on hold, but shortly after his discharge in 1954, he began a long-term relationship with Duke Records. This would result in dozens of records, many of them big sellers in the R&B market.
Bobby's first Duke single, "It's My Life, Baby," was released in 1955. Two years later, he scored with the seminal Texas shuffle "Farther Up The Road" (115 k, 10 sec.), which went to number 1 on the R&B charts. Follow-up records included two 1961 hits, "I Pity the Fool," which also made it to number 1 on the R&B charts, and "Turn on Your Love Light," which went to number 2. "That's the Way Love Is," a 1963 release, gave Bland his third number 1 hit.
From 1957 to 1961 Bland played the chitlin' circuit with Junior Parker and his band, the Blue Flames. But in 1961 Bland broke with Parker, went out on his own, and rose to his greatest popularity. Because Bland neither composed nor played an instrument, he relied on others for songs and inspired instrumentation. Joe Scott, his bandleader and arranger, and for years one of Duke label owner Don Robey's chief talent scouts, helped create Bland's big-band sound. Just as important to Bland's sound was guitarist Wayne Bennett, who complemented the horns and Bland's vocals with jazz-influenced solos, a la T-Bone Walker and B.B. King.
Bland worked with Scott and Bennett until 1968 when the band broke up, partially the result of Bland's alleged alcohol problems. But Bland resuscitated his career in 1972, this time with producer Steve Garrie and bandleader Ernie Fields, Jr. Rather than dwell on R&B ballads, Garrie gave Bland a blues-based sound that resulted in two of his more commercially successful albums: California Album (1973) and Dreamer (1974). Both works were released on the ABC-Dunhill label, the company that purchased Duke in 1972.
Despite Bland's extensive recording catalogue, his long-term success on the R&B charts, and his near-constant touring (often with longtime friend B.B. King), he rarely crossed over into the pop realm. Dozens of blues and R&B influenced rock vocalists, however, have credited Bland as a main influence. Throughout the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, he continued to record, mostly for the Jackson, Mississippi, blues label, Malaco. Bland was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. He continues to perform regularly.
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