R&B Hitmaker Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland Dies at 83

R&B Hitmaker Bobby 'Blue' Bland Dies

Eric Clapton, Grateful Dead covered Influential blues singer's tunes

Singer Bobby “Blue” Bland, one of the most prolific R&B and blues hitmakers of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, died Sunday after a long illness. He was 83.

Memphis’ WREG-TV reported Bland’s death. The station said the musician lived in Memphis’ Germantown neighborhood.

Bland charted more than 60 R&B hits — including 27 top-10 smashes and three No. 1 platters — over the course of his career, which stretched back to the ‘40s. His best-known numbers included “Farther On Up the Road,” “I Pity the Fool,” “Turn On Your Love Light” and “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do.” He reached the lower rungs of the pop charts with 37 of his singles.

Though he never crossed over to the pop side to the degree that his contemporary and collaborator B.B. King did, Bland had an impact on many rock musicians, including Eric Clapton, the Grateful Dead, the Band and Van Morrison, all of whom incorporated his songs in their studio work and stage shows.

He was equally comfortable as a smooth balladeer and a propulsive house-rocker, and often decorated his crushed-velvet performances with a distinctive snort. Though his early work was gutbucket blues, his major hits for Houston’s Duke Records were distinguished by big, sophisticated arrangements by Joe Scott, the sharp bandleading of Bill Harvey and the sleek guitar work of Wayne Bennett.

He sustained his career well into the new millennium on the chitlin circuit, touring regularly and cutting a series of soul-blues recordings, aimed at the Southern market, on Malaco Records.

Bland was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. He was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.

He was born Robert Calvin Bland in Rosemark, Tenn., and moved with his family to Memphis at an early age. He began singing with a gospel group, the Miniatures, but later segued into blues and R&B; he performed with a legendary, unrecorded group called the Beale Streeters with B.B. King, Johnny Ace and Rosco Gordon.

Bland patterned his early work after King, for whom he worked for a time as a valet and chauffeur. He also did roadwork for Junior Parker. His gritty first singles for the indie R&B labels Chess and Modern met with no success, but hit on a winning combination with his sides for Parker’s label Duke, the Texas label run by iron-handed entrepreneur Don Robey.

His first chart single, 1957’s “Farther On Up the Road,” was a No. 1 hit. It was followed by a succession of ardent top 10 sides, including “Little Boy Blue” (No. 10, 1958), “I’ll Take Care of You” (No. 2, 1959), “Lead Me On” and “Cry Cry Cry” (both No. 9, 1960), “I Pity the Fool” (No. 1, 1961), “Don’t Cry No More” and “Turn On Your Love Light” (both No. 2, 1961), his remake of T-Bone Walker’s “StormyMonday Blues” (No. 5, 1962) and “That’s the Way Love Is” (No. 1, 1963).

His top-selling album, “Call On Me/That’s the Way Love Is,” reached No. 11 nationally in ’63. Though it never charted, his first long-player “Two Steps From the Blues” (1961) has proven to be an enduring classic. His Duke sides have been extensively reissued by Universal Music Group, which now owns the catalog.

Bland continued to rack up some lesser top-10 singles on Duke through the early ‘70s. His track record cooled somewhat after he segued to ABC/Dunhill in the early ‘70s, but he did attract attention with a pair of long-running live albums that partnered him with B.B. King in 1974 and 1976; the first of these, “Together For the First Time,” was his only gold LP.

Bland’s last chart single, “Members Only,” was released in 1985 by Jackson, Miss.-based Malaco, the label that would shepherd the singer through much of his latter-day career. The company marketed him skillfully to his core audience – a mature, largely Southern, largely female fan base that bought his material and faithfully attended his concert and club dates year in and year out.

Survivors include his son Rodd.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 8

Marketplace

    Leave a Reply

    8 Comments

    Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s

    1. Laverne says:

      Bobby Bland was the greates blues singer ever my favorite, and i will always keep his songs in my heart

    2. Leary Gerald and Sharon says:

      IMHO , Dreamer, was one of , if not the best r&b/blues albums of all time. period. I had the great good fortune of seeing him and his review live at a club called the Grooveyard in Vancouver in the early 70s, and although I had never heard of him until then, I became a life long fan. I wish I could have seen him play live again, however, I’ll always have his music with me. The word legend is tossed around quite liberally – Bobby Blue Bland is / was the real deal. His legacy is secure.

    3. Ron Whitfield says:

      Rest in pease Mr.Bland. You are a true “lion of the blues”. You are and forever will be the king of the blues jungle. My prayers to you and your family. God bless you.

    4. pitty says:

      TEARS,TEARS,TEARS I’LL ALWAYS CHERISH YOU AND YOUR VOICE!!!

    5. Brandyi Mayberry says:

      THIS IS ONE OF THE FIRST IN MY OPINION TRUE RAPPERS MINUS ALL THE CUSSIN AND VULGARITY. THIS IS A MAN THAT KEPT HIS CLOTHES ON WHILE SINGING. I REMEMBER YOUR LAST TIME IN THE SPA CITY IT WAS SO COLD. THE SOUND PF YOUR VOICE FILED THE AIR WITH WARMTH HERE’S TO MISSING YOU. R.I.P.I.L.

    6. bruce says:

      remember buying “aint nothing you can do” in the early 60’s and have followed him ever since,fantastic blues/soul singer R.I.P. Bobby!!

    7. sean says:

      Farewell to the man with a voice like warm honey. A great man.

      • shelby says:

        Bobby Bland, Don’t Cry No More, Graduated from College that year and that was the song of the

        century and all of your songs were heart felt, smooth, i really fell in love trying to sing your song

        I’LL TAKE CARE OF YOU…………LOVE YOU BOBBY BLUE BLAND ..REST IN PEACE..GONE BUT

        BUT YOU WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN…………..MISSISSIPPI GIRL…………….

    More Music News from Variety

    Loading