DUKE USA cat# 433 (promo) Year 1964 Robert Calvin “Bobby” Bland was born January 27, 1930, in the small town of Rosemark, Tennessee, later moving to Memphis with his mother in 1947. He worked at a garage during the week and sang spirituals on weekends, singing with local gospel groups including, amongst others The Miniatures. He began frequenting the city’s famous Beale Street where he became associated with a like minded bunch of aspiring musicians, who were referred to as the Beale Streeters (although they never used that name themselves), which included such future blues stars as Johnny Ace, B.B. King, Junior Parker, and Rosco Gordon .
Between 1951-52 he recorded four 7″s for Chess, produced by Sam Phillips, alongside Rosco Gordon and as The Bobby Blues Band. While the results of those recordings were not a huge success to say the least, that didn’t stop local DJ David Mattis from cutting Bland on a couple of 1952 singles for his fledgling Duke logo. That same year Bobby was drafted to serve his country, he went off to war, and had to put his career on hold.
When the singer returned in 1954, he found that the Memphis he once knew was no more. Sun Records had found its fair haired boy, Rock and Roll was breaking down the old barriers between “race” and “pop,” and Duke Records had been sold to entrepreneur Don Robey, owner of Peacock Records in Houston, while several of his former associates, including Johnny Ace, were enjoying considerable success. But Bobby’s talent and maturity as a vocalist had exceeded even more in just those last years, and now Duke was ready to push Bland full steam ahead, with It’s My Life, Baby, Woke Up Screaming and Time Out all released in ’55. Bobby’s first national hit, which went to number 1 on the R&B charts, is the driving Farther Up the Road, which was released in 57′, and burns almighty with the insistent guitar riffing contributed by Pat Hare, another vicious picker who would eventually die in prison after murdering his girlfriend and a cop. In ’61 the beautiful I Pity The Fool and the great soul number Turn On Your Love Light also did well for Bobby and deservedly so.
Bland spent the latter half of the Fifties maturing into a masterful singer and assured entertainer. From 1957 to 1961 he 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.
And now we jump to 1964, Honey Child, easily my pick of the crop from such a expansive field of BB soul jewels. And why this flip to Ain´t Nothing You Can Do is so over looked, I will never know! His distinctive silky smooth vocal style slides perfectly into the slinky, swinging rhythms, and it really pulls you in. And in a sudden, the sheer beauty of it all gets pretty overwhelming and inescapable. Adorable and modest guitar phrasing from Wayne Bennett complements the sometimes rampant yet soulful horns which I’m assuming only the great Joe Scott (trumpeter, band leader and Don Robey’s chief talent scout) could be responsible for holding this dance floor gem all together!
Bobby was sometimes referred to as the “Lion of the Blues”, and without a guitar, harmonica, or any other instrument to fall back upon, all he had to offer was his magnificent, charismatic voice. A voice unmatched in my opinion. With his captivating live performances (and a legion of female fans who deemed him a sex symbol even late into his career) he helped bring the blues out of Delta juke joints and into urban clubs and theaters. Bland’s records mostly sold on the R&B market and he had 23 Top Ten hits on the Billboard R&B charts and in the 1996 Top R&B book by Joel Whitburn, Bland was rated the #13 all-time best selling artist. I believe he is still performing to this day!
Note: I originally posted this entry back in early June 2013. He died on June 23, just 2 weeks later, at his home in Germantown, Tennessee, after what family members described as “an ongoing illness”. He was 83. After his death, his son told news media that Bland had recently discovered that musician James Cotton was his half-brother.