by Ray McDonald
Robert Calvin “Bobby” Bland died on June 23 in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 83. The Associated Press quoted his son as saying he died due to an ongoing illness.
He was known as Bobby “Blue” Bland — or, the Sinatra Of The Blues. Born in rural Tennessee, he moved to Memphis, and like so many other hopefuls gravitated to the Beale Street music scene. Bland was a longtime friend and associate of fellow Beale Streeter B.B. King — Bland even served as the guitarist’s valet and chauffeur at one point. In this 1977 clip, you can see the affection between the two blues masters as they tear into “The Thrill Is Gone.”
I was a latecomer to Bobby “Blue” Bland, but once I heard his voice, I was a goner. A friend of mine owns a compilation of his greatest hits from the 1950s and ’60s, and they’re just magical records. Recorded with a large orchestra, they push his vocals to the front. The sonic sheen only magnifies the pain in his lyrics. I can imagine these songs pouring out of smoky clubs and bars late at night, in a time when audiences were segregated and Bobby’s music was a treasure waiting to be discovered by young white ears. Eric Clapton and David Bowie were among the new generation of musicians to record his songs, and in 1978, none other than Whitesnake recorded his hit “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City.” In 2008, Mick Hucknall of Simply Red recorded the album “Tribute To Bobby,” which reached 18th place on the UK chart.
Bobby himself recorded into the 21st Century, by which time he’d ascended to the musical pantheon. He entered the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.
Let me take you back to 1962 for this snapshot of Bobby “Blue” Bland in his prime. Dim the lights and appreciate the voice we all have lost on this Stormy Monday.