Blue Notes

The Lion Of The Blues: Happy Birthday Bobby "Blue" Bland

Today marks the 82nd birthday of Hall of Fame blues man Robert Calvin Bland, better known as Bobby "Blue". In a case of being "in the right place at the right time", Mr. Bland was born in Rosemark, Tennessee in 1930, then moved to Memphis at eighteen to begin his career. He became an original member of the Beale Streeters, an influential group of blues singers and musicians that included names such as B.B. King and Junior Parker.

A major player in the creation of the modern soul-blues sound, Bland and his contemporaries (Ray Charles, Sam Cooke) mixed gospel with blues and R&B, a move that was met with both praise and resistance by music lovers and churchgoers in the South. But unlike his friends B.B. and Ray, Mr. Bland did not have an instrument to lean on, so he concentrated his efforts on his voice. With powerful, heartfelt vocals, he molded a magnificent style of singing that was both tormented and charismatic.

He produced three number one hits in his career. The first was "Farther Up The Road" in 1957, a lively track that has been called a "seminal Texas shuffle" and was later covered by such artists like Eric Clapton. Also at the top of the R&B charts were "I Pity The Fool" in 1961 and "That's The Way Love Is" in 1963.

My personal favorite Bobby "Blue" Bland offering is "Turn On Your Love Light", a joyful, horn-heavy groove that swings from velvet smooth vocals to guttural "I feel alright" proclamations. The hip-hop generation will recognize "Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City", a track that was sampled beautifully on Jay-Z's Blueprint album.

Happy Birthday, sir.

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When he's not roaming around the city in search of tacos and graffiti, Houston Press contributor Marco both writes and points his camera lens toward the vibrant Houston music scene and beyond.