Sad news that R&B legend Bobby Bland passed away on Sunday at the age of 83. Bland was a pioneering R&B singer, he may never have mad the impact on the pop chart that say James Brown or Sam Cooke made, but over a decade he released some unbelievable records. If you look at his releases between the years 1960-1965 he helped chart the course from R&B to soul music. He had it all, a full throated roar that could summon up emotions from the depths, but he also had the relaxed intonation of a jazz singer. He was backed by an amazing band led by Joe Scott and featuring Wayne Bennett on guitar and the brilliant John 'Jabo' Starks on drums who was later drafted by James Brown for his band. This band helped Bland craft some iconic R&B standards, his version of Stormy Monday Blues was achingly despondent with Bland answering the moaning riffs of Wayne Bennett. The Latin tinged Call Me was a showcase for wonderfully syncopated playing of Starks. He added a jazz flavour to songs like Ain't That Loving You but he kept it anchored to that R&B groove. Equally his voice could be low and relaxed in the groove before he would let out this firely, gospel drenched blast.
He turned Charlie Rich's country standard Who Will The Next Fool Be into an astonishing late night lament, only possibly Ray Charles could have matched Bobby on this one. The classic Turn on Your Lovelight took R&B in another direction with it's more syncopated rhythmic feel, Bobby is at his impassioned best exhorting and pleading. That's the Way Love Is has Bobby in a philosophical tone, extolling
So you take it where you find it
Or you can leave it where it is
That's the way it's always been
That's the way love is
Bobby continued to cut some great records in the late 60's, the northern soul classic These Hands, the mournful Shoes the list could go on and on. In the 70's Bland continued to record and tour but found challenges in trying to adapt to a changing music. I remember reading an article Peter Guralnick wrote that appeared in one of his books and it's quite sad, Bobby was no longer selling many records and was finding it tough grinding at one nighters in small clubs and union halls. In 2008 Simply Red lead singer Mick Hucknall recorded a tribute album titled Tribute To Bobby. Bland passed away at his home in Germantown Tennessee, he was one of the great bluesmen to have come from the hallowed ground of Beale Street Memphis, RIP Bobby 'Blue' Bland.