“Farther On Up the Road” is classic Bobby Blue Bland, but this song was initially recorded before his tenor voice gave way to that distinctive growl or “squall,” as he called it. The Blue in his name was as appropriate as the Bland was not. In either case, the great blues man has joined the ages. According to his son, Rodd, the drummer in his band, Bland died Sunday at his home in Germantown, Tenn., a suburb of Memphis. He was 83.
For those of you who have never heard of him or haven’t heard him in a long time, take a few moments, if you’re capable, and access YouTube and catch him with B.B. King where they reprise a number of Bland’s hits, and the duo was never more compatible and compelling.
If Bland never achieved the acclaim of King, Ray Charles, and other blues immortals, he was a versatile performer with an equally engaging voice that was comfortable in nearly every vocal format. He could croon a jazz tune, wail a gospel, and nail a pop song, but it was his innate feeling for the blues, especially when it called for a broken-hearted, begging interpretation that earned his lasting fame. Only James Brown could out plead him.
Though he was a country boy at heart and soul, it was in the major urban centers that Bland gathered perhaps his most loyal flock of fans, and during these revues he was often paired with Little Milton and Junior Parker. Hardly a summer when by in Detroit in the fifties and sixties that a poster wasn’t tacked somewhere advertising his appearance.
At a time when his popularity was fading, his touring limited, Bland got a boost when Jay-Z sampled his 1974 single “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City.” And this too you can check out on the Net, if you don’t have “The Blueprint” handy.
Bland leaves behind hundreds of tunes that can be sampled, and that would only be another phase of passing it along because stylistically he shaped his from listening to the Rev. C.L. Franklin, Aretha’s father.
Find one of Rev. Franklin’s sermons and you can hear that squall Bland cited as his trademark sound.
Of course, this was a gimmick but it was Bland’s overall ability to marshal the basic components of the blues, that downhome quality he first heard coming of age near the precincts of Memphis.
Bland was born Robert Calvin Brooks on Jan. 27, 1930 in Millington, Tenn. After his father abandoned the family his mother, Mary Lee, married Leroy Bridgeforth, who also went by the name of Leroy Bland.
At the age of six, he had his fill of school and began picking cotton. By the time he was a teenager he was living in Memphis and laboring at all sorts of odd jobs, including working in a garage. But no matter where he worked he was always singing and he was soon a member of a spiritual group called the Miniatures. In 1949, he joined the Beale Streeters that at one time or another had such luminaries as the ill-fated Johnny Ace and B.B. King.
In 1952 he was drafted into the Army and afterwards he reunited with his blues buddies, none more instrumental than his relationship with blues singer Junior Parker, for whom he was often an opening act.
Opening for others ended by the sixties when he became a headliner, averaging more than 300 shows a year. It was a challenging experience and nightclubs and bars where he performed made it easy for him to find relief in alcohol.
Even so, he eventually overcame his addiction to alcohol and resumed performing and recording some of most memorable tunes such as “Turn On Your Love Light,” “That’s the Way Love Is,” and “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do.”
With or without his signature squall, Bobby Blue Bland was the essence of the blues and ain’t nothing you can do about that.