Born: January 27, 1930 Primary Instrument: Vocal
In the 50s and early 60s, Bobby Blue Bland was one of the main creators of the modern soul-blues sound. Along with such artists as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Junior Parker, Bland developed a sound that mixed gospel with blues and R&B. Bobby's style of soul-blues was punctuated with a big-band sound and slick, B.B. King-flavored guitar riffs.
Bland was born on January 27, 1930 in Rosemark, Tennessee. a small town just outside Memphis. In 1947 he moved to the city with his mother and began his career, first as a singer in the gospel group the Miniatures, then in the loosely knit blues group the Beale Streeters, which included such future blues stars as Johnny Ace, B.B. King, Junior Parker, and Rosco Gordon.
Bland's first recordings were from 1950 to 1952, when he cut sides for the Modern and Chess labels. Being drafted into the army in 1952 put his career on hold, but shortly after his discharge in 1954, he began a long-term relationship with Duke Records. This would result in dozens of records, many of them big sellers in the R&B market.
Bobby's first Duke single, It's My Life, Baby, was released in 1955. Two years later, he scored with the seminal Texas shuffle Farther On Up The Road, which went to number 1 on the R&B charts. Follow-up records included two 1961 hits, I Pity the Fool, which also made it to number 1 on the R&B charts, and Turn on Your Love Light, which went to number 2. That's the Way Love Is, a 1963 release, gave Bland his third number 1 hit. His record “Two Steps from the Blues,” (1961) is considered a classic, and a definitive example of the soul blues style which he masters.
From 1957 to 1961 Bland 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. Because Bland neither composed nor played an instrument, he relied on others for songs and inspired instrumentation. Joe Scott, his bandleader and arranger, and for years one of Duke label owner Don Robey's chief talent scouts, helped create Bland's big-band sound. Just as important to Bland's sound was guitarist Wayne Bennett, who complemented the horns and Bland's vocals with jazz-influenced solos, a la T-Bone Walker and B.B. King.
Bland worked with Scott and Bennett until 1968 when the band broke up, partially the result of Bland's alleged alcohol problems. But Bland resuscitated his career in 1972, this time with producer Steve Garrie and bandleader Ernie Fields, Jr. Rather than dwell on R&B ballads, Garrie gave Bland a blues-based sound that resulted in two of his more commercially successful albums: “California Album,” (1973) and “Dreamer” (1974). Both works were released on the ABC-Dunhill label, the company that purchased Duke in 1972.
Bland signed on with Malaco Records based out of Jackson, Miss. One of the leading labels for Southern Soul, they have been securing him into of a more relaxed style of singing that’s geared for a soul pop mature audience. Since 1985 he has released over ten albums for them delivered in his unique style of going from heartbreak to exultation. He is still readily recognizable, and remains an original in the genre.
Despite Bland's extensive recording catalogue, his long- term success on the R&B charts, and his near-constant touring (often with longtime friend B.B. King), he rarely crossed over into the pop realm. Dozens of blues and R&B influenced rock vocalists, however, have credited Bland as a main influence.
Bland was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. In 1997, he was the recipient of the Recording Academy’s coveted Lifetime Achievement Grammy. 1998 brought him The Blues Foundations Lifetime Achievement Award.