Introduction and Early Life:
One of the most influential and original blues singers in history, Bobby Bland earned recognition for his sophisticated, soulful and passionate gospel-infused singing style. Born “Robert Calvin Brooks” in a small town just outside Memphis on January 27, 1930, his father abandoned him when he was very young.
He began singing gospel songs from a young age. Bland joined the Beale Streeters as a teenager, a group which included B. B. King and Johnny Ace.
Career and Musical Achievements:
After recording a string of unsuccessful singles for Modern Records, Bobby Bland signed a record contract with Duke Records in the early 50s. From the very start, several of his recordings became big hits, including “Further On Up The Road”, “I Smell Trouble”, “It’s My Life Baby”. Bland’s 1956 release, “Little Boy Blue”, more effectively defined his singing style, which can described as a mixture of hush pleading and husky gospel shrieks. His band-leader, Joe Scott, played an instrumental role in the creation of the singer’s sound.
Bland meticulously merged ballads, blues, jazz and country to produce a unique, imaginative sound that could be heard in almost all of his 60s recordings, including Two Steps From the Blues (1961), Call on Me (1963) and Ain’t Nothing You Can Do (1964). He also recorded two albums with B.B. King, Together for the First Time… Live (1974) and Together Again…Live (1976).
When the Duke Records was acquired by ABC Records group in the late 70s, the label tried to position Bland in the disco market with predictably unsuccessful results. He decided to move to Malaco Records in 1985 and successfully revived his career by sticking with the basic R&B format. Bland has been cited as a major influence by such singers as Rod Stewart, Van Morrison and Steve Marriott. He’s often referred to as the “Lion of the Blues” and as the “Sinatra of the Blues”.
Bland died on June 23, 2013 at 83 years of age.
Awards and Accolades:
Bobby Bland has won several awards and honors. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. He won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. Bland’s Rock Hall biography states that he was “second in stature only to B.B. King as a product of Memphis’s Beale Street blues scene”
Bobby Bland has been married four times. He had two children, Roderick Bland and Patrice Moses.