Bobby “Blue” Bland, a distinguished singer who blended Southern blues and soul in songs such as “Turn on Your Love Light”, “I Pitty The Fool” and “Little Boy Blue,” died Sunday at his home in Memphis, TN. He was 83.
Bland was a contemporary of B.B. King’s was one of the last of the living connections to the roots of the genre. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
Bland moved to Memphis and began singing with local gospel groups, including The Miniatures. Eager to expand his interests, he began frequenting the city’s famous Beale Street where he became associated with an ad hoc circle of aspiring musicians named, not unnaturally, the Beale Streeter.
Bland’s recordings from the early 1950s show him striving for individuality, but any progress was halted by a spell in the U.S. Army. When the singer returned to Memphis in 1954 he found several of his former associates, including Johnny Ace, enjoying considerable success, while Bland’s recording label, Duke, had been sold to Houston entrepreneur Don Robey. In 1956 Bland began touring with Junior Parker. Initially he doubled as valet and driver, a role he reportedly fulfilled for B. B. King and Rosco Gordon. Simultaneously, Bland began asserting his characteristic vocal style. Melodic big-band blues singles, including “Farther Up the Road” (1957) and “Little Boy Blue” (1958) reached the US R&B Top 10, but Bobby’s craft was most clearly heard on a series of early 1960s releases including “Cry Cry Cry”, “I Pity The Fool” and the sparkling “Turn On Your Love Light”, which became a much-covered standard.
In 1985, Bland was signed by Malaco Records, specialists in traditional Southern black music for whom he made a series of albums while continuing to tour and appear at concerts with fellow blues singer B. B. King. The two had collaborated for two albums in the 1970s. Despite occasional age-related ill-health, Bland continued to record new albums for Malaco and perform occasional tours alone, with guitarist/producer Angelo Earl and also with B.B. King, plus appearances at blues and soul festivals worldwide.Share this story: