Two Steps from the Blues
Bland, Bobby "Blue"
A Scintillating Voice Stands . . .
Bobby "Blue" Bland wasn't an elder statesman of anything when he recorded these astounding soul-blues singles in the late '50s. He just sounds that way. On songs that celebrate commitment and cry about the heartaches that inevitably follow, Bland, who was in his late twenties, brought the blues to new levels of intimacy. He found an emotionally expressive terrain the volatile kingpins of Delta blues ignored and, before he'd even been recording for very long, developed it into a sound that influenced an entire generation of singers—Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and all the rest.
A founding member, along with B.B. King, of the Memphis aggregate known as the Beale Streeters, Bland was first recorded in 1951, on a single produced for Chess by Sam Phillips that went nowhere. The singer entered the military in 1952, and when he returned to civilian life in 1955, he found himself in demand right away, performing with harmonica ace Junior Parker and recording singles for Duke Records.
Soon after, Duke was bought by notorious record-biz hustler Don Robey (another in a line of businessmen to claim songwriting credit to skim publishing royalties from artists). In what became a blessing for Bland, Robey paired him with the smart musician and arranger, Joe Scott, who discovered and exploited Bland's innate smoothness.
Many of the singles here, including "Cry, Cry, Cry" and "Lead Me On," were written by Deadric Malone and arranged (often cannily underarranged) by Scott. Bland delivers each with a predator's patience and clearly enjoys having his vocals reinforced by the equally distraught guitar ad-libs of Clarence Holliman. Bland's laments about the love that's gone proceed at a slow and steady pace, and by the time he utters the raw vocal appeal he calls a "squall" (see "Little Boy Blue," his zenith, for a few memorable ones), he's thoroughly set a scene. All he has to do is whimper a little bit, and he whisks his listeners to his specific spot on the misery index, a place that isn't two steps away, as Bland claims, but deeply immersed in the blues.
Released: 1961, Duke
Key Tracks: "I Pity the Fool," "Little Boy Blue," "Cry, Cry, Cry," "I'll Take Care of You."
Catalog Choice: Call on Me
Next Stop: Albert King: Born Under a Bad Sign
After That: Little Milton: If Walls Could Talk
Book Pages: 95–96