Friday, August 21, 2009

Bobby Bland

...AKA Bobby “Blue” Bland. If the number of chart singles measures success, then Bland was the single most successful blues artist. He had 37 songs on the Billboard top 100 between 1957 and 1974. B.B. King had 34 up till 1975. Slim Harpo had 2, Muddy Waters had 0. And Bland was pure blues, out of step with everything else around him on the top 100. Something about him appealed to radio programmers and record buyers.

I got The Best Of Bobby Bland in St. Paul, Minnesota, at Cheapo’s, in the summer of 1986. That was my first time in Cheapo’s, and it was the only copy of that LP I ever saw. I added some tracks later, everything up to That’s Why, which came from a CD anthology that I picked up at the WK Library.

Bobby Bland:

I.O.U. Blues – Genuine 12 bar blues about indebtedness in an relationship context. From 1952.
It’s My Life Baby – A song of defiance, take me as I am, from 1955.
A Million Miles From Nowhere – Bland sings about screwing up his life. Not to be confused with Cat Stevens.
Bobby’s Blues – Bobby made a bad marriage, now he’s resentful. “Farther on up the road…” sings Bobby, presaging his fall 1957 hit, “you’re gonna get what’s coming to you.” This is from 1957..
Lead Me On – Dave Marsh calls this “the greatest 3:00 AM record ever made.” I hear it. It’s a song about putting yourself is someone else’s hands, and doing so in the most alienating circumstances. The arrangement here is very different, with an orchestra that sounds like it specializes in horror film soundtracks, and I mean that in the best possible way. A non-hit from 1960.
Don’t Cry No More – From the fall of 1961. Crying presented as evidence of love.
That’s Why – This is as close to The Platters as Bland got. This is from 1959, the B side of I’ll Take Care Of You.
Poverty – About what it says it’s about. This is from the fall of 1966 and it sounds like it, right up to date with 60s R&B, but Bland is still Bland.
I Smell Trouble – From 1957. Another hard luck story. I try, he sings, but…
Some Day – From 1959.
I’ll Take Care Of You – What every woman wants to hear. Another haunting ballad in the same vain as Lead Me On, with organ this time. From the winter of 1960.
I Pity The Fool – Everything that’s good about the blues is here. From the winter of 1961. This turned up here and there, Paul Butterfield did it.
Cry Cry Cry – From the fall of 1960. Another song of romantic vengeance, like Cry Me A River. It even has those lyrics. Not the Johnny Cash song.
Turn On Your Love Light – The Human Beinz did this and so did The Grateful Dead, and so did 4,567,333 bar bands. This is the original. From the winter of 1962.
Call On Me – Not the Chicago song, and not the Big Brother & The Holding Company song. From the winter of 1963.
Ain’t Nothing You Can Do – About the hopelessness of romantic attachment. His biggest, and only top 20, hit, from the spring of 1964, during the height of Beatlemania. The Band covered this.
If You Could Read My Mind – Not the Lightfoot song, obviously, but still a ballad, and a sad one. What’s inside is not what you see on the outside, and that’s a common theme in pop music, but it’s rarely presented this poignantly.
Farther On Up The Road – From the fall of 1957 and standard blues. Clapton did this with the Band on The Last Waltz.
Stormy Monday – The blues / jazz standard that it seems everyone had to do, from Lou Rawls to The McCoys to Bobby Bland himself. At least Bland knew what he was doing. From the fall of 1962.

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