Blues and R&B great Bobby “Blue” Bland has died at the age of 83.
While details are slim at this time, the news came from the Memphis Music Foundation’s Pat Mitchell Worley via Memphis station WREG. Worley wrote “It is a great loss for the blues and for Memphis Music. He was a trail blazer and his music will be missed.”
Robert Calvin “Bobby” Bland was born in Rosemark, Tennessee in 1930. When he later moved with his mother to Memphis, he started singing in local gospel groups although, as time wore on, he eventually started hitting the scene on Beale Street and branching out into other forms of music.
Bland became a part of the “Beale Streeters” which also included Johnny Ace, Junior Parker and B.B. King. He began recording in the early 50’s for Modern and Chess but was pulled away by a stint in the U.S. Army. Upon his return, he fell in again with many of the Beale Streeters and eventually signed with Duke Records where he had his breakout hit, 1957’s Farther Up the Road (#1 R&B / #43 Pop).
Over the next twenty eight years, Bland would hit the R&B charts 63 times including 25 top tens and three number ones (Road, I Pity the Fool (1961) and That’s the Way Love Is (1963)). Even with his immense popularity with R&B fans, he was never able to cross over to the pop charts, scoring his biggest hits with 1961’s Turn On Your Love Light (#2 R&B / #28 Pop), 1963’s Call On Me (the flip side of That’s the Way Love Is) (#6 R&B / #22 Pop) and 1964’a Ain’t Nothing You Can Do (#20 R&B / #20 Pop).
From a critical standpoint, Bland’s career peaked in the early 70’s after he beat depression and alcohol addiction with the LP’s California Album (1973), Dreamer (1974) and Reflections in Blue (1977).
In the 80’s, he signed with Malaco Records and continued to release southern soul recordings while touring both as a solo artist and with good friend B.B. King.
Bland is a member of the Blues Hall of Fame (1981), Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1992) and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.