Bobby BlandDrifting From Town To TownThe Original Memphis Blues Brothers
Bobby Bland & Little Junior ParkerLove Me BabyThe Original Memphis Blues Brothers
Little Junior Parker Bad Women Bad Whiskey The Original Memphis Blues Brothers
Bobby BlandGood Lovin'The Original Memphis Blues Brothers
Earl ForrestI CriedThe Original Memphis Blues Brothers
Johnny Ace Midnight Hours Journey Johnny Ace 1951-1954
B.B.KingGotta Find My BabyThe Vintage Years
Ike TurnerTrouble And HeartachesThe Original Memphis Blues Brothers
Rosco GordonI Woke Up Screaming The Duke Recordings Vol. 1
Bobby BlandTeach Me The Duke Recordings Vol. 1
Bobby BlandAin't Doin' Too Bad, Part 1 The Duke Recordings Vol. 2
Bobby BlandGood Time Charlie, Part 1 The Duke Recordings Vol. 3
Bobby BlandYield Not To TemptationThe Duke Recordings Vol. 2
Bobby BlandFarther Up The RoadThe Duke Recordings Vol. 1
Bobby BlandLittle Boy BlueThe Duke Recordings Vol. 1
Bobby BlandI'll Take Care Of YouThe Duke Recordings Vol. 1
Bobby BlandTurn On Your Love LightThe Duke Recordings Vol. 2
Bobby BlandAin't Nothing You Can DoThe Duke Recordings Vol. 2
Bobby BlandGoing Down SlowHis California Album
Bobby BlandMembers OnlyMembers Only
Bobby Bland & B.B. KingLet The Good Times RollB.B. King & Bobby Bland - Together Again

Show Notes

Today's show is inspired by an excellent new biography on Bland called Soul of the Man written by Charles Farley. As Farley writes: “Bobby “Blue” Bland is one of the seminal figures of post World War II popular music. His silky smooth vocal style and captivating live performances helped bring the blues out of Delta juke joints and into urban clubs and theaters. Bland, along with his long-time friend, B.B. King, and other members of the loosely-knit group who called themselves the Beale Streeters forged a new electrified blues style in Memphis, Tennessee in the early 1950s. …Beginning with his first big hit in 1957, “Farther Up the Road,” Bland scored repeatedly with hit after hit, placing more than 60 songs on the R&B charts throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. While more than two thirds of his hits crossed over onto pop charts, Bland was not widely known outside the African American community. Nevertheless, many of his recordings are standards like “Turn On Your Love Light” that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named as one of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.” He also recorded scores of hit albums like his classic 1961 Two Steps from the Blues that is widely considered as one of the best blues albums of all time." Today's show shines the spotlight on Bland as well as some of his Memphis cohorts who came up with him in the 50's. In addition in the second half of the show we chat with Farley about his book and spin tunes he chose for the show.

We open up the show with a batch of early sides by Bland and his Memphis pals from 1951 and 1952. Bland began hanging around on Beale Street and fell in with a loose group of musicians who were referred to as the Beale Streeters, although they never used that name themselves: Johnny Ace, B.B. King, Rosco Gordon, Earl Forrest and Little Junior Parker. The Beale Streeters, except for Earl Forest, all went on to notable careers and cut hit records. The group backed Johnny Ace on his early sides as well as some sides by B.B. King and Bland. From sessions cut on January 24, 1952 for Modern's RPM imprint we spin B.B.'s blistering "Gotta Find My Baby", a Doctor Clayton number and a singer he much admired, backed by Johnny Ace and Earl Forest, Junior Parker's debut and only 78 for Modern, "Bad Women Bad Whiskey" featuring Ike Turner on piano and Matt Murphy on guitar, Johnny Ace's debut "Midnight Hours Journey", issued on Modern's flair subsidiary, backed by B.B. King and Earl Forest and Forest's own "I Cried" backed by Johnny Ace. From the same same day we hear Bland's "Drifting From Town To Town" and the flipside "Love Me Baby" featuring Johnny Ace, Matt Murphy, Earl Forest and Junior Parker on harmonica and vocals on the latter number and "Good Lovin" with Ike Turner on piano and Mutt Murphy on guitar.

Sam Phillips heard Bland on a broadcast on WDIA radio in Memphis and first recorded him in August, 1951, along with Rosco Gordon, at his newly opened Memphis Recording Services and leased the initial unsuccessful cuts to Chess Records in Chicago. The Bland sides dropped without a trace but Phillips later sold the master of Gordon's "Bootin'" from this session to two competing labels, Chess and RPM, both of whom released it as a single. This mix-up did not, however, prevent the song from hitting number one on the R&B chart in 1952. The flipside was "Love You Till The Day I Die" featuring vocals by Bland.

The last two sets of the first hour are devoted to Bland alone. From 1955 we spin the 1955 scorcher "I Woke Up Screaming" (which just so happens to the title of the first Bland LP I purchase on the Ace label) and 1957's "Teach Me" the followup to Bland's breakthrough smash, "Farther Up The Road." From the 60's we hear the gospel infused "Yield Not To Temptation" the followup to "Turn On Your Love Light", "Ain't Doin' Too Bad, Part 1" which hit number 4 on the charts and "Good Time Charlie, Part 1" which number 6.

Here's an outline of Bland's career from Charles Farley: "Robert’s mother believed her son had enough talent to pursue a career in music, so she moved the family to Memphis in 1945, where there would be more opportunities for the young singer.  There he worked at his mother’s diner, called the Sterling Grill, just off of Beale Street, parked cars at  Bender’s Garage, behind the Malco (now Orpheum) Theater, and later worked with Memphis musicians B.B. King, Rosco Gordon, and Little Junior Parker.

Sam Phillips heard Bland on a broadcast on WDIA radio in Memphis and first recorded him in August, 1951, along with Rosco Gordon, at his newly opened Memphis Recording Services and leased the initial unsuccessful cuts to Chess Records in Chicago.  Ike Turner, a young talent scout for Modern Records, also recorded a few Bobby Bland songs for the Los Angeles based label, prompting one of the brothers who owned Modern, Joe Bihari, to say that “he better stop singing and buy a plow.”

Bland, thankfully, did not heed Bihari’s advice and kept on singing, winning the Wednesday night Talent Show at the Palace Theater in Memphis often enough that he was banned from competing.  He was discovered there by David James Mattis, the program director at WDIA and founding owner of Duke Records, who signed him to a recording contract.  After a few more unsuccessful recordings, Bland was drafted into the Army in 1952, where he served for two and half years, including a stint in the special forces in Japan, where he worked on singing in a more jazz-oriented style.

Bobby Bland & Rosco Gordon early 1950's

When he returned from the Army in 1955, he found that Duke Records had been sold to a former gambler and night club owner in Houston named Don Robey, who promptly sent Bland the $13.80 bus fare from Memphis to Houston. While Robey was considered by most to be a shady character who took royalties for songs he didn’t write and was stingy with the advances on the meager royalties he paid, Bland appreciated the opportunity to record again after his rather tepid start with Chess and Modern and remained loyal to Robey and Duke Records for the next 20 years.  In 1973, Robey sold the label to ABC, where Bland continued to record more classic albums, such as His California Album, Dreamer, and Reflections in Blue, with producer Steve Barri, as well as two popular live albums with his old Memphis friend, B.B. King.

When MCA, which had acquired ABC in 1979, released Bland from his recording contract in 1984, Malaco Records in Jackson, Mississippi, picked up his contract, and continued to record 12 well-received Bobby Bland modern blues albums.  The first, in 1985, was entitled Members Only which received the Blues Foundation’s Classic of Blues Recordings—Albums award in 2008 and included his last big hit single, the title cut, written by Larry Addison, who continued to write many of Bland’s most popular tunes in subsequent years. Bland’s last album for Malaco was Blues at Midnight in 2003."

Listen to the Charles Farley interview (MP3, 1 hour)

Bobby Bland Discography (PDF)

Album Index (PDF)