Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bobby "Blue" Bland

Bobby "Blue" Bland rockin' the chitlin' circuit.
Pardon the fuzzy scan, this one sure sounds good on 78 rpm.
Singing live on Memphis' WDIA, the first all black station in America.
Left to Right: Little Junior Parker, Elvis Presley, Bobby Blue Bland, 1956.
Bobby "Blue" Bland (born Robert Calvin Brooks, in Rosemark, Tennessee, 1930) has been for over half a century "The King Of The Chitlin' Circuit", and remains so. His voice is all shot to hell, and he can no longer stand up onstage, but he's still out there on the road, and although he gets plenty of good bookings at places like House Of Blues, casinos and festivals, a good portion of his gigs are still southern "Chitlin' Circuit" clubs where his loyal audience is full of large boned ladies of color, and every table has a bottle of Crown Royal (served in a blue velour bag) on it. He is of the most influential rhythm and blues singers of all time, the source of such standards as Turn On Your Lovelight, Further On Up The Road and I Pity The Fool and had a string of R&B hits that stretched over forty years, he was still making the R&B charts regularly with his Malaco releases into the early 1990's. His career is too long and he has made too many good records to cover in one posting (although I'd recommend to anyone single out there, if you don't own a copy of his Two Steps From The Blues LP, get one, I used to keep it along with Sam Cooke's Night Beat next to my stereo as my "guaranteed to get you laid" records. If you're making out and Two Steps From The Blues doesn't close the deal, you're hopeless).
No, today I shall discuss the discs which emanated from handful of sessions cut between 1955 and 1957 with wild man Roy Gaines or the immensely talented Clarence Hollimon on guitar, for these are his rawest, and to my mind, best, most explosive sides.
In a coconut shell, Bland's family moved to Memphis when he was seventeen. He began hanging around on Beale Street and fell in with a loose group of musicians who wore shiny suits and are often 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. He cut his first disc in 1951 fronting a band with Ike Turner on piano and Matt "Guitar" Murphy on, guess, right, the guitar. "I'll Love You Til The Day Die" was released on the b-side of the Chess version of Rosco Gordon's Booted (Booted, in an alternate take was also released by Modern's RPM subsidiary, although Bland wasn't on the flip of that version). He recorded tunes, including a duet with Little Junior Parker for Chess and RPM under the tutelage of Ike Turner before signing with Memphis DJ James Mattis' Duke label who released I.O.U. Blues b/w Lovin' Blues (on which B.B. King played guitar) in '52 and then he was promptly drafted into the U.S. Army. Bland was stationed in Texas and while in the Army did some gigs around Houston and also recorded some sides for Duke including Army Blues b/w No Blow, No Show (Duke 115). When he was discharged in 1955, Duke Records, along with Bland's contract, had been sold to Don Robey, the Houston based, black-Jewish gangster who ran the powerhouse R&B and gospel Peacock label and a snazzy sepia nightclub called the Bronze Peacock. Robey wasted no time in getting Bland in the studio and in February 1955 in Houston, Bland was coupled with producer/arranger Joe Scott and band leader Bill Harvey whose killer group included Connie Mack Booker on piano and Roy Gaines on guitar, for a session that produced his most incendiary disc-- It's My Life Baby b/w Time Out (Duke 141), along with two outtakes-- Honey Bee and Lost Lover Blues that were as good as anything he'd ever record. All four songs feature the voluminous guitar of Roy Gaines (who later cut such classics as Skippy Is A Sissy for RCA and Loud Mouth Lucy for Chart). Having already blogged about Guitar Slim, Mickey Baker, Wild Jimmy Spruill, Pete "Guitar" Lewis and Lafayette "The Thing" Thomas, et al, I think I am running out of verbs to describe wild, distorted, blues based guitar work outs. Brutal. Have I over used that one yet? Gaines' solos on the above sides are truly brutal. If the solo on It's My Life Baby doesn't pin your ears back, there may be something wrong with your ears.
Bland was becoming a popular club draw and soon teamed up with Little Junior Parker and together they went out on the road as the Blues Consolidated tour. Roy Gaines was soon hired away by Chuck Willis who made him his band leader and he was replaced by the equally unique and talented Clarence Hollimon, then still a teenager. Holliman would be featured on Bland's next set of recordings-- I Woke Up Screaming (Duke 146, and from the same session but left in the vault A Million Miles From Nowhere), You've Got Bad Intentions Baby b/w I Can't Put You Down Baby (Duke 153), I Smell Trouble b/w I Don't Want No Woman (Duke 167) and Farther Up The Road b/w Sometime Tomorrow (Duke 170). The latter, released in 1957, would go to #1 R&B and kick off the string of R&B hits that would stretch over the coming decades. His next two records-- Bobby's Blues b/w Teach Me (How To Love You) (Duke 182) and Loan Me A Helping Hand b/w You Got Me (Where You Want Me) (Duke 185) were not hits, but are excellent none the less. We end our discussion with a four song session from 1958 that produced his next hit-- the wailing, ultra-dramatic Little Boy Blue b/w Last Night (Duke 196) and You Did Me Wrong b/w I Lost Sight Of The World (Duke 300). The version of I Lost Sight Of The World posted here is missing the flute overdub heard on the original disc, I hope you don't mind. As Buddy Rich once said (and not to Ian Anderson)-- "there's no sound in flutes". Little Boy Blue, a masterful vocal performance by Bland, would go top ten R&B in October of 1958. These sides all prominently feature the ferocious, nearly out of control guitar playing of young Clarence Hollimon. How he managed to remain such an obscure figure in the ensuing years is a mystery to me. But soon, as Bland's music changed there would be little room for Hollimon's extreme tendencies, and the sound of a distorted guitar would pretty much disappear from Bland's records, replaced by more sophisticated horn charts and often saxophone solos. From 1959 on, Bland's sides would become smoother and more urbane, a formula that proved a winning one for in addition to dozens of hit singles Bland produced a string of classic albums cut with producer Joe Scott (or sometimes our old pal Zephyr Andre Williams)-- the aforementioned Two Steps From The Blues (1961), Here's The Man (1962), Call On Me (1963), Ain't Nothin' You Can Do (1964), and The Soul Of The Man (1965) that presented Bland as a polished, mature, worldly, uptown blues singer. While I'm talking albums, Bland's first-- Blues Consolidated (1959) which features one side of early Bland hits and another side of Little Junior Parker's Duke classics is one of the greatest albums ever made. It was also one of the first blues LP's ever released and became highly influential with younger musicians, nearly every song on it would become a blues band standard.
Bobby "Blue" Bland would tour the world, working 300 days a year or more for the rest of his life (although these days it's down to around half that), as well as all of the achievements mentioned in the first paragraph. While Bland carried on, Clarence Hollimon left Bland's group in '59 and Bland would, for a time, share a band with Little Junior Parker as part of the Blues Consolidated road show, so Hollimon's replacement was Pat "I"m Gonna Murder My Baby" Hare for a couple of years. Clarence Hollimon would resurface in the late 1980's and form an act with his wife-- Carol Fran, the singer/pianist who had cut a string of fine sides for Excello in the early sixties. Too bad they recorded for Black Top. I've made my thoughts on Black Top's production values in my Robert Ward posting last year, I won't go into it again, suffice to say Hollimon was still playing well, but he was recorded badly. He passed away in 2000. The best examples of his guitar prowess remain Bobby Blue Bland's early Duke sides. No home should be without them.


Anonymous said...

thank you
seems like Wayne Bennett on guitar
on the left of the 1 picture

The Hound said...

"seems like Wayne Bennett on guitar
on the left of the 1 picture"

Could very well be, Bennett joined Bland's band around '59, but since he's partially obscured in the photo and I wasn't quite sure what he looked like (the only time I ever saw Bennett play was when he was w/Ray Charles in the 80's). What I didn't mention in the post was that Pat Hare didn't last long w/Jr. Parker, less than a year, then moved to Chicago and joined Muddy Waters band. He stayed w/Muddy until '62 (he's on Live At Newport), then moved to Minneapolis. It was there that he had the altercation that led him to kill his girlfriend and a cop, he got a life sentence and died in prison in 1980.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Gaines don't forget his recording of "Gainesville" for Deluxe circa 1957 which is a smokin' guitar instro! There was a 45 of "Loud Mouth Lucy" on Chart on Ebay recently that I lost out to and I had bid over $300! -Barry Soltz

Anonymous said...

Forgot to mention Gaines also had 2 killer singles for Groove where he was billed as Roy "Mr. Guitar" Gaines from 1956. -Barry Soltz

The Hound said...

"Regarding Gaines don't forget his recording of "Gainesville" for Deluxe circa 1957 which is a smokin' guitar instro! There was a 45 of "Loud Mouth Lucy" on Chart on Ebay recently that I lost out to and I had bid over $300!"

He cut another great instro for Deluxe called Night Beat (the flipside of Annabella), Gaines deserves a posting all to himself, I just need to dig up a good photo. There's some un-issued tracks in RCA's vault from the Groove sessions also.
Some of those Chart 45's are impossible to find these days, I've been looking for the Elder Beck
on 45 rpm for over 30 years! Never even saw one, but Henry Stone told me all the Chart discs were pressed on 45 RPM.

James said...

Another great post Hound! Do you know if any live recordings exist of BBB from the early years?

The Hound said...

" Do you know if any live recordings exist of BBB from the early years?"

No live recordings before the 1970's have surfaced although it's hard to believe he was never recorded live by some radio station or club owner. It's a shame that so few of the greats were recorded at their peak.
In fact, the first decent live Chuck Berry stuff has just be issued as part of the Chuck Berry Complete Chess Recordings: You Never Can Tell (1960-66). It's excellent stuff (and yes, his guitar is out of tune), it's hard to believe that L. & P. Chess thought the fake live On Stage LP they released was better.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Chart 45's I don't know of a copy ever surfacing of the Elder Beck on a 45! I've seen all the others except Calvin Vaughan "Weak Minded Baby" which I've never heard but with a title like that it sounds like it's gotta be pretty good. -Barry Soltz

The Hound said...

"Regarding Chart 45's I don't know of a copy ever surfacing of the Elder Beck on a 45! "

Which doesn't mean there's not one out there someplace, given the year ('56) and the fact that the records issued before (The Charms) and after (Wilbert Harrison) are more common on 45 than on 78.
My guess is that Beck himself ordered the 78's to sell at his revivals since his audience was older and were more apt to have old 78 players. Stone might have pressed up a handful of 45's to send out to gospel radio stations. What ever became of WLAC's record library? Someplace like that is where one might eventually turn up.
On the other hand, has anyone out there ever seen the Calvin Vaughn? I never have....was it actually released?

Ken from NJ said...

I saw Bobby perform at a free concert a few years back, at the South Street Seaport. The audience was about half young "in-the know" types and half,as you said, "large boned ladies of color". Oh and one aging 60's Frat Boy (me).

It was mildly disapointing, he sang mostly his 70's disco period material (lots of gettin' on down's and and my my my's) and precious little of his 50/60's peak stuff. This certainly pleased the ladies, but left me out.

At the end, when it became obvious that he was done after one encore, the old black guy sitting next to mesaid, somewhat increduously, "What?? No Lovelight??". My sentiments exactly. I guess if he could no longer get down on his knees, he felt there was no point in singing it.

Love your blog, as I did your shwo for many years.

--Ken from NJ

Timmy said...

This is truely precious stuff, many thanx. When Jimmy Witherspoon had his weekly Blues show on KMET/FM, in Los Angeles, way on a way back in the early 70's, he would almost always play Bobby's "It's Not The Spotlight" ("It's Not The Streetlight"???)Maybe Blue Bland's last great single...

cb said...

I saw Bobby Bland in 1987 at a short-lived place called the Benz nightclub in New Orleans. It was like the chitlin' circuit shows you describe, except instead of Chivas Regal, there were fake roses on most tables.

Everyone was dressed to the nines and at least twice our age. The place was already packed when we got there but a table was found for us anyway - I guess people were just being nice to us, but that was the New Orleans way in my experience.

Bobby sang a long set of his great r&b repertoire that night, no disco that I can recall.

RichardSibello said...

Hey Hound, you forgot to mention another great early single by Bland - "I Don't Believe" b/w "I Learned My Lesson" (Duke 160) from 1956. It's credited to BBB and Bill Harvey's Band.

Anonymous said...

These old BBB sides are so ridiculously great, and so many of them are staples in the "hip, not worn out" cover song's criminal that The Man doesn't get more respect.


Espanadadude said...

Thank you for that cool post-especially the 1st picture!
No one tops the Bobby Bland Duke stuff (except maybe O.V. Wright)
I went to US 3-4 years ago,and got very close to seeing a BBB show in Inglewood,but had to fly home to Europe early the next morning and missed the show.Instead I went out for barbeque with James Harman,who had lots of stories about BBB,O.V. and Junior Parker... Im going back to LA next year and hope I get a second chance!

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