Bobby "Blue" Bland - Little Boy Blue
When I lived in Chicago I would spend many late Saturday nights tuned to WVON to hear "The All-Night Blues Man" himself, Pervis Spann, play blues and soul-blues as if it were still 1965, with Spann talking over records and taking phone calls. Almost all of the callers were older black people, some sounding either sleep-deprived or intoxicated, and all asking for some Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis or, as they would say invariably as one word, "Bobbybluebland."
It is this pool of older black people that have kept Bobby Bland going on steadily into his sixth decade as a performer. Although in his heyday Bland was second only to B.B. King as a blues star and R&B hitmaker, strangely he was never able to capture the white audience the way B.B. did. I think there are several reasons for this, but three immediately come to mind: (1) Bland was strictly a vocalist, so the blues-rock crowd, attuned almost totally to blues guitarists, ignored him; (2) his "blues" had more than a small dollop of R&B and soul in them - so much so that a British critic considered his landmark LP Two Steps From the Blues to be "a million steps" instead; and (3) Bland projected a "grown folk" approach in his vocal style and song choices that didn't translate well to "the kids," who were instead digging the Motown sound.
Despite the lack of crossover success, however, Bland was "The MAN" in the "chitlin' circuit," where he was known for both his sweet-and-rough vocal stylings (on one hand he could project vulnerability in tender moments but then he would cut loose with a gargling shout that was known as "the squall," which Bland borrowed from C.L. Franklin's sermons) and his top-notch stage presentation (his band, led by trumpeter and arranger Joe Scott, was one of the best on the "chitlin' circuit," and Bland himself was known for his sharp wardrobe and such lady-killer antics as spreading a white hankie on the stage floor before kneeling down on it to belt out a song - he couldn't get his suit dirty, you see). Even today, he remains a major draw among black audiences, although his audience has aged along with him. I saw Bobby at the Chicago Blues Festival in the late 1990s and more black people were present than usual at the Festival to see him. Bland had them in the palm of his hand and the ladies still hollered when he did "the squall" (although "the squall" has, in later years, is so phlegmy it sounds like he's clearing his throat).
"Little Boy Blue" was released on Duke in 1958 and, despite that early vintage, has a very strong soul sound. Bland adroitly sells the story of a remorseful lover and "takes it to church" in the very strong finale. It's an awesome song, and it's one of my favorite Bland tunes.
(By the way, the name of this blog and my podcast is actually inspired by the title of one of Bland's 1970s LPs for ABC, Get on Down With Bobby Bland. With that in mind, I plan to post more Bobby Bland stuff soon!)