I post a weekly diary of historical notes, arts & science items, foreign news (often receiving little notice in the US) and whimsical pieces from the outside world that I often feature in "Cheers & Jeers". For example .....
Sayyyyyy ........this calls to mind a classic SaB....
SEPARATED at BIRTH - the aforementioned Cowardly Lion and the veteran guitarist James Hetfield of Metallica.
OK, you've been warned - here is this week's
tomfoolery material that I posted.
ART NOTES - an exhibition of landscapes entitled Picturing Florida is at the Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville, Florida through October 13th.
LANGUAGE NOTES - Spanish has more native speakers than any language (besides Mandarin) - and a new book describes efforts to standardize (as much as possible) its use around the world.
BRAIN TEASER - try this Quiz of the Week's News from the BBC.
FRIDAY's CHILD is Mata Hairi the Cat - an Oregon kitteh who will be rejoining her family after spending nearly 10 months (traveling thousands of miles) with a hitchhiker who rescued her from the rain.
SIGN of the TIMES - the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is allowing some of its radio affiliates to carry advertising - which is not sitting well with everyone.
THE OTHER NIGHT yours truly hosted the Top Comments diary with a look at the film and TV versions of The Naked City - the true forerunner to "Hill Street Blues".
FATHER-SON? - film director Alfred Hitchcock and Fox president Roger Ailes.
......and finally, for a song of the week ............... although he never had the same cross-over appeal to white music fans that his friend BB King enjoyed, the singer Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland had had a sixty-year career that has earned him awards and a steady (if not glamorous) life .... that just came to an end at the age of 83. As a fitting farewell: let's have a career retrospective.
As Sean Elder wrote in Salon - "If there was any justice, you would hear Bobby Bland on the radio at night. Of course there is no justice, and you won't hear Bobby Bland on the radio … you are more likely to hear some white band covering one of his tunes. And like some roadhouse Sisyphus, he seems by and large resigned to the life he has chosen". Fortunately for us, his music is there for the taking.
Born in 1930 as Robert Calvin Bland in Rosemark, Tennessee, he moved with his family to Memphis where he began singing in Gospel groups. He was inspired vocally by the Reverend C.L. Franklin - Aretha's father - and later by Nat King Cole, in what he admitted was a strange blend of styles. He won the Wednesday night Talent Show at the Palace Theater in Memphis often, and joining the Beale Streeters - with BB King and Junior Parker among its members – before its members went on to their own careers.
He was signed by Duke Records and recorded for a time before he was drafted into the Army in 1952. Upon his return in 1954 he found that Duke Records had been – fatefully – sold to the Houston businessman Don Robey - one of the first African-Americans to own a highly successful record label (predating Motown's Berry Gordy by more than a decade).
Like many of his white counterparts, Robey was notoriously heavy-handed - with both performers and songwriters often cut out of their just rewards – and the name Deadric Malone (or just ‘D. Malone’) as a songwriter credit was a pseudonym for Robey, yet he rarely contributed anything to a song. Either way, he figured prominently in the career of Bobby Bland for the next twenty years, and Bland remained loyal to Robey after his death in 1975, grateful for his chance to become a star.
Bobby began as a singer in the band of the saxophonist Bill Harvey, with a key bandmember being trumpeter Joe Scott – a talented songwriter and arranger, who taught Bobby Bland about phrasing and timing. "I’d say he was everything" was Bobby Bland’s assessment, and the two worked together for nearly a decade after Bobby Bland became a headliner, with Joe Scott as his bandleader (and it was great to see this week's NY Times obituary make mention of Scott.
His first national hit is perhaps his most enduring song, 1957’s Farther Up the Road – which was a #1 R&B hit and even reached #43 in the pop charts. It was written by Joe Medwick Veasey (1/2 credited to 'D. Malone'), has been recorded by many performers (and is a staple in Eric Clapton concerts to this day). In addition to Joe Scott, Bobby Bland had a number of first-rate guitarists who helped define his sound. Clarence Holliman and Pat Hare did so in the 1950’s, with Wayne Bennett becoming his axeman throughout the 1960’s.
Some of Bobby Bland’s other hits through the end of the 1960’s – most of which were actually written by Joe Scott (though sometimes uncredited) - included "Little Boy Blue", Blind Man (which was recorded by Steve Winwood and Traffic in 1969), I Pity the Fool (long before Mr. T. uttered those words), "I’ll Take Care of You", "Ain’t Nothing You Can Do" (written by Brook Benton) and "Two Steps from the Blues" – which was also the title of a noted album of his from 1961, that Rolling Stone named as #217 in its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.
His style was different from many other R&B singers of the time: combining a guttural 'chicken-bone' sound with a smooth, romantic counterpoint and - with his songs not about cheating or boozing but about commitment (such as "I’ll Take Care of You") - well, he had a dedicated female following.
Yet even after the color barriers came down, and he recorded two albums in the 1970’s with B.B. King and his work was championed by rock stars such as Boz Scaggs and Van Morrison: unlike many other blues/R&B singers, Bobby Bland never had much of a white audience, with few singles of his reaching the Top 40. In the excellent new book by Preston Lauterbach, Bobby Bland’s followers came first from the Chitlin Circuit - with appearances at blues festivals his main contact with a wider audience.
Bobby Bland’s career began to diminish in the late 1960’s, as (a) Joe Scott left his band, (b) Bobby Bland had a drinking problem which was not resolved until 1971, (c) Don Robey sold his labels to ABC Records, which didn’t quite know how to market Bland and (d) musical tastes began to change, with a half-hearted effort at a disco album flopping. As mentioned, there were two nice duet albums with BB King and some other releases, but the 1970’s were a dry period for him in record sales.
Since 1984, he found his niche recording for Malaco Records – a soul/blues/Gospel label based in Jackson, Mississippi that is described as "a sort of living Smithsonian for blues musicians" where he has had several releases with the most recent being Blues at Midnight from 2003. And he toured well into advanced age (though nowhere near the 205-300 nights/year schedule he maintained in his youth).
Bobby 'Blue' Bland has a great legacy, being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, plus winning a Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award that same year as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from 1997. And Rolling Stone declared him to be #44 of its 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
As noted, Van Morrison long had been a fan, inviting him to be a guest singer at concerts and released a duet version of Tupelo Honey in 2007. The lead singer of Simply Red (Mick Hucknall) recorded a 2008 tribute album to Bobby.
There is a nice compilation album of his most noted work and just two years ago, a biography entitled Soul of a Man was released ... which is the title of one of his best albums from 1966. Glad that he lived to see its publication.
Of all of his work, easily my favorite is the 1961 Joe Scott composition (although that dreaded ‘D. Malone’ co-credit still can be seen on it) entitled Turn on your Love Light – where it is the horn arrangements that put the song over the top (#2 in the R&B charts and #28 in the pop charts).
It has been recorded by performers such as Tom Jones, The Rascals, Grand Funk, Bob Seger, Jerry Lee Lewis, Edgar Winter and most notably by the Grateful Dead during the Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan era. And below you can hear Bobby 'Blue' Bland sing the original.
Without a warning
you broke my heart
You took it darling
and tore it apart
You left me sitting
in the dark, crying
You said your love
for me was dying
I'm begging you, baby,
I'm begging you, please,
Come on baby
and I'm on my knees
Turn on the light
let it shine on me
turn on your love light
let it shine on me
Let it shine, shine, shine, let it shine