Bobby “Blue” Bland, a distinguished singer who blended Southern blues and soul in songs such as “Turn on Your Love Light” and “Further On Up the Road,” died Sunday. He was 83.
Rodd Bland said his father died due to complications from an ongoing illness at his Memphis, Tenn., home. He was surrounded by relatives.
Bland was known as the “the Sinatra of the blues” and was heavily influenced by Nat King Cole, often recording with lavish arrangements to accompany his smooth vocals. He even openly imitated Frank Sinatra on the Two Steps From the Blues album cover, standing in front of a building with a coat thrown over his shoulder.
“He brought a certain level of class to the blues genre,” said Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, son of legendary musician and producer Willie Mitchell.
Bland was a contemporary of B.B. King’s, serving as the blues great’s valet and chauffer at one point, and was one of the last of the living connections to the roots of the genre. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and was an influence on scores of young rock `n’ rollers.
Born in Rosemark, Tenn., he moved to nearby Memphis as a teenager and became a founding member of the Beale Streeters, a group that also included King and Johnny Ace. Upon his induction, the Rock Hall of Fame noted Bland was “second in stature only to B.B. King as a product of Memphis’ Beale Street blues scene.”
After a stint in the Army, he recorded with producer Sam Phillips, who helped launch the careers of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, in the early 1950s with little to show for it. It wasn’t until later that decade Bland began to find success.
He scored his first No. 1 on the R&B charts with “Further On Up the Road” in 1957 and it was around this time he got his nickname, taken from his song “Little Boy Blue” because his repertoire focused so closely on lovelorn subject matter. Beginning with “I’ll Take Care of You” in early 1960, Bland released a dozen R&B hits in a row. That string included “Turn On Your Love Light” in 1961.
Some of his best-known songs included “Call on Me” and “That’s the Way Love Is,” both released in 1963, and “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do” in 1964.
“Lead Me On,” another well-known song, breaks the listener’s heart with the opening lines: “You know how it feels, you understand/What it is to be a stranger, in this unfriendly land.”
Bland wasn’t as well known as some of his contemporaries, but was no less an influential figure for early rock `n’ roll stars. Many of his songs, especially “Further On Up the Road” and “I Pity the Fool,” were recorded by young rockers, including David Bowie and Eric Clapton.
“He’s always been the type of guy that if he could help you in any way, form or fashion, he would,” Rodd Bland said.