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Bland, Bobby “Blue” (originally Robert Calvin)

Bland, Bobby “Blue” (originally Robert Calvin)

Bland, Bobby “Blue” (originally Robert Calvin), American blues singer; b. Rosemark, Term., Jan. 27, 1930. Bland, a soulful baritone, was a reliable presence on the R&B charts for almost 30 years, making him one of the most successful blues singers of the second half of the 20th century. Among his biggest hits were “Farther Up the Road,” “I Pity the Fool,” and “That’s the Way Love Is.”

After spending his childhood in the rural town of Rosemark near Memphis, Bland moved with his mother to the city in the mid-1940s. While working at a garage, he began singing, first with a gospel group and then with the Beale Streeters, a loose affiliation of blues performers including B. B. King and Roscoe Gordon, each of whom also employed him as a valet and chauffeur. His recording of “I Love You Till the Day I Die” appeared on the B-side of Gordon’s single “Booted,” which was released on both Chess Records and the RPM subsidiary of Modern Records and hit #1 on the R&B charts in March 1952. He made further recordings for Modern, then signed to Duke Records, but he was drafted and spent the next two and a half years in the army, during which time Duke was acquired by Houston-based record executive Don Robey.

Bland was discharged in 1955 and went back to recording for Duke. He also began to tour in a revue headlined by Junior Parker and featuring a band led by trumpeter Joe Scott who helped organize his recording sessions. In 1957 he had his first R&B hit with “Farther Up the Road” (music and lyrics by Don Robey and J. Veasey), which hit #1 in September 1957. From then on he reached the R&B charts every year through 1982, scoring 24 Top Ten hits and topping the charts with “I Pity the Fool” (March 1961) and “That’s the Way Love Is” (March 1963). Both songs were credited to “Deadric Malone,” a pseudonym for Robey, who reportedly bought the songs—and many others that Bland recorded—from their original writers, who included members of his band.

Bland’s recordings also crossed over to the pop charts, where he peaked in the Top 40 with “Turn On Your Love Light” (music and lyrics by Deadric Malone and Joe Scott; January 1962), “Call on Me” (music and lyrics by Deadric Malone; February 1963), “That’s the Way Love Is” (March 1963), and “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do” (music and lyrics by Deadric Malone and Joe Scott; April 1964). He also placed several albums in the pop charts, notably Call on Me/That’s the Way Love Is (1963), which charted for six months.

Bland continued to tour with Junior Parker until the early 1960s, when he went out on his own with a band led by Joe Scott, performing hundreds of shows each year. In 1968 the band broke up and Bland fell out with Robey, ceasing to record, though Duke continued to issue previously recorded tracks and score hits. After marrying a college student named Marty who bore him a daughter, and giving up drinking, Bland returned to recording for Duke in the early 1970s. The label was sold to ABC/Dunhill Records, which attempted to update his sound for the soul era, resulting in his first pop chart albums in a decade, His California Album (1973) and Dreamer (1974). The label also teamed him up with B. B. King for two live albums, the first of which, Together for the First Time... Live (1974), went gold.

Bland’s record sales gradually diminished after the mid-1970s, though he continued to record regularly on MCA Records after the label absorbed ABC in 1979. In 1985 he switched to the independent Malaco label, which recorded him in a more traditional blues vein. He remained with the label, and on the road, in the 1990s.

Discography

“Little” Junior Parker: Blues Consolidated (1958), Barefoot Rock and You Got Me (1960). B.B. King: Together for the First TimeMve (1974); Together Again—Live (1976). Two Steps from the Blues (1961); Here’s the Man!!! (1962); Call on Me (1963); Ain’t Nothin’ You Can Do (1964); The Soul of the Man (1966); Touch of the Blues (1967); Spotlighting the Man (1968); His California Album (1973); Dreamer (1974); Get on Down with B.B. (1975); Reflections in Blue (1977); Come Fly with Me (1978); J Feel Good I Feel Fine (1979); Sweet Vibrations (1980); You Got Me Loving You (1981); Try Me, I’m Real (1981); Here We Go Again (1982); Tell Mr. Bland (1983); Members Only (1985); After All (1986); Blues You Can Use (1987); Midnight Run (1989); Portrait of the Blues (1991); Sad Street (1995); Live on Beale Street (1998); Memphis on Monday Morning (1998).

—William Ruhlmann

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