A singer of rare power and elegance, Bobby Bland's art bloomed from the 1950s to the mid-'70s just as casual music lovers missed him completely, and even the majority of those who know about the roots of rock'n'roll didn't make all the connections, either.
Check the music's sublime history, however, and Bland's influence is everywhere. His incredible records, from "Stormy Monday" and "St. James Infirmary" to "Lead Me On" and "I'll Take Care of You" really can't be equaled, but that didn't stop the younger artists who followed in his footsteps from trying.
Eric Clapton (and Robin Trower) pumped up "Farther Up the Road" but missed Bland's
casual swing; the Allman Brothers Band's "Stormy Monday" might have come close to matching Joe Scott's stellar arrangement (yet another stellar Bland recording for Duke Records in Houston) while falling short of Bobby's vocal cool. And I don't have to tell you how many hack rock bands have recorded an unexciting "Turn On Your Love Light"; on that one, the man from Tennessee blew everyone out of the water.
I've got a ton of favorites, starting with 1955's "It's My Life, Baby" (where wailing independence meets blazing guitar); "Ain't Nothing You Can Do" (a smooth, then roaring vocal, with the horns slightly out of control and over the top); the haunting "I Pity the Fool" (pre-dating the phrase that Mr. T. made famous on television); "Poverty" (perhaps the singer's most socially conscious piece); and the 1974 near-standard "I Wouldn't Treat a Dog (The Way You Treated Me)," fantastic tracks all. Then there's 1961's Two Steps from the Blues, the finest album, regardless of genre, that year
--and right up there with full-length classics from Magic Sam or Junior Wells.
Bobby Bland was a titanic artist and it will be a no brainer for me to spin his records as long as music is my lifelong friend.