Some moments just stay with you. They may not be the big, blazing, headline moments but, for whatever reason, they stay lodged in your mind because, in their own way, they made an impact.
It was the early 60’s. I was a young, working musician playing in various groups around the Chicago area. Part of my on-going musical education was to explore any new sounds I stumbled upon, learn as much as I could about them and see if I could translate what I learned to something that worked on-stage or in a recording studio.
This wasn’t just a job, it was a passion. Actually, even though I don’t get to apply it as much as I did then, it still is.
As was the case with many of the players I found myself working with, much of our “education” was not found in a formal classroom setting but, rather, by placing a needle on a piece of vinyl and playing it over and over again as you tried your best to play along with it until you were able to learn the song.
My first exposure to Bobby “Blue” Bland’s music was probably “Turn On Your Love Light” which was an early crossover hit for Bobby that made it into the Top 40 of the pop charts. But, my introduction to the real depth of this man’s music was courtesy of one of the distant, static filled, AM stations that, usually, could only be picked up in Chicago late at night while I was driving home from a gig. In between the static came the sounds of a very unique R&B singer, sometimes crooning and sometimes shouting some of the coolest big band backed R&B that ever jumped out of my radio’s speaker. Not long after that, when one of the Chicago area stations at the far end of the dial started playing some of Bobby’s music my ears wanted or, more correctly, NEEDED, more.
At this point in time, Bobby “Blue” Bland’s albums were not part of the more mainstream stock Sears and the local record stores on Chicago’s Southeast side carried. So, one day I aimed my 1959 Chevy Biscayne in a more westerly direction down 79th street til I got to a record store just a little bit west of Cottage Grove Ave. Inside was a treasure trove of great Blues, Jazz, Swing and R&B albums. And, YES, there was a section containing several albums by Bobby “Blue” Bland. I spent a couple of hours pouring over the titles, disecting liner notes trying to decide which of these treasures to spend the few hard earned dollars I had in my wallet on. I settled on “Here’s The Man!!! -Dynamic Bobby Bland.”
Other than “Turn On Your Love Light,” I wasn’t familiar with many of the album’s song titles but, my appetite having been whet from what I heard on the radio, I was expecting to hear some good stuff.
I had no idea HOW GOOD.
When I got home and dropped our Silvertone phonograph’s needle on “36-22-36” I was very glad I was home alone because the volume level I turned that phonograph up to would not have been smiled upon by the rest of the family unit. It just got better and better. A terrific blues take on the Charlie Rich song, “Who Will The Next Fool Be” showed me that Bobby could take any artist’s song and completely make it his own. That was also the case with the blues classic, “Jelly, Jelly, Jelly.” And those big band arrangements, which I later learned were done by Joe Scott, added to Bobby’s unique approach and would continue to be an integral part of Bobby’s live shows. The “piece de resistance” of the album, “Stormy Monday Blues” sent me reaching for my guitar to try and learn Wayne Bennett’s incredibly tasteful guitar licks and solo.
I played that album over and over and over and over again that day as I alternated between re-reading the liner notes and trying to learn the songs. It was one of those “moments” when I realized that I had stumbled across something and someone very special.
Thank you for that moment and many others, Bobby. You will be missed.