Bobby Blue Bland, a.k.a. “The Sinatra of Blues” passed away yesterday at the age of 83 at his home outside of Memphis, Tennessee. His style was a combination of Gospel, Soul and the Blues and he always performed with an air of elegance. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and received the much-deserved Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.
The road for Bobby wasn’t easy. He dropped out of the third grade to work in the cotton fields, and never learned how to write music or play an instrument. He moved to Memphis in 1947 and worked in a garage while singing in some Gospel groups. In 1949, he joined the Beale Streeters, which included B.B. King and Johnny Ace, before he went to serve in the Korean War. Bland was a contemporary of well-known acts such as Ray B. B. King and Ray Charles, though he never achieved the same level of fame as they did. Bland actually served as B.B. King’s valet and chauffeur at one point. AP notes that he “was one of the last of the living connections to the roots of the genre.”
His singles included the 1961 “Turn On Your Love Light” (made famous by the Grateful Dead), “Call on Me,” “That’s the Way Love Is”, “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do”, “Share Your Love With Me” (covered by The Band), “Further On Up the Road” (often performed by Clapton), and “I Pity the Fool” (covered by David Bowie and Eric Clapton).
Here’s Bobby with “Turn On Your Love Light”.