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 about 5:30 p.m. Sunday due to complications from an ongoing illness at his Memphis, Tenn., home surrounded by relatives.
Bland was known as the “the Sinatra of the blues” and 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.
Born in Rosemark, Tenn., he moved to nearby Memphis as a teenager and, as the hall of fame noted, 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 Sam Phillips at Sun Records 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. Then, 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.
His “I Pity the Fool” in 1961 was recorded by many rock bands, including David Bowie and Eric Clapton, who has made “Further On Up the Road” part of his repertoire.
“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.