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Soul of the Man

Soul of the Man: Bobby "Blue" Bland

Charles Farley
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Soul of the Man
    Book Description:

    Bobby "Blue" Bland's silky smooth vocal style and captivating live performances helped propel the blues out of Delta juke joints and into urban clubs and upscale theaters. Until now, his story has never been told in a book-length biography.Soul of the Man: Bobby "Blue" Bland relates how Bland, along with longtime friend B. B. King, and other members of the loosely knit group who called themselves the Beale Streeters, forged a new electrified blues style in Memphis in the early 1950s. Combining elements of Delta blues, southern gospel, big-band jazz, and country and western music, Bland and the Beale Streeters were at the heart of a revolution. This biography traces Bland's life and recording career, from his earliest work through his first big hit in 1957, "Farther Up the Road." It goes on to tell the story of how Bland scored hit after hit, placing more than sixty songs on the R and B charts throughout the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.While more than two-thirds of his hits crossed over onto pop charts, Bland is surprisingly not widely known outside the African American community. Nevertheless, many of his recordings are standards, and he has created scores of hit albums such as his classic 1961 Two Steps from the Blues, widely considered one of the best blues albums of all time. Soul of the Man contains a select discography of the most significant recordings made by Bland, as well as a list of all his major awards. A four-time Grammy nominee, he received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and the Blues Foundation, as well as the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award. He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame. This biography at last heralds one of America's great music makers.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-920-6
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction: The Man
    (pp. 3-6)

    When bandleader Joe Hardin introduces Bobby “Blue” Bland at one of his live performances as “the world’s greatest blues singer,” one might presume it to be typical show-business hyperbole. But then Bobby Bland opens his mouth and starts singing, and one is hard put to name another who can paint a blues palette, from dirges to jump and all shades of shuffles and ballads in between, as beautifully as Bobby “Blue” Bland. There are certainly other bluesmen who can play an instrument better than Bland (who plays no instrument at all), and others who can write better blues lyrics (seeing...

  5. 1 Memphis Monday Morning: 1945–1948
    (pp. 7-20)

    When fifteen-year-old Robert Bland walked down Beale Street for the first time after his family moved to Memphis in 1945, he found a city filled with hope, racial division, and the music that would change America.

    Robert was a shy country boy who was old enough and bright enough to know that Memphis held a whole new world of opportunity for him compared to the tiny rural cotton towns where he had grown up. Thankfully his mother agreed; she, in fact, was the one who had hatched the plan of moving to the city in the first place. She had...

  6. 2 Loan Me a Helping Hand: 1949–1952
    (pp. 21-40)

    The prominent A&R (Artist and Repertoire) head of Atlantic Records, Jerry Wexler, coined the term “rhythm & blues” in 1949. Later that year, in its June 25th issue,Billboardsubstituted that term for the word “race” in a chart labeled since 1945 as “The Top 15 Best Selling Race Records,” and previously since 1942 as the “Harlem Hit Parade.” The change was made not only in recognition thatraceheld derogatory social implications, but also because the music of black America had changed dramatically since the term “race records” was initially coined in 1922, from vaudeville and country blues to jump...

  7. 3 Little Boy Blue: 1930–1945
    (pp. 41-48)

    The seed of Bobby Bland’s dream was planted in a cotton field sixteen miles north of Memphis in the little farming village of Rosemark, Tennessee, where Robert Calvin Brooks and his twin brother Maurice were born on the evening of January 27, 1930. Their mother, Mary Lee Brooks, the former Mary Smith, was born in nearby Kerrville, the daughter of Wesley and Bernie Hardy Smith. She was only sixteen at the time of Robert’s birth, and his father, I. J. Brooks, a farmer, the son of Toney and Missouri Wright Brooks, originally from Dublin, Georgia, was eighteen. Mary Lee and...

  8. 4 Army Blues: 1952–1954
    (pp. 49-62)

    Bobby Bland’s first love, country and western music, was, at mid-century, the heart of the Nashville and southern white music scene, while the new rhythm and blues sound was becoming the soul of Memphis and the southern black music world. Bobby, of course, was in Memphis and at the center of the new black music, where his friends, B.B. King and Rosco Gordon, were making huge hit records. In 1952, at the age of twenty-two, Bobby Bland signed a recording contract with Memphis’s new independent record label, Duke, a bond that would span the next twenty years and propel Bobby...

  9. 5 Ain’t It a Good Thing: 1955–1957
    (pp. 63-78)

    Bobby was discharged from the Army in early 1955 and returned to Memphis to live with his mother and stepfather at their new home at 264 Pontonoc Avenue. “I think the army done quite a bit for me, though I didn’t care for it much at that particular time,” Bobby would later sapiently sum up. “I did two years, six months, and twenty-nine days; I had a little bad time to make up. But it grew me up into manhood, actually.”¹

    Memphis had changed since Bobby had left. Popular music continued to be dominated by the easy listening sounds of...

  10. 6 Dreamer: 1958–1960
    (pp. 79-96)

    Encouraged by the reception of the big band sound on “Farther Up the Road,” Don Robey and Joe Scott bolstered Bobby’s recording band with three trumpets (played by Scott and newcomers Melvin Jackson and Floyd Arceneaux), two tenor saxophones (played by Bobby Forte and Jimmy Beck), the usual Pluma Davis on trombone, Hamp Simmons on bass, Teddy Reynolds on piano, Sonny Freeman on drums, and, for the first time, Wayne Bennett on guitar. On January 9, 1958, this exceptional group of musicians entered the Houston studio to record four new songs. The first was a pretty ballad called “Last Night”...

  11. 7 Turn On Your Love Light: 1961–1962
    (pp. 97-116)

    Don Robey was eager to release Bobby’s first solo album. “Cry, Cry, Cry” was still on the R&B chart, having peaked at number 9, and “I Pity the Fool” was about to be released as a single. To take advantage of this momentum, Robey went to the vaults to complete the album, which had only seven new songs ready to go, choosing some of Bobby’s past bestsellers: “I Don’t Want No Woman” (1957), “Little Boy Blue” (1958), “I’m Not Ashamed” (1959), “I’ll Take Care of You” (1959), and “Lead Me On” (1960). These selections of older songs mixed with the...

  12. 8 Stormy Monday Blues: 1963–1964
    (pp. 117-128)

    It’s a Saturday night and a thousand black Kansas Citians are going out to play. The crowd begins to gather early, starting at around eight o’clock, even though they know the show will not begin for at least another couple of hours. Posters have been tacked to telephone poles throughout the African American neighborhoods east of Troost Avenue, the unofficial racial dividing line in the city. For the last week or so fifteen-second promos have been playing sporadically on KPRS, the city’s most popular black radio station. Anticipation is high. Advance ticket sales have been strong. Bobby “Blue” Bland is...

  13. 9 Honky Tonk: 1965–1968
    (pp. 129-148)

    Bobby and the band continued on the road after Sam Cooke’s funeral. They were playing the Regal Theatre in Chicago in January 1965 when Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” was posthumously released. Inspired by Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Cooke wrote the song “as if it had come to him in a dream,”¹ and it captured in one compact poetic package the sad, angry, hopeful place that almost every African American found himself at that moment in time:

    I was born by the river in a little tent

    Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ever...

  14. 10 Touch of the Blues: 1969–1972
    (pp. 149-162)

    One high price Bobby paid for his band’s breakup was the luxury of developing a new song within the relative isolation of the road with Joe and the guys and then going into the studio with the tune all but finished. Now the process took on a decidedly different turn, with new material being arduously worked out in the studio. But there were two characteristics that had stood Bobby in good stead throughout his career: determination and perseverance. And he called on them both again now, throwing himself full bore into working and making records.

    His first 1969 recording session...

  15. 11 Lead Me On: 1973–1976
    (pp. 163-182)

    The touring band that Melvin Jackson, Mel Brown, and Bobby assembled included Jackson on trumpet, Brown on guitar, Leo Penn on bass, Charles Polk on drums, and Harold “Peanie” Potier, Jr., known as Bobby’s personal drummer, Joseph Hardin Jr. on trumpet, Theodore Arthur on tenor sax, and the only two remaining members of Ernie Fields’s original band: Al Thomas on trombone and Tommy Punkson on trumpet—a good swinging band, Bobby thought. Melvin Jackson was an experienced, capable leader who took care of business. Mel Brown was the next best thing to Wayne Bennett on guitar. The horn section, with...

  16. 12 Gettin’ Used to the Blues: 1977–1984
    (pp. 183-200)

    In the spring of 1977, Steve Barri and Michael Omartian gathered a group of Los Angeles studio musicians, including strings and backup choir, at the ABC Recording Studios to record what would be their last Bobby Bland album,Reflections in Blue. The nine tracks were drawn from a wide variety of sources. “The Soul of a Man,” which went to number 12 on the soul chart, was written by Bobby and his old opening act, Al “TNT” Braggs. “I’ll Be Your Fool Once More,” a pretty country ballad, came from the pen of country singer/ songwriter Big Al Downing. “Sittin’...

  17. 13 Members Only: 1985–1990
    (pp. 201-218)

    Tommy Couch Sr. grew up in Tuscumbia, Alabama, near Florence, the birthplace of W. C. Handy and Sam Phillips, and not far from Muscle Shoals, where Bobby Bland and other artists recorded so many southern soulinflected hits during the sixties and early seventies. Couch went to college at the University of Mississippi, where he was elected social chairman of his fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, in 1961. That position required him to book bands for fraternity parties and dances, and he naturally selected bands that were popular in his hometown area: Jimmy Johnson’s Del Rays, David Hood’s the Mystics, and Dan...

  18. 14 Walkin’ & Talkin’ & Singin’ the Blues: 1991–1992
    (pp. 219-228)

    Bobby’s seventh album for Malaco,Portrait of the Blues, was recorded in early 1991 at the Muscles Shoals and Malaco Studios, and took the Malaco sound to its ultimate culmination. Here were all the great Muscle Shoals and Jackson rhythm section musicians—James Robertson and Roger Hawkins on drums; Clayton Ivey and Steve Nathan on keyboards; Duncan Cameron, Jimmy Johnson, Dino Zimmerman, and Jack Pearson on guitar; David Hood and Ray Griffin on bass; and Mickey Buckins on percussion. The horn tracks were arranged as usual by Harrison Calloway and recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios with Calloway and...

  19. 15 Years of Tears to Go: 1993–1999
    (pp. 229-238)

    Dan Penn, the white Alabama songwriter who had started writing songs, including Bobby Bland’s “I Hate You,” in Muscle Shoals many years before, in early 1993 was putting the finishing touches on his first solo album with Sire Records, entitledDo Right Man. When it came time to take the photograph for the album’s cover, Penn insisted on one pose: him on the steps of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where Bobby was now doing most of his recording for Malaco, wearing sunglasses and with a jacket thrown over his shoulder, just as Bobby had posed forTwo Steps from...

  20. 16 Funny How Time Slips Away: 2000–2007
    (pp. 239-252)

    Bobby and the band joined Van Morrison, another longtime Bobby Bland fan, in Birmingham, England, on March 14, 2000, to begin another UK tour. Their first performance, at the Birmingham Academy, was followed by shows in Cardiff on March 16, Manchester on March 17, Glasgow on March 18, Brighton on March 19, concluding on March 21 and 22 with performances at London’s Royal Albert Hall. There Bobby sailed through a few of his hits, “I Pity the Fool,” “That’s the Way Love Is,” “Everyday I Have the Blues,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “If You’re Gonna Walk on My Love,” before...

  21. 17 Farther Up the Road: 2008–
    (pp. 253-260)

    For Bobby, the line from his first hit in 1957, “Farther Up the Road”—“You got to reap just what you sow, that old saying is true”—was becoming a reality. But instead of “Like you mistreat someone, someone’s gonna mistreat you,” what Bobby had sowed over the years was lots of love and happiness, and, now, in his final years, he was reaping the reciprocal love and appreciation from his fans, family, and friends for all his efforts.

    At the 4th Annual Dallas Blues Festival on February 9, 2008, Nancy Johnson, of Corsicana, Texas, joined Bobby onstage after his...

  22. Epilogue
    (pp. 261-264)

    Soon after the release of Mick Hucknall’s tribute album, in early July 2008, Bobby began having trouble breathing. His breath became so labored that Willie Mae had no choice but to rush him to the hospital again. The doctors diagnosed the problem as pneumonia, exacerbated by Bobby’s chronic diabetes and hypertension. It took a few days for the medical staff to stabilize the situation, but thanks to Willie Mae’s nursing background and patient persistence and Bobby’s unrivalled resilience, the bluesman was soon on the mend, and, after a brief stay in a rehabilitation unit, able to return home by July...

  23. Awards
    (pp. 265-266)
  24. Selected Discography
    (pp. 267-269)
  25. Notes
    (pp. 270-293)
  26. Sources Cited
    (pp. 294-304)
  27. Interviews
    (pp. 305-305)
  28. Permission Acknowledgments
    (pp. 306-306)
  29. Index
    (pp. 307-320)