Bland was a distinguished singer who blended Southern blues and soul in songs such as “Turn on Your Love Light” and “Further On Up the Road. His smooth vocals were compared with the greats, Sinatra and Nat King Cole. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. He was also a member of the Blues Hall Of Fame.
Bland was a contemporary of B.B. King’s, serving as the blues great’s valet and chauffeur at one point, and was one of the last of the living connections to the roots of the genre. He rarely crossed over to the pop realm.
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’n’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, the latter making “Further On Up the Road” part of his repertoire (see The Band’s The Last Waltz for a visual on his interpretation).
In the 50s and early 60s, Bobby “Blue” Bland was one of the main creators of the modern soul-blues sound. Along with such artists as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Junior Parker, Bland developed a sound that mixed gospel with blues and r’n’b, a style of soul-blues punctuated with a big-band sound and slick, B.B. King-flavored guitar riffs.
Bland’s first recordings were from 1950 to 1952, when he cut sides for the Modern and Chess labels. Being drafted into the army in 1952 put his career on hold, but shortly after his discharge in 1954, he began a long-term relationship with Duke Records. This would result in dozens of records, many of them big sellers in the R&B market.
Here’s a performance of “The Thrill Is Gone” with B.B. King in the late 70s.