They used to call Johnny Ray “The Nabob Of Sob” (!) but I always felt that the one who could raise a tear was Bobby Bland.
In sad news it appears the greatest of all the soul singers passed away last week.
Now that’s a big call because there were a few good ones, but for me Bland was the voice that no one else could touch. Light and elegant, but with a little gospel soul to it that he claimed to have learned from studying the recorded sermons of C.L. Franklin (that’s Aretha’s dad btw). His emotionally fraught voice also had an echo of country music’s unique phrasing to it - perhaps reflecting his Tennessee upbringing. Bland had the “blue note” just as surely as another recent departee, George Jones, had the “high lonesome”.
Bland started as a blues singer but in his middle and classic “Two Steps from the Blues” period he was a soul man through and through and an artist’s artist. He never shouted, he never over-emoted, he just “oozed”, and as he did it was exactly as sad as he wanted it to be.
We could spend forever putting together a playlist (and that would be fun and right in itself) but if you want to hear what it was all about - a perfect song, a great arrangement, and that perfect voice here is it:
This one performance is as close to the definition of soul as 3 minutes will allow… btw, Mark Lanegan’s little take on this gem is a cracker too & worth digging out. It’s naturally much darker and very raw.
Rest In Peace Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland January 27, 1930 – June 23, 2013