RIP: Bobby “Blue” Bland, blues singer extraordinaire

We lost another great singer this week. Legendary blues singer Bobby “Blue” Bland has left the land of the living.

I’ve read and heard some excellent tributes for Bobby, with various people mentioning a common reference to him as the “Sinatra of Blues.” Bland had a very smooth style of singing blues music, bringing elegance to a genre that routinely expressed human angst in raw, earthy tones.

Jack Hamilton wrote a nice tribute for the Atlantic, discussing how “Bland made the blues as complex as a modernist novel, and effortlessly easy to feel…. melding the urbane smoothness of the pop crooner to the ferocious ecstasy of the gospel tradition.

Guardian UK shared a 1982 NME interview with Bobby Bland conducted by Charles Shaar Murray where he stated that “blues and soul are one and the same.

David Ritz shared excepts of a Bobby Bland interview with Rolling Stone, discussing the big influences that helped define him as a singer.

Oxford America reposted a 1999 article where singer-songwriter Dan Penn discussed how he modeled his sound on Bland’s unique voice.

I imagine not many people are aware of the unlikely Bobby Bland connection to the song LOUIE LOUIE.

Richard Berry was fond of talking about how how touring with Bobby really opened up his eyes to a whole different way of singing. He felt that Bobby was, at least for him, the originator of soul music.

It was September 1957, and Richard was one of the support acts for a Bobby Bland / Junior Parker tour of the Pacific Northwest. Bobby had released a couple of singles that year on the Duke label – “I Smell Trouble” / “Don’t Want No Woman” ‎ and “Sometime Tomorrow” / “Farther Up The Road.” Junior Parker also had music on the Duke label, with “Next Time You See Me” released the year before. At the time, Richard had just left the Flair/RPM Bihari labels a few years ago, and was signed to a new record label – Flip Records, which had released a very special Richard Berry record back in April.

On the A-side of that particular record was “You Are My Sunshine,” a very popular song written and sung by the former governor of LOUISiana, Jimmy Davis. It was a favorite song for Richard’s mom, and he performed it with some vocal harmonies that gave this country-western ditty a different type of twist.

The B-side was a Richard Berry original, written two years earlier at the Harmony Park Ballroom in Anaheim. Richard incorporated some calypso themes into this little composition, which turned out to be an incredibly successful song, becoming the most important composition he ever wrote. As more customers discovered this special song, it was eventually re-issued as the A-side with entirely different song (“Rock Rock Rock”) as the new B-side.

That particular song, was of course, LOUIE LOUIE, which I have no doubt Richard sang during his tour with Bobby Bland and Junior Parker. I’m not sure of all of the particular stops on the tour, but I know they definitely played at the Evergreen Ballroom in Olympia (WA) and the Eagles Ballroom in Seattle.

Perhaps the late Robin Roberts might have attended one of Richard’s 1957 performances before recording his own rendition of the song with the Wailers in 1961? It’s hard to say…

I do know that the song was also getting some exposure with Bob Summerrise‘s radio show and record store in Seattle.

Nonetheless, Richard Berry’s 1957 tour with Bobby Bland and Junior Parker is certainly worth noting if only for the very first Seattle performance of the song often considered the “anthem of the Northwest”…. even if nobody actually realized it at the time.

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