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Soul of the Man: Bobby "Blue" Bland (American Made Music Series) Hardcover – February 7, 2011
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"In January, when the erudite New Yorker magazine proposed Bobby "Blue" Bland as an outside contender for "voice of the century," it bestowed contemporary credibility on a bygone age and almost its last representative." (Sunday Times Culture Magazine, 6 March 2011)"
From the Inside Flap
The first biography of a blues creator whose stylings influenced almost every form of twentieth-century popular music
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This book was long overdue, it pays homage to an American treasure, may he live many more years! Well researched and written, I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about a great singer!
The portrayal of Bland that the book offers is of a person who found early what he needed to do with his life and who did it. The Man had, it appears, only one large talent -- singing and projecting a song -- and that he did extraordinarily well. Born in 1930 in rural Tennessee, Bland and his mother moved to Memphis when he was fifteen. He quickly fell in which a group of fledgling young musicians on the fabled Beale Street, including Bland's lifelong friend, B.B. King. Bland had only a third grade education, at best, and until nearly mid-life was illiterate. He struggled and made some early records before being drafted into the army from which he was released in 1955.
Bland was contracted to Don Robey, the powerfully shady African American record producer in Houston, and after his time in the Army Bland relocated to Houston to resume his career under Robey's tutelage. He played on the road with Junior Parker for five years and then on his own. During the 1950s' and early 60' Bland made a series of now classic recordings with the big band sound of his arranger, Joe Scott. He recorded for Robey until the early 1970's, experimented with his styles, and continues to sing up to the present day when he is well past 80. During much of his career, Bland performed 300 shows per year on the road, moving from place to place on the Chitlin' Circuit. It was a grueling, harsh life, in many ways, filled with women and alcohol. Bland was able to conquer his alcoholism by the mid-1970s.
Bland does not play an instrument and throughout his career relied on other people to manage his shows. He concentrated solely upon his irreplaceable talent of singing. Although many of his recordings "crossed-over" to a mainstream white audience, Bland did not achieve the success of some other blues artists of the era. Farley attributes this failure to Bland's association with Robey. Recognition can be fleeting, and Farley finds convincingly that there can be no question about Bland's stature as an artist.
Farley begins with Bland's life when he moved to Memphis, then doubles back to his early rural childhood which was heavily influenced by gospel and country music before it returns to a chronological narrative. In Chapter 8, "Stormy Monday Blues" Farley offers an unforgettable description of a Bland performance in a middle-class African American nightclub in Kansas City in 1963. The book gives detailed descriptions of Bland's recordings and albums on almost a song-by-song basis. His discussions of Bland songs such as "Turn on Your Lovelight", "Further Up the Road", "Call on Me" and the later song "Members Only" made me rush to hear these and other songs again for myself. Farley captures the life of a blues musician on Beale Street in the late 1940's and in the small clubs that Bland played for many years. He gives good biographical information on the many musicians that Bland played with over the years. Bland is portrayed as a shy, reserved man from rural Tennessee devoted in full to the one thing he had determined to do. I thought I knew something about The Man when I finished this book, in the sense that he and his music were one.
The book is filled with Farley's own observations, and those of others, about Bland and his music, including Bland's own statements in interviews from over the years. For example, after discussing the many musical influences on Bland, Farley writes (p. 82)
"The resulting Bobby Bland sound, however, transcends these many influences and becomes more than the sum of its musical parts. Not exactly gospel, not traditional blues, not stylized ballads, but more of an amalgamative understanding of not just the lyrics, but of a deeper, visceral meaning that is coming from somewhere far inside the singer. In the end, they lyrics -- often meaningful, but just as often banal -- are not that important to the end product; it is instead the feeling that Bobby exudes from his own experiences, from too many cigarettes, late nights, liquor, and loves lost and found that listeners respond and become addicted to."
And here is an eloquent summation paragraph from late in Farley's book (p. 258)
"The shy boy who grew up as a lonely only child in rural Tennessee, who learned to sing the blues by listening to the jukebox in his mother's diner and to his friends on Beale Street, who gained a bit of much-needed swagger in the U.S. Army, who later signed a record contract and worked for a notorious Texas hustler who matched him with one of the best R&B writers, who went on to R&B stardom and constant entertaining: like many postwar African American men, Bobby Bland somehow overcame the hardships, and the many obstacles -- economical, social, and racial -- and endured, survived, and prevailed."
I learned a great deal from this book and was inspired by Bland's determination and lifelong devotion to his art. This excellent biography captures an important person and time in America's musical experience.