Blues legend Robert Calvin Bland, better known by his stage name Bobby “Blue” Bland, passed away at 83-years-young on June 23, leaving behind a legacy that has spanned over five decades. He was credited with 28 studio albums, a Hall Of Fame nod (both the Blues and Rock and Roll), and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award among other accolades. But what ultimately speaks to Bobby’s accomplishments as an artist was his knack for taking the most human aspects of our lives and putting it to song. He touched countless fans as well as fellow musicians with tales of soul-crushing heartbreak and devastating loss. It would be impossible to choose his best lyrics, so instead, here are five that have in one way or another shaped his status as an American icon.
Long before Cee-Lo Green was lobbing “F” bombs at the scandalous doom foxes in his life, there were guys like Bobby “Blue” Bland who were not only feeling the pangs of being dogged out on the regular, but responding in ways only a certified pimp could pull off. The chorus and lyrics are relatively tame by today’s standards, but back then it was a searing reminder that what goes around, comes around. This would be the first of three chart-topping singles for Bobby – the beginning of a long and illustrious career: [LISTEN]
Bobby “Blue” Bland allows his fans to live through his experiences, breathe through his pain, and relate in ways that make us more human. And like a prodigal son turned preacher, he permeates those experiences in ways that reconcile both the good and bad behind heartbreak. Through grit teeth, Bland reprimands a fowl temptress here, explaining to her that he can’t help but feel sorry for the next chump in line – a shot aimed more towards her than the new lover. This is the second single of his to reach the top of the charts, and one that forever changed the life of Laurence Tureaud: [LISTEN]
The last of Bobby’s singles to reach number one, this cautionary tale of love’s fickle nature explores the deep, unforgiving trenches of heartache. Bobby must have had his fair share of failed relationships to belt this tune out, but underlining the whole thing is an air of hope and progress. At times his voice sounds like Sam Cooke or Otis Redding, which shows just how ahead of the times he was in terms of mixing gospel and R&B with a mainstream blues sound. The message is still relevant after all these years – if you want to love you got to take the bitter with the sweet: [LISTEN]
If imitation is the highest form of flattery then let this one stand as an example of just how bright a star Bobby “Blue” Bland was. The song, penned by Joe Scott, would go on to be covered by Van Morrison and the Grateful Dead – who made it a regular in their sets. Contemporaries like Bo Diddley and Buddy Guy would also follow suite, paving the way for hybrid sound that combined rock, funk, and blues. It was voted by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the top “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll:” [LISTEN]
The misconception behind this classic tune is that it’s about the sprawl of urban decay, which it most certainly touches upon but by no means bound to. It’s how the city looks after his love has left him, a dreary place that’s suddenly been blanketed by pain and sorrow. There’s no one out there who could deliver it quite like Bland. Just ask the countless artists who’ve either tried covering it or sampling it. Jay-Z is the latest in recent memory to have borrowed from Bobby, and with that Mr. Bland has officially crossed over to almost every major genre in music: [LISTEN]