Bobby "Blue" Bland is a true legend. Dubbed "The Lion of the Blues," he found the line where blues and soul music meet, and his 23 Top 10 hits on the R&B charts span 60 years. Along with such artists as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Junior Parker, he developed a sound that mixed gospel with blues and R&B. After stints with The Miniatures, the Beale Streeters, and in the army, he began a long-term relationship with Duke Records in the mid-'50s. This partnership resulted in dozens of records, many of them big sellers in the R&B market. His first hit single, "It's My Life, Baby," was released in 1955. Two years later, he scored with the seminal Texas shuffle "Farther Up the Road," which rocketed to No. 1 on the R&B charts. Follow-up cuts included two 1961 hits, "I Pity the Fool," another R&B No. 1, and "Turn on Your Love Light," which went to No. 2. "That's the Way Love Is," a 1963 release, gave Bland his third No. 1 hit.
After playing with Junior Parker and his band, the Blue Flames, in the late '50s, Bland struck out on his own in 1961 and rose to his greatest popularity. Because he neither composed nor played an instrument, he relied on others for songs and inspired instrumentation. Joe Scott, his bandleader and arranger, helped create Bland's big-band sound, along with guitarist Wayne Bennett. Bland worked with Scott and Bennett until 1968, when the band broke up. Bland didn't stay out of the scene for long, though - he resuscitated his career in 1972, this time with producer Steve Garrie and bandleader Ernie Fields Jr. Rather than dwelling on R&B ballads, Garrie gave Bland a blues-based sound that resulted in two of his more commercially successful albums: California Album (1973) and Dreamer (1974). The latter included another major hit, "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City."
Despite Bland's extensive recording catalog, his long-term success on the R&B charts, and his near-constant touring (often with longtime friend B.B. King), he rarely crossed over into the pop realm. Dozens of blues- and R&B-influenced rock vocalists, however, have credited Bland as a main influence. Throughout the '70s, '80s, and early '90s, he continued to record, mostly for the Jackson, MS, blues label Malaco. Bland was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. He continues to perform regularly even today, over 60 years after the start of his storied career.
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