Sunday, 3 May 2009
Bobby Bland – Two Steps From the Blues (BBC Four)
The UK’s premier broadcaster BBC have been running a weekend of programmes dedicated to the blues, under the banner, Blues Britannia. Obviously majority of programmes are obsessed with the white wannabees, Clapton and Long John Baldry with just the odd snippet of BB King or John Lee Hooker, but the most interesting of them is this tribute to Bobby Blues Bland.
BB King opens the proceedings with the quote, “Bobby Bland has a voice soft as silk, well that’s the way it is for me”. Well, me too BB. The story starts with Bobby’s influence from gospel music, with Ira Tucker of the Dixie Hummingbirds talking with gusto about the early 50’s. BB King told with a smile that whatever blues club they were at on a Saturday night, they were always in church on the Sunday – the singers and the crowd. When talk moves to Memphis, BB describes Beale Street thus, “I’ve never been to college but Beale Street was like a community college” saying you could learn about blues, gambling, etc. Talk of Duke record owner Don Robey ranged from bitter about royalties, to refreshing about the man himself, and the opportunity he gave the artists. Bobby, who always comes over as humble, thanked Robey for having faith in him.
There’s some nice live footage from the 70’s and more recently from Memphis, showing how little his beautiful voice has changed over the years. The live clip of Bobby and BB from the 70’s is brilliant, BB’s guitar and Bobby voice walking in perfect tandem to produce the most soulful blues ever. Peter Gauralnick recalled seeing him live where during Stormy Monday he would fall to his knees and the women in the audience had to be restrained.
Simply Red’s Mick Hucknell laments Bland being a vastly under appreciated. There are a few clips from Hucknell’s 2008 tribute album where he actually comes over quite well. I’m not a Simply Red fan, but his voice doesn’t sound too bad and he comes over as a genuine fan.
So to sum it up, it’s a great, long overdue documentary. There was a time, twenty odd years ago, that programmes like this were all the rage on Arena and the like, but that trend has long gone. Shows like this will hopefully start to redress the balance. Check the BBC website to see if it’s available on iPlayer.