Bobby “Blue” Bland, the blues and soul singer of songs such as “Further on Up the Road” and “Turn on Your Love Light,” died yesterday in Memphis. He was 83. According to Bland’s son, the blues singer died of complications from an ongoing illness, The Associated Press reports.
Bland was known as the “Sinatra of the blues” thanks to his smooth vocals, and was also influenced by Nat King Cole. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and was known as one of the last living connections to the roots of blues.
“He brought a certain level of class to the blues genre,” said Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, son of musician and producer Willie Mitchell.
After moving to Memphis when he was a teenager, Bland co-founded the Beale Streeters, a group that included B.B. King and Johnny Ace. Following a stint in the U.S. Army, Bland recorded in the mid-Fifties with Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, who launched the careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, but it wasn’t until later in the decade that Bland found success.
His first hit came in 1957 with “Further on Up the Road” which reached Number One on the R&B charts. He earned the nickname “Little Boy Blue,” taken from one of his songs, from his lovelorn subject matter, which yielded a string of hits including 1960’s “I’ll Take Care of You” and 1961’s “Turn Your Love Light On” that became hits in the early 1960s.
Although he wasn’t as widely known as some of his blues contemporaries, his songs were influential: rockers including Eric Clapton and David Bowie recorded Bland’s tunes at the beginning of their careers.
“He’s always been the type of guy that if he could help you in any way, form or fashion, he would,” his son, Rodd Bland, said.