The green and white duplex I grew up in St. Paul was owned by the Claridy's, Forrest
and Lou. We lived downstairs at 731 Carroll Avenue and our landlords, the Claridy's, lived upstairs. The house stood in the middle of the block near Grotto where the Martin Luther King Center and it's adjoining People's Park are now. During the early 1960's, we shared that neighborhood with the Lambs, Sherman and Debbie and with Stuggie and Dennis Vaughn, who lived directly across the alley behind us on Iglehart with their dusty tribe of relatives. Maynard Cross, the bad boy of the block, and his family lived
kitty-corner across the street. Kathy and Jean House lived on the northeast corner and the Wagners lived to our right, up the block, towards Dale Street. The Claridy children, Sheryl Ann and Forrest Junior, were friends with Peggy, my younger sister and with me. The grown-ups, Mr. and Mrs. Claridy, and we always called them MisTer and Mizz Claridy, were good friends with Moma and Daddy. Sometimes, the Claridy's
would give parties, or at least they seemed like parties to 7-year-old me. It could have been that they were just having a few friends over to listen to some music. But, I do remember that Mr. Claridy's music was the blues. The down home blues.
Late at night, after putting us kids to bed, Moma and Daddy would slip upstairs to visit with the Claridy's and their friends. I was supposed to be sleeping, but the music coming through the ceiling of the room I shared with my sisters, kept me awake. Our ceiling was the Claridy's floor, so all night I could hear loud and shrill female
laughter floating down from above, mingled with the booming velvety voice of my father's. But most of all was the blues, a snatch of a verse here, strains of music there and the rhythmic movements of people dancing.
The sounds of most of those artists have faded over the years, but there's two male voices I still remember from those times: Albert King and Bobby "Blue" Bland. Bobby Bland was Moma's favorite. Daddy was more into the big bands like Gene Krupa,
Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie. But, when Daddy wasn't home and he often wasn't unless you count the corner bar as his home, Moma would put her Bobby Blue Bland albums on the record player(not a "stereo", it was a record player), and play "Poverty" and "Cry, Cry, Cry" over and over and over . It got so that I would feel melancholy and blue for days after hearing Mr. Bland's voice.
Jacquie: Thanks for agreeing to the interview.
Bobby: Sure, Sweetheart, I don't mind that at all.
Jacquie: You know, as I was growing up, I was taught that the blues was "grown folks" music. We kids had to leave the room when the blues was played. Not because of the lyrics, but because of the way the blues made people feel...the way it made my parents and their friends feel and how those feelings made people behave.
Bobby: Sometimes it did that, but when I came up in the 1940's or what have you....the same thing happened in my household and we had to go to church
every Sunday and we weren't allowed to listen to any blues. But, I always loved the
blues because it was somewhat similar to spiritual music. It tells the same type story just the only thing that's different that I say "Baby" and "Oh, Lord" which I use in a lot of my records. But the blues is something that will always be around regardless of whether you got to got out of the room...you gonna play them everywhere.
Jacquie: Very definitely. I learn the blues as "belly-rubbing" music. (Jacquie & Bobby laughing) 'Cause that's the way love is...you know. It brings that
out...people react to the blues in that manner. That's why the parents shooed us out of the room. But, it didn't stop me from peeking through the doorway...and thinking: what are they doing in there and why? How come that music makes you do that?
Bobby: Because it's the way that you feel and the stories that you are listening to that usually happen to people...like...the things I sing about are basically, somewhat, what goes on in my life. They're stories and I enjoy telling the stories...like "I'll Take Care of You" and "Lead Me On" and "That's The Way Love Is" and it's a household thing like.
Jacquie: Now your arrangements are what made your songs so successful. So would you say that collaboration in a situation like that is what is key to music success?
Bobby: In my situation , yes, cause I had one of the world's greatest arrangers which is Joe Scott and I lost him in 1979. And I was the person that...the
voice that I had that he loved to tell his stories and I enjoyed the way that his arrangements were and Wayne Bennett and all the other songs we were learning along together. He was teaching me how to approach them, what to say and how to say it and how to make it real, listening-wise. The stories that I was telling during that
time, I didn't know how strong they really were until I got a little older and then listened to them over again and in those stories was pretty much my life.
Jacquie: I've heard your vocal style compared to being black velvety smooth.....
Bobby: Tell you what, I listened to Nat King Cole and he had a velvet voice and I liked the way he delivered and I kinda patterned myself that way if I was doing a ballad, or whatever I was doing and I wanted to get the best out of whatever I was doing......
Jacquie: Well, you kind of leaped ahead of me a little bit because that's exactly what I wanted to talk about. Your vocal style has been compared to gospel
music and blues, of course, but....when I'm listening, what I hear is country music and jazz put together.
Bobby: There you go...you hit it right on the head. That's it!
Jacquie: Cause in my house that's what Moma always played. She played Bobby Blue Bland and Tennessee Ernie Ford. To her, there was no difference.
Bobby: I tell you what...blues and country & western tell the most serious stories. The lyrics are more....
Jacquie: ...authentic. More real, they're what people are living at that point in time.
Bobby: Yea, cause I listen to Tennessee Ernie Ford. I listen to Roy Acuff. I listen to Eddie Arnold. I listen to a lot of different people in the country & western. A lot of people didn't understand country & western because they thought it was white people
music or whatever. But now, they have the best stories that you ever want to listen to. And that's all I could get living out in the country was country & western and spirituals......
Jacquie: That's what Moma said. That's all they listened to. To them , it was just music. There was no label on it. It was just all they could get on the radio
at that time.
Bobby: There you go!
Jacquie: I saw in the promo material, and its hard to believe you're this old, Mr. Bland, but it says you remember Ma Rainey.
Bobby: Yes, I'm 72. I remember Ma Rainey because I got a lot of my learnings off of Beale Street and Ma Rainey is a person that I listened to somewhat
regular. I listened to everybody. Music is something that I could learn something from. I listen to it regardless of what it is. If I can get something out of it, it's good. So, Ma Rainey, sure, I know about Ma Rainey.
Jacquie: I'm starting to pay closer attention to the way singers use their voice and your voice is truly original....
Bobby: There's a lot of people that sing and they talk almost alike. And I was trained that if you're gonna do anything, do it the best that you can. And if you
have to do it again on stage or whatever, come as close as you can to the recording. And
that's what I try to do. I was taught that way by Joe Scott and a lot of the people that was around in Texas at that time. I started singing...basically did a tune from Little Boy Blue. I got the ideal of how to deliver it from Reverend C. L. Franklin...a spiritual tune.
Jacquie: Oh...I thought maybe it was his sermonizing that got you!
Bobby: It was...."The Eagle Stirred His Nest"....the story behind that was real beautiful. It would take some time for me to tell it, but if you ever listen to
Rev. Franklin, listen to that cut on his album...'The Eagle Stirred His Nest". It has a beautiful story.
Jacquie: Are you still out touring 40 weeks a year?
Bobby: No, it's a little less than that now...maybe it's about 25 or 30...something like that. I work as much as I can...as much as it would allow me cause, you know, traveling is different now. I try to work as much as I can handle.
Jacquie: Are you bringing your own band with you?
Bobby: I always do, Sweetheart .
Jacquie: So, who's coming with you, Mr. Bland ?
Bobby: Well, let's see. We have Joe Hardin on trumpet and fluegel horn, Joe Arnold-sax, Louis Dillery on bass; Rod Bland is my drummer, Charleton "CJ"
Johnson on guitar and got a new trumpet player, David Neely. Basically, I use my own stuff since I been recording.
Jacquie: I also saw where you were the first blues singer on Dick Clark's American Bandstand.
Bobby: 1959, I think it was. They had some kind of an emergency came on and it didn't get a chance to air until later on. But yea, I was the first blues singer on Dick Clark's show.
Jacquie: So, when you're on stage, what do you need from the musicians in order to be comfortable so you can do your thing?
Bobby: I tell you what, there ain't no two days the same and no two people. But we try to come as close as we can. You know, everybody can have a bad day.
But we at least try to get 75% out of whatever we do every night. Now when I can get at least 80 or 90 percent.....then I'm real, real comfortable then, because they're feeling good and I feed off of them and I feed off the crowd and I can do a much better show when I get the kind of response I normally get, you know.
Jacquie: How do you keep your music relevant year after year?
Bobby: Well, I tell you what...it's the arrangements that Joe Scott had way ahead of our time which will last me until I leave here, because you don't hear any of the arrangements like Bobby Bland does. And these tunes that I do now...I do some old
and I do some things that I recorded here recently in the 80's with Malaco Records which is pretty good material.....but you don't get the material now that you got in the late 50's early 60's. You don't get those kind of lyrics...people are a little different now. The music's changed so fast and nobody actually wants to sing the blues. It's kind of a downer to black audiences that's coming up. They want to do something different...they want to rap or whatever and that's good too. If they can make a living out of it,
good...but I could never rap I don't think, cause I can't do lyrics like that.
Jacquie: Well, I say you rap all time, Mr. Bland. You just rap to the ladies, that's all and believe me, we get it. The young folks may not understand but then
they don't know where rap came from in the first place.
Bobby: They actually don't!
Jacquie: They don't understand that it's a word that's short for "rapport" and having that rap-port with an audience. They think it means just talking over
Bobby: But, so far so good. You have a lot of people that buy that type of music. I listen to it occasionally if someone's got a radio on, but to just go out
in left field and try to find it, no. I don't know how anyone gets into this music field, how they do it, but if they gonna do blues they're gonna have to be dead serious about what they're saying and how they're going say it and what they're doing.
Jacquie: So you're saying they should develop their own style and not just copy someone else's.
Bobby: They're gonna have to get their style because, when I came up, I had a lot of people to chose from. And I took a little bit from this person, from
that one, but whenever you get through, make sure it's your own stuff that you're doing so the public can recognize you by. Because like I told B. B. once, I said: "Man, I'm able to sing just like you." But he said: "Yea, Bob...that's good. But, you got to get some type of originality, though I appreciate you liking my music." But, you see, I took it the wrong way, you understand. I didn't know exactly what he was talking about until 1957 when people started to realizing "Farther On Up The Road"....that that WAS Bobby Bland.
Jacquie: So what Mr. King was telling you was it's okay to copy him, but that's not what's going to make you successful. You got to have your own thing.
Bobby: That's right......when you do that, you got your originality right there, you know.
Jacquie: Does writing your own tunes help develop your originality?
Bobby: You know what...actually people think that I write my material but I've always been surrounded with good writers, musicians and people, that ,when I got my start...in '57or the 60's or whatever.....you have people that think only about how good
Bobby Bland did this particular lyric and they write for you. They write stories that they want you to tell. They want me to tell their stories.
Jacquie: Because they can figure out how to compliment your voice.
Bobby: That's true.
Jacquie: You received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 and it seems to me you're about ready for another one already.
Bobby: Well, there never can be too many, but being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992 was the one that really did me real good. I really appreciate that after all the work that I done.
Jacquie: Are you still recording for Malaco?
Jacquie: I talked with Denise LaSalle a couple months ago. She's leaving Malaco for Ecko Records. Are you considering a label change as well?
Bobby: I don't know...I haven't thought of it as yet.
Jacquie: Thank you for the interview, Mr. Bland. Bobby Bland at Arnellia's, October 4, 2002.
The two shows that night were well attended, with people calling out from the audience to request favorite tunes, like "Members Only" and "That's The Way Love Is". His band of seasoned professionals kept the music flowing effortlessly from the beginning to the end of both sets. The second show was marred however by a group of fans who simply would not stop talking. Over the microphone, Mr. Bland admonished them and even requested that they give him their undivided attention. They continued to talk, though, which disrupted Mr. Bland's groove enough that he ended the set abruptly and left the stage. Before the show disappeared back into the road van, I grabbed a chance to speak with 25 year old Rod Bland, Bobby's son and drummer for his organization. The topic of conversation: Young turks like himself getting into the blues, which previously had been reserved only for performers of his father's generation.
Rod Bland: That's no longer true. Blues is not lost to young players, and we don't think of it anymore in terms of being 'slavery time' music. In fact, a young rapper named JayZ has sampled one of my father's tunes, "Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The
City" and kept his voice intact and recognizable within the body of the song. Yes, blues is moving back into the hands of young black artists and musicians like Ronnie Baker Brooks, Shemekia Copeland and Etta James' sons are proof positive that the real down home blues is being owned by the next generation. As young performers, we can not only play it technically, but we play it with the right blues feeling. The down home blues feels like it belongs to us, too. We're taking an active part in it's vital expression.
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