Rosemark, Tenn. native Bobby "Blue" Bland's lack of impact on white audiences during his 1960s heyday speaks more of its fickle and often narrow view of bluesmen than it does his actual stake in the genre. The R&B charts and black clubs have known since the 1950s that although Bland, 70, is neither handsome, a guitar player or even distinctly urban, his meaty crooning and mid-tempo sexiness put him in company with Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Johnny Ace and Riley "B.B." King.
His cosmopolitan style of spare, "big band" brand of Texas blues allows him to inject even middling material with nearly unparalleled sweeps of emotion and delicate phrasing. Bland's subtle, lady-killer vocals incorporate his southern gospel beginnings, jazz, blues and soul.
And the more than 600 who turned out for the Saturday evening winter show were treated to an impressive opening act along with a trip down R&B, soul and blues memory lanes.
Bland walked up to the Cain's Ballroom stage dressed sharply in baggy slacks and an oversized white dress shirt and immediately broke into the aching "Share Your Love with Me," from the 1994 MCA Records release "Turn On Your Love Life." Other strong cuts heard during Bland's 95-minute set were "I Pity the Fool" and "Cry, Cry, Cry," both from his earlier Duke recordings along with a pop-jumpy take of "Blue Moon."
Joining the blues crooner at the "home of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys" was a fine trumpet, tenor and baritone saxophonist and an extremely proficient electric guitarist. Much to the delight of the crowd and throughout the evening, the horn players would take turns performing their respective solos, and upon finishing and during the crowd's applause, they would bow to Bland and then the crowd, before walking back militarily to their assigned position right of stage.
His command is undeniable, his approach intermittently gritty and smooth. Indeed, many a lesser singer has burnt out his throat attempting Bland's "squall," a climactic, strangled outburst punctuating his more dramatic moments. Years of ceaseless touring, health problems and time itself have unfortunately damaged and restricted his instrument. Although not feeling 100 percent and suffering sound/monitor problems, Bland was able to unearth more than his share of rewarding moments.
If Al Green's voice makes you want to fall in love, Scott Ellison's makes you scared to death of losing it. Ellison, 45, opened the show and his 60-minute set with "Steamin' the stompin' title cut from the regional blues and R&B singer/songwriter/guitarist's 1997 release.
He has toured with the likes of Grammy Award winner Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Gary "U.S." Bonds and the Box Tops and Peaches & Herbs, while living in Los Angeles for 10 years, and returned to Oklahoma in 1993 to jumpstart a solo career.
Ellison's take on Albert King's "Crosscut Saw," the sincere reflection of "Jesus Loves Me Baby, Why Don't You," Johnny Taylor's "Still Called the Blues" and the closing and title cut of his next CD due out in March on Ichiban Records, "One Step for the Blues" reflected the wealth of unsigned talent that is available nightly in and around the hills and flatlands of northeastern Oklahoma.
Ellison-whose song "Down, Down Baby" appeared recently on two episodes of the television series "Buffy and the Vampire Slayer" and "I'm Ready Baby," which found its way onto the new Ben Affleck movie "Reindeer Games"-and his band were in fine form. And this was demonstrated by the smiles witnessed on the crowd's dancin' faces and the proficient syncopated rhythms heard throughout the band's problem-free 45-minute set.
Sitting in with Ellison at Cain's Ballroom was longtime area bassist Matt Kohl and drummer Johny Barbata (Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Turtles, Van Morrison and Jefferson Starship).
The pleasant mixtures of black and white folks smart enough to turn out and buy a ticket saw, possibly, Bland's last show in Tulsa as well as a bouncy, happy set from Ellison and Company.
The Scott Ellison Band-who will sign a contract sometime in the next couple of months with the Ron Stewart Agency in Massachusetts-has upcoming performances at the House of Blues, Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago, and possibly, after talking with the legend on his tour bus after their show, filling opening slots on upcoming spring and summer Bland shows.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Matt Alcott, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.