Robert Calvin Brooks was born in Tennessee in 1930, and acquired the name 'Bland' from his stepfather. In 1947 he moved to Memphis with his mother, where he started singing in gospel groups. He also became part of the Beale Street blues scene, and was associated with artists including BB King, Junior Parker and Johnny Ace. Notably he did not play an instrument himself, relying on his voice. In the early 50s he recorded for the Modern and Chess record labels as he tried to find his musical identity, taking the stage name Bobby 'Blue' Bland - his career was interrupted by a 2 year stint in the army, and on returning he found that his fellow musicians had all become successful. He began recording for Duke Records, performed live with Junior Parker's Blues Consolidated Revue, and also worked as driver for both Parker and King.
He finally hit paydirt in 1957 with the single "Further Up The Road", which became a #1 R&B hit. In 1958 he shared a Blues Consolidated album with Junior Parker, and had a follow-up hit with "Little Boy Blue" (#10 R&B). More hits followed in 1959, with "I'm Not Ashamed" (#13), "Is It Real" (#28) and the superb minor blues "I'll Take Care Of You" (#2), which was written by Brook Benton.
1960 saw him find his own distinctive brand of blues, built around his anguished vocals and sophisticated horn arrangements from arranger Joe Scott. "Lead Me On" (which was tastefully orchestrated with strings) and the excellent "Cry Cry Cry" were both #9 R&B hits that year. "Cry Cry Cry" was recorded in Chicago, and six other recordings from the same sessions formed the bulk of what would be his debut album. Four of his earlier hits and one extra song recorded back in 1957 completed the album, and Two Steps From The Blues was released in early 1961. Two of the new recordings were also hits that year - "Don't Cry No More" got to #2, and "I Pity The Fool" gave him his second R&B #1.
It was a fantastic blues album, essentially a compilation of his many hits up to that point (with the exceptions of "Farther Up The Road" and "Is It Real"). More were soon to follow.
|> Here's The Man!!! (1962)