The R&B legend holds raucous
services, hears young ladies’ confessions at Yoshi’s in San Francisco on June 18.
By Jud Cost
When the supple
eight-piece band of Bobby “Blue” Bland took the stage at Yoshi’s in
San Francisco and jumped right into one of its trademark, neck-snapping R&B
charts, it magically transported the entire room to the glory days of the full
touring bands of artists like Ray Charles and Otis Redding. The stripped-down
big-band lineup-one tenor and one alto sax, a trumpet and a flugelhorn, an
electric guitar, a piano, electric bass and drums-had remarkable punch and
immediately levitated the raucous, sold-out crowd to other voices, other rooms.
seen a big band knows you don’t need stacks of amps to create power, and these
grizzled road warriors had things perfectly under control, all night. You could
feel it in the air, just like you could feel it outside that afternoon at the
61st annual Juneteenth Festival, stretching out through eight blocks of Fillmore Street. It
was the return to the Fillmore District of Bobby “Blue” Bland, and it
felt really good.
shouting and clapping reached tumultuous proportions when a World Wrestling
Federation-sized bodyguard half-escorted/half-carried the rhythm and blues
legend to a chair waiting for him in the middle of the stage. The overjoyed
throng began calling out the names of
all those famous sides the man cut for the Duke Records label back in the ’50s
and ’60s: “Farther Up The Road,” “I Pity The Fool,”
“Stormy Monday Blues,” “Call On Me,” “Cry, Cry,
Cry,” “I’ll Take Care Of You.”
And he played almost all of them in a roaring 90-minute early set, then did a
late show after they cleared the house. It may have been a lot to ask of the
81-year-old Bland, but he was up to the challenge.
A few of the old
classics – “Turn On Your Love Light,” for example – were probably
dropped from the current set as too taxing on Bobby’s voice, these days. And
it’s true, he may have lost some of that high-octane sizzle over the years, but
those well-oiled pipes sounded just fine for the “drown in my own
tears”-style blues numbers he’s always made his specialty. “Love
Light” was a song played during the early days of the Grateful Dead, 45
years ago, two blocks north of Yoshi’s at the Fillmore Auditorium, as a
spotlight number for keyboard player, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan.
Bland was born in 1931 in Rosemark, Tenn. and grew up in Memphis. Like Ray Charles and Sam Cooke,
Bland mixed his gospel roots with the blues to form a hybrid R&B genre that
caught on with the public in a big way. After a stint in the Army in the early
’50s, Bland worked with Junior Parker and B. B. King before going out on his
own. He became a regular in the fabled clubs up and down Memphis’ Beale Street and began churning out a
long line of hit singles.
voice isn’t quite what it once was, one thing Bobby “Blue” Bland
still has in abundance is a seductive appeal to the ladies that borders on
mystical. In between songs, he held long, one-on-one conversations with one
young girl after another, sometimes punctuating the confessional with a
“Did you come here by yourself tonight?” It was the secular version
of a Saturday-night church meeting with Reverend Bland taking a heart-to-heart
interest in his flock. And it brought down the house.
bodyguard re-appeared to escort him from the stage, it seemed like Bobby could
have floated out of the room like a
balloon in a Thanksgiving Day parade,
borne on high by the love and devotion of his longtime fans. If this was
a “goodbye tour” for Bobby “Blue” Bland, he did it up just