BOBBY BLAND / “Lead Me On”
It was 1958, maybe early ’59, lights were strung across the interior patio. I forget who it was I was slow dragging with—(in my dreams) it could have been Geneva Mercadel. A 7th grade dance at Rivers Frederick junior high school. The only music I remember for sure was Bobby Bland “Lead Me On.” Although I never got with Geneva, I never forgot Mr. Bland. His Two Steps From The Blues was one of the first blues albums I bought. Yes, even before Ray Charles.
I never found another Bobby Bland album that was as totally satisfying as Two Steps.
Many years later, I even had a chance to produce a Bobby Bland concert in Greenville, Mississippi. Over thirty years later he still had it, still knew how to subtly flaunt it. Even though he spent a good portion of the concert seated on a stool, he generated quite a bit of emotional heat. Even though his grand baritone was a bit worn and weary, Bobby still had that sexy growl he does in his throat, plus he had the good sense not to overuse it. He’s a pro.
If you’re new to the blues, you need to pick up on Two Steps, which MCA has re-issued on CD. Bobby Bland is not the biggest name in the blues business and his records are seldom listed among the all-time Top Ten blues records, but don’t let that put you off. Two Steps is a classic.
When this album was put together, Bobby Bland was primarily a singles artist. But this album put Mr. Bland on the map. He demonstrated so many approaches to the blues, from screaming and shouting on the signature slow-rocking-shuffle “I Pity The Fool” to the smoldering albeit incendiary “Lead Me On.” I don’t know how many men and soon-to-be-men have offered up themselves to their beloveds accompanied by that song as they vowed a willingness to follow a certain lady’s lead.
Later in life, of course, one is not so naïve; we nearly never again proffer our hearts with such innocent and sensitive sincerity; but before the inevitable heartbreaks and disappointments that occur in the process of learning love, before we wise up, we just throw ourselves at someone’s feet, hopeful that we will not be trampled on or used as a footstool. In hindsight, I’m sure Bobby Bland was far more experienced then the lyrics of some of these songs imply, but he sounds so sincere.
Take a song like “I’m Not Ashamed.” In terms of what the song says, this is not your usual blues. A man admitting, indeed, proclaiming that he is not ashamed that his love sees him crying. He sounds damn near proud. Again, in hindsight, I’m certain these are the type of songs that endear women to Mr. Bland. Then there is “I’ll Take Care Of You.” Can you imagine holding close a certain someone, rocking, slowly back and forth, and you are whispering into the tender ear of this special person: “Just as sure as one and one are two / I’ll take care of you…”
This is the blues of the big city, the same big city with the bright lights that Jimmy Reed so eloquently identified. These are the tragedies that befall individuals as they try to negotiate the maze of finding a bit of true love in the midst of urban hardships. And Bobby Bland is the perfection of blues crooning at its most elemental, i.e. singing about one’s true feelings.
Another part of this album’s appeal is the music itself. None of the twelve songs are even three minutes long (the longest is 2:43), but nonetheless they are all expertly arranged and feel complete even though they are over almost as soon as they start. Bobby would go on to make many other albums and even to record two live albums with his former employer, B.B. King, but it is Two Steps From The Blues that is the true classic.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
One of the biggest names in blues
I remember this album from my record store days. I have to say, I always did think of it as a classic. Maybe it’s a New Orleans thing, but to me, Bobby Bland is one of the biggest names in blues. Of course, there are all different kinds of blues. I never thought of Bobby as a legendary figure like a Muddy Waters or Lightnin’ Hopkins or anything like that, but when it comes to your more urban, R&B-ish nightclub blues, he’s right up there at the top of the list. I like the Two Steps From The Blues album as a whole, but my favorite two songs are probably "I’m Not Ashamed" and "I’ll Take Care Of You."
"I’m Not Ashamed" takes me back home. To me, that record sounds just like old New Orleans R&B. That whole rocking and rolling feel. The wailing tone of Bobby’s voice—"WhoOOAAOOOHHHOOOHH, mmm-baby / No matter what you do…"—sounds just like back home. And then "I’ll Take Care Of You"—that’s all about the track. Those weird organ notes. Wu-Tang never sampled this record, but listening to the eerie atmosphere and the piercing high notes of that organ, I can’t figure out why they didn’t. I know it’s a blues ballad, but I listen to "I’ll Take Care Of You" and I hear a hip-hop record waiting to happen.
—Mtume ya Salaam
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