Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland – 36-22-36 [Duke]
I first heard the hook of this tight, big band blues shuffle looped by Mr Konfuse for ‘promotional’ white label headnodder ‘The Sensational’ and was indeed instantly hooked. Ivories tinkle over a lilting, swinging rhythm section and huge horns throw their weight around while the band declare the vital statistics of a soulful crooner’s squeeze. In a stroke of timely good fortune the excellent Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour soon enlightened me as to its storming origins, Uncle Bob further pointing out that if a woman really was carrying these dimensions she probably wasn’t in the rudest of health.
Graduating from gospel to country blues and later coming to personify the transition to soulful, jazz-inflected urban blues, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland was a big name in original R&B, though he never quite reached the cross-over heights of his contemporaries. His story is typical of bluesman folklore, coming up from a tough start to become a singer and performer of unmatched renown and a charismatic, womanising drinker. Before getting his break Bland acted as valet for fellow Beale Streeter BB King, later fulfilling chauffeur duties for Roscoe Gordon, a popular internship still employed today (DJ Format did his share of bussing Jurrasic 5 around before scoring guest spots for his début). He was at the top of his game in the early 60s, under the manipulative management of thuggish Duke boss Don Robey, when he turned out this joyously chauvinistic little beauty.
Firstly we have the introduction to end all introductions. What I wouldn’t do for a brassy fanfare like this for myself, even if the flattering announcer did fluff my nickname. The stop-start mechanics of the tune that follows is as described above; that piano, that bass, those drums, those horns, but above all that voice – smooth but unpolished, full, tough and tender – inviting you to look but warning you off any further action. And is there a sly reference to S&M?
Rolling Stone dubbed Bland the black Sinatra but that doesn’t even begin to do him justice here.
’36-22-36′ was the opener on 1962 album Here’s the Man!!! [Duke] and now available on Turn On Your Love Light (The Duke Recordings Vol 2) [MCA] and, more widely, Various Artist compilation Theme Time Radio Hour with Your Host Bob Dylan: Season 3 [Ace Records].