Bobby “Blue” Bland at Country Club Hills Theater | Concert preview
Let the soul great clear his throat.
Bobby “Blue” Bland is one of the greatest soul singers of all time, so after a half-century of musical magic it’s fair to ask why he never crossed over to become a mainstream superstar like James Brown, Aretha Franklin or his buddy B.B. King. Put another way, whom can we thank for putting Bland in front of a passionate audience with phenomenal openers Latimore and Willie Clayton in this great southwest suburban theater, rather than among uptight wine-and-cheesers at Ravinia?
Some would say Bland is neither fish nor fowl. He’s clearly a bluesman, but because he plays no guitar and values smooth over gruff, he doesn’t fit the archetype. However, despite his phenomenal instrument being as sophisticated as Sam Cooke’s and his mojo as deep as James Brown’s, his bluesy vibe may have marked him as too down-home for crossover soul fans.
But for my money what’s held him back is his glorious “Ack!” Anyone who’s heard Bland live knows the Tennessee titan punctuates every soulful thought with a throaty grunt/hack/quack, one of the most distinct sound bites in black music history. Long before hip-hoppers dropped audio samples as personal IDs, Bland made songs his own by clearing his throat/letting his larynx climax/doing erotic birdcalls (he calls it his “squall”). I found several Web threads where white commentators claimed the sound disturbed them so much they forsook the singer for fear of losing their lunch. But when he hits the Hills, lunch isn’t what the ladies will be losing.