|Memphis scion Rodd Bland did not hesitate, when approached in 2016, to put together a tribute to his father, Bobby “Blue” Bland, for a special showcase during the 2017 International Blues Challenge. The successful concert sparked an annual tradition that yielded three more shows and a new recording, Live On Beale Street: A Tribute to Bobby “Blue” Bland set for release in partnership with Nola Blue and a place in the blues music archives.
This accomplished drummer, who grew up in and around his father‘s band, has made a name for himself in his own right touring and recording with Corey Osborne, Benny Turner & Cash McCall, The Reverend Sean Amos, Will Tucker & Brimstone Jones, Ian Siegal and the Youngest Sons, and Danielle Nicole, to name just a few. Bland aassembled a band of A-list players including Jackie Clark on bass, Harold Smith on guitar, Chris Stephenson on keyboards and vocals and the horn section of trumpeters Marc Franklin and Scott Thompson, with Kirk Smothers on saxophone, along with vocalists Jerome Chism and Ashton Riker, all of whom worked for his father at some point in their career. The six-song set was recorded May 2019 at B.B. King‘s Blues Club, which sits at the corner of Second and Beale, serving as the gateway to this historic entertainment district.
The collection is unique in that it is not a program of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s commercial hits, but rather an exploration of deeper cuts recorded by the Hall of Famer for the Duke and ABC labels. Bobby Bland, oft described as among the great storytellers of blues and soul music with his influential vocal prowess, was sometimes referred to as “The Lion of the Blues” and “The Sinatra of the Blues.” This high expectation prompted Rodd Bland to invite three talented singers to take on the challenge of presenting these lesser-known gems from Bland’s six-decade-spanning songbook.
Rodd Bland’s muscular drumming kicks the horns on the swinging opening number “Up And Down World,“ while Stephenson steps effortlessly into the vocal lines on the tune from Bland’s 1973 His California Album. Bobby Bland first recorded the gospel infused minor key “St. James Infirmary Blues“ in 1961, which later appeared on his own Live On Beale Street album in 1998. Here Ashton Riker delivers an emotional performance adding modern Neo-Soul vocal styling over the Blue Bland Orchestra arrangement. The 1977 recording of ”Sittin‘ On A Poor Man’s Throne” was arranged by Michael Omartian and featured some of L.A.’s top session musicians including Ray Parker Jr, Lee Rittenour, and Ernie Watts. The Members Only Band cruises through the sophisticated social commentary-charged soul burner with fearless precision. Charismatic Jerome Chism leads the ensemble through the other three tracks, sparring with the horns and gathering in the audience during a playful rundown of the 1974 hit “I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me).” He then demonstrates his flamboyant vocal skills on “Soon As The Weather Breaks,” a dynamic slow blues showstopper that features a soaring guitar solo from Harold Smith. Slapping bass from Jackie Clark and pile-driving drums from Rodd Bland push the Malaco-era funk anthem, “Get Your Money Where You Spend Your Time,” honoring the legacy created by Bobby Bland’s time with the label that specialized in traditional southern black music, creating a bridge from classic blues and soul to modern R&B and hip-hop.
Drawing inspiration from touchstone moments in his father’s Hall Of Fame career and the lessons he learned on and off the bandstand Rodd Bland and his Members Only Band deliver a live tribute to Bobby “Blue” Bland with passion, honor, respect, and love.
Rick J Bowen
As the son of immortal singer Bobby “Blue” Bland, there is no denying that Rodd Bland was born into the blues. But Rodd doesn’t sing the blues. Instead, he positions himself behind a drum kit, supplying rock-solid grooves for bands in his hometown of Memphis, including Brimstone Jones, Will Tucker, Ashton Riker, and the Blues Players Club.
Bobby didn’t force his son into the blues business. “He didn’t push drums or push music on me,” says Rodd. “I just naturally gravitated towards it.” And he began at an incredibly young age. “I started doing shows with him when I was five,” he says. Rodd had been at it even before he had an actual kit to practice on and had to improvise with whatever he could find lying around his folks’ residence. “I started—as he called it, ‘destroying pots and pans’—when I was two-and-a-half years old,” he says.
As he got older, the Memphis native assumed his rightful place in his father’s mighty orchestra. Rodd was initially cast as half of a two-drummer onstage setup that moved and breathed as one. Great drummers were always integral to Bobby’s roaring orchestra, and the young timekeeper soaked up the rhythmic innovations of three of the best to ever pilot Bland’s orchestra: John “Jab’o” Starks, Harold “Peanie” Portier, and Tony Coleman. “The three wise men, as I call them,” says Rodd. The time eventually came when Bobby’s regular drummer George Weaver was unexpectedly unavailable, and Rodd had to do the job all by his lonesome. “I really stepped up, I like to say, in ‘96.”
Rodd contributed drums and percussion to his father’s 1998 Malaco Records release “Live On Beale Street,” a sweet document of Bland’s majestic band during its later years that was recorded at the New Daisy Theater (there was a DVD version too). As if having “Blue” for a dad wasn’t enough of an inexorable blues connection, Rodd’s godfather was none other than B.B. King. “Or in his words, my other dad,” says Rodd. When his “other father” passed away in May of 2015, Rodd was chosen to hand carry his hallowed guitar Lucille in the jam-packed funeral procession along Beale Street. Bobby had passed away two years earlier.
Rodd kept right on playing after losing his two dads, expanding his stylistic scope to keep a rock-steady beat within a variety of contrasting musical formats. He’s played on albums by Roxanne Lemmon (an eponymous CD in 2009), Ian Siegal and the Youngest Sons’ The Skinny (2011), Darren Jay & the Delta Souls’ Drink My Wine (2012), Will Tucker’s Worth the Gamble (2015), The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks it Down in 2018 (Rodd also toured globally as a member of Amos’ band), and Nola Blue’s 2018 release Going Back Home by Benny Turner and Cash McCall, where he played behind the veteran bluesmen on their ribald revival of “The Dirty Dozens.” Bland also took part in the filming of Take Me to the River, the genre-bending 2014 documentary that brought together several generations of Southern soul, blues, and rap performers in a successful attempt to locate common musical ground. Rodd displayed his versatility by not only backing his dad in live performance, but rapper Yo Gotti as well.
As the pandemic finally winds down and Beale Street—Rodd’s principal stomping grounds—comes alive once more with its neon-spattered marquees intact and tourists returning in droves to stroll its historic sidewalks, Live on Beale Street: Tribute to Bobby “Blue” Bland vividly testifies about the past, the present, and the future too. “This recording is really an appetizer. This is the opening match or opening card. This is the opening act,” he says.