Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 22: Bobby "Blue" Bland, "Turn On Your Love Light"

Artist: Bobby "Blue" Bland
Song: "Turn On Your Love Light"
Album: Turn On Your Love Light (single)
Year: 1961

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One of the more intriguing aspects in music is the way in which a song can become so far removed from the original recording as time passes, taking on an entirely new image to the point that the source material is almost entirely forgotten.  While in many cases, this can occur due to nothing more than a cover version gaining great notoriety, it is also a common reality when the original artist may themselves have been somewhat forgotten by time, and both of these possibilities are in play in the case of legendary blues and soul singer, Bobby "Blue" Bland.  Without question one of the most vital contributors to the state of modern music, the way with which he was able to take the deep, almost pained mood of the blues and give it a more high-energy, yet heavily emotional spin placed Bland into a category with very few others, and yet most today are unaware of his existence.  Furthermore, though many unknowingly attribute them elsewhere, it was Bobby "Blue" Bland that was responsible for the original recordings of a number of songs that have become standards, and in many cases, his take remains far superior to the long list of covers that have occurred over time.  It is often the way that his original recording displays the true spirit of the song that sets them far apart from later versions, and this is absolutely the case when one hears Bobby "Blue" Bland's brilliant 1961 recording of the now-iconic song, "Turn On Your Love Light."

From the first notes of "Turn On Your Love Light," the unique blend of styles that is the music of Bobby "Blue" Bland is absolutely apparent, and there are few artists that stuck as perfect a balance as one finds here.  The way that the bright, almost over-blown horns instantly grab the listener is unlike anything else, and in this style and mood, one can hear the basis for the image and sound that The Blues Brothers would take nearly twenty years later.  It is the horns that dominate much of the track, and their presence gives "Turn On Your Love Light" a tone that is almost always lost in later recordings of the song.  The bouncing piano progression gives the track a unique "dance feel," and it is this element that makes it fit perfectly into the era in which it was released.  This ability to make the song swing further separates it from other songs of the time, and it also sets Bobby Bland far apart from any other soul-style performer.  There is also a wonderfully funky groove in the guitar all across "Turn On Your Love Light," and the way that this sound blends with the piano makes it understandable why the track shot to the top of the r&b charts.  The light drumming serves as the ideal finishing touch, and it is the way that this sound gives way to the bright, energizing horns that give the original version of "Turn On Your Love Light" far more life and appeal than any of the covers that followed in later decades.

However, while the musical arrangement on "Turn On Your Love Light" has become nothing short of iconic, Bobby "Blue" Bland remains an absolute icon of music for nothing more than his voice.  Unlike many other blues and soul performers, Bland had no other instrument with which to make his name, but the reality is that with as powerful and beautiful a voice as he possesses, nothing else is necessary.  There is a strength and soul within his singing that remains unmatched to this day; and it is this "honest pain" that pushes his original versions of so many songs to a far higher places than later, better known covers.  Easily working all across the vocal scale, Bland is able to make "Turn On Your Love Light" swing a bit more with his voice alone, and yet it is the all-out commitment to the lyrics that makes his rendition so stunning.  It is the sincerity with which he sings that makes later covers sound as if the performers are "simply singing words," as all across the original, one can experience what a soulful song it was meant to be.  In many ways, this reality on the original is what firmly places Bobby Bland into the soul style, and yet the slight growl, as well as his vocal approach make it clear that there is a great deal of blues at the core of his sound.  Due to this reality, Bobby "Blue" Bland is one of the few artists in history to perfectly balance soul and blues, and it rarely sounded as fantastic as his recording of "Turn On Your Love Light."

As the years passed, countless artists from a wide range of genres have turned many of Bobby "Blue" Bland's songs into classics, and yet in many of these cases, the later versions completely obscure the far superior original.  This is without question the case with "Turn On Your Love Light," as The Grateful Dead made the song a regular part of their live shows, and yet once one hears the original, the version from The Grateful Dead clearly lacks the soul and power that Bland brought to the track.  Furthermore, though most are unaware, it was a bootleg recording of the band Them playing "Turn On Your Love Light" that snagged the band a record deal, and this can be seen as the launching of the career of Van Morrison.  Countless other groups have made their own recording of the song over the years, and yet none have been able to bring the combination of soulful dedication and upbeat power that one finds in Bobby "Blue" Bland's original.  Yet there is no question as to the massive impact that the song has had on the face of modern music, and in 1999, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame.  Whether it is the literal song itself, or the way that Bobby "Blue" Bland performs all across the track, there are few songs in history that can boast as wide-ranging an impact, and it is due to these realities that one must hear and understand the stunning original 1961 recording of the unforgettable song, "Turn On Your Love Light."

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