DVD - Bobby Bland: Two Steps From The Blues
Bobby Bland is without question one of the great stylists of post war blues and soul. An underrated talent who consistently found success on the American R&B charts but rarely, if ever, crossed over onto the more mainstream markets that found a place for artists such as his long-time friend and sometime collaborator B.B. King. Given that his music was clearly as sophisticated as any to be found on the pop charts of the day, and that his 70s Steve Barri produced albums ("His California Album", "Reflection in Blue" etc.) were as fine as anything B.B cut at the same time, this lack of popular success remains both a surprise and an exercise in extremely poor judgement by the record buying public.
A supremely gifted vocalist, admired by Presley, Van the Man, Dan Penn, B.B. himself and countless others, this Paul Spencer documentary goes some way to redressing the balance. The DVD includes concert footage of the man himself and contributions from the likes of Van Morrison, BB King, Mick Hucknall, Quincy Jones, Dan Penn and Susan Tedeschi - apparently this is the only documentary on the market which has had Bobby's full involvement.
Spencer's real coup was to get an in-depth interview with the man himself and it was somewhat apposite to get such a humble and self-effacing response from so gifted an individual. Bobby's interview is an intimate one, and whilst Bland fans will know much of the detail from other sources, the story is still fascinating. BB King is his usual genial self, recalling the old days in Memphis as if they were yesterday, but we have heard B.B. do this many times before. Given Van Morrison's reticence to talk to anybody, his reminiscences about the first time he heard Bobby and what an impact it had on him are particularly welcome. Other contributors, including the aforementioned Dan Penn and Susan Tedeschi are also worth the admission price.
However, for Shades the most affecting interview and overall contribution is the one from Mick Hucknall. Perhaps unjustly influenced by preconceptions of the Simply Red man, it was both surprising and touching to hear him speak so eloquently about the impact on him of Bobby's music; and to see a superstar humbled when he actually meets his hero (just like we would be) is genuinely uplifting. Kudos to him for recording the tribute album and raising Bobby's profile.
In an ideal world, it would have been good to have more of Bobby on stage in his prime, and the DVD could have been twice as long and still wouldn't have outstayed its welcome; but this is nonetheless a finely crafted profile of an important and often overlooked master of blues and soul. It's only an hour long and it was originally shown on TV, but it's still an essential purchase if you have even the slightest regard for Bland's craft.
N.B As an aside the producer and director Paul Spencer also promotes the very fine 'Americana' Maverick festival in Suffolk - you can find more details on the Maverick website.