Rodd Bland and the Members Only Band – Live on Beale Street: A Tribute to Bobby “Blue” Bland
6 songs, 25 minutes
Bobby “Blue” Bland was one of the most influential Blues singers, innovating the Blues throughout his long and storied career. A pioneer of personal expression and transcending genre, Bland was able to connect Soul, Traditional Blues, Gospel, Swing, Big Band and R&B. Keeping at the center his powerful and expressive voice through his hit singles in the 50’s, and career milestones: 1961’s Soul Blues manifesto Two Steps from the Blues, the double groovy blast of 1974’s Dreamer and 1975’s His California Album, and later period launcher pad 1985’s Member’s Only, not to mention his groundbreaking collaborations and live albums with close friend and fellow Memphis breed iconoclast B.B. King.
Rodd, Mr. Bland’s son (and B.B.’s godson) has carried on the family business. Learning to play the drums at the feet of his father’s various drummers, Rodd went on to take the seat behind the set for his dad. A journeyman drummer of the Roots music variety, Rodd has enjoyed a creative career. It is therefore fitting that he put together a “Members Only Band” (a direct homage to the 1985 record right down to the album art work) of fellow Bland Band alumni and associates to celebrate his father’s music live at B.B King’s Blues Club in Memphis in 2019. The resulting highlights EP Live on Beale Street is a raucous, swinging taste.
The Members Only Band is centered around Rodd’s dynamic and fluid drumming. A good drummer is always the most important part of a band, and in this case, Rodd is sensitive, funky and always perfectly fitting to what the song needs. The rhythm section is filled out by Jackie Clark on bass, Harold Smith on guitar and Chris Stephenson on keyboards and vocals. A tight horn section of Marc Franklin, Scott Thompson and Kirk Smothers punctuate the music and add the classic Big Band sound that the elder Bland was so famous for. It is hard to imagine living up to the power and depth of singing that Bland had but vocalists Jerome Chism and Ashton Riker fair admirably and do Bland justice.
Of the 6 songs captured here only the staple “St. James Infirmary,” most popularly from Two Steps from the Blues is one of the more widely known pieces. The band focuses on the blend that Bland created especially in the second half of his career of swinging pseudo Big Band arrangements and slapped bass, slinky guitar Funk. The Dreamer lament “I Wouldn’t Treat a Dog (The Way You Treated Me)” featuring Jerome Chism on vocals and His California Album Soul ballad “Up and Down World” featuring keyboardist Chris Stephenson hold much of the originals’ grooves. But in this live setting both of these songs snap and vibrate. The wah guitar drone of “Sittin’ On a Poor Man’s Throne “ featuring Stephenson’s vocals pumps. The slow swinging Blues of “Soon as the Weather Breaks” is taken a bit faster than Mr. Bland’s original and without the drama of the original string section. A punchy hard hitting Blues performance, but not the vulnerable original smolder.
Live On Beale Street is a fitting tribute from a son to a father. Executing with high end skill and precision, Rodd Bland and The Members Only Band thrill. This live recording crackles with that in the moment energy and brings the listener at home right to Memphis.