BOBBY “BLUE” BLAND (Robert Calvin Brooks) was a major figure in the evolution of R&B into modern soul. Sometimes referred to as “The Lion of the Blues” and as “The Sinatra of the Blues,” he was heavily influenced by Nat King Cole’s smooth vocals. His friend B.B. King described his voice as being as “as soft as silk.” He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and received a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 1997.
Born in Rosemark, Tennessee, Bland was a founding member of the Beale Streeters, the fabled group that also included B.B. King and Johnny Ace. He made early records with Sam Phillips and Ike Turner, but his career was interrupted when he was called up for the army. After his discharge in 1954, he joined the Johnny Ace Review, which ended suddenly with Ace’s accidental death. By then, Bland had begun his own career, releasing his first single under his own name in 1955, “It’s My Life,” followed by “I Smell Trouble,” “I Don't Believe,” “Don't Want No Woman,” “You Got Me (Where You Want Me),” “Loan a Helping Hand,” and “Teach Me (How to Love You),” but it was his 1957 recording of “Further On Up the Road” that made him an R&B star. He followed with recordings of “I’ll Take Care of You,” “I Pity the Fool,” “Two Steps From the Blues,” and “Who Will the Next Fool Be.” “Stormy Monday Blues,” Call on Me,” “Don’t Cry No More,” among many others. While Bland never made it onto the pop charts, many of his songs were covered by such rockers as Eric Clapton, The Grateful Dead, and Van Morrison. Mick Hucknall of Simply Red made the album “Tribute to Bobby” in 2008.
In the 70s, Bland began recording in Los Angeles, resulting in a more contemporary sound that put him back on the R&B charts, including “I Wouldn’t Treat a Dog,” “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” which was later covered by Whitesnake and sampled by Kanye West and
Jay-Z. He then reunited with his Beale Street bandmate B.B. King for a pair of mid-70s albums and tours. In 1980, Bland went back to his roots, recording “Sweet Vibrations,” a tribute album to Joe Scott, the producer/bandleader of much of his early classic R&B. In 1985, Bland signed with the Jackson, Mississippi-based Malaco Records, producing a series of albums that blended his early work with a more contemporary style, something that became known as “The Malaco Sound.” His last release was “Blues at Midnight” in 2003.
Bland continued to record and perform until his death in June 2013 at the age 83.
OTIS CLAY is one of the premier deep soul and gospel singers working today. He is constantly in demand for concert appearances in the U.S., Europe and Japan. He has recorded three live albums, “Soul Man: Live in Japan,” “Otis Clay Live,” and “Respect Yourself.” In the 1990s he also recorded two soul albums : “I’ll Treat You Right” and the Willie Mitchell-produced “This Time Around.” He was inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame in 2013.
Born in Waxhaw, Mississippi, Clay began his career singing gospel with groups such as The Pilgrim Harmonizers, The Gospel Songbirds and the Sensational Nightingales. In 1965 he began to make secular recordings. His first hit came in 1967 with “That’s How It Is (When You’re in Love),” followed by “A Lasting Love,” and “She’s About a Mover.” Clay moved to Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records in 1971, where he made most of his best known soul and blues records. His biggest hit was “Trying to Live My Life Without You,” which he duets with Lil’ P-Nut in TAKE ME TO THE RIVER.
As a singer and producer, Otis Clay remains very active in gospel. “Walk A Mile In My Shoes,” a CD featuring Clay’s version of this classic song was released in 2007 on his own Echo Records label. His recording of “When The Gates Swing Open” remains a staple on gospel radio today.
BOBBY RUSH (left) is a blues musician, composer and singer. His style incorporates elements of blues, funk and rap. Born in Homer, Louisiana, he moved with his family to Arkansas, where he formed a band with Elmore James. In the 1970s his song “Chicken Heads,” which he wrote as well as sang, made it to the R&B charts. He next recorded his first album, “Rush Hour, with one track, “I Wanna Do the Do” also charting in 1979.
In the early 1980s, Rush moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where he recorded a series of records for various labels, including his own Deep Rush label. “FolkFunk” (2004) was a return to rootsier sound, featuring guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart. He appeared in the film, “The Road to Memphis,” part of the series “The Blues,” produced by Martin Scorsese.
Rush received recognition for his music after the release of his 22nd album, “Rush,” when he was awarded Best Male Soul Blues Artist at the Blues Music Awards. He also won “Best Acoustic Artist” and “Best Acoustic Album” for his album “Raw.” His album, “Hoochie Mama,” was nominated for a Grammy in the Blues Music Section in 2000. His most recent albums are “Show You a Good Time” and “Down In Louisiana.”
In 2013, Rush was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the Soul Blues Male Artist category. In 2014, Rush's album “Down In Louisiana,” won a Blues Music Award in the “Soul Blues Album of the Year” category, and Rush was also nominated in two other categories.
Mississippi-born CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE is an electric blues harmonica player, singer, and bandleader, and one of the most revered musicians in the world. He has won countless awards during his career including induction into the Blues Hall of Fame and collaborated with innumerable musical giants of the past fifty years including John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Big Joe Williams, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Tom Waits, Eddie Vedder, to name to name a few.
Musselwhite has received ten Grammy nominations , winning for “Get Up!” (2013, released by the recently revived Stax label), a collaboration with Ben Harper. He has also won 14 W.C. Handy Awards, 27 Blues Music Awards, as well as Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Monterey Blues Festival, among many other honors. Musselwhite was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010.
Moving to Chicago in the early 60s, he recorded “Stand Back! Here Comes Charlie Musselwhite’s Southside Band,” in 1966 at age 22. The following year, Musselwhite moved to San Francisco. Since then he has recorded more than twenty albums.
Over the years, Musselwhite has branched out in style. His 1999 recording, “Continental Drifter,” is accompanied by Cuarteto Patria, from Cuba's Santiago region, the Cuban music analog of the Mississippi Delta. For the first half of 2011, Musselwhite toured with the acoustic-electric blues band Hot Tuna. In the latter half of 2011, he went on tour with Cyndi Lauper. His latest record is “Juke Joint Chapel” (2013).
HUBERT SUMLIN was a Chicago blues guitarist and singer, best known for his work as a member of Howlin’ Wolf’s band. He was listed as #43 in Rolling Stone’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
Born in Greenwood, Mississippi, Sumlin was raised in Hughes, Arkansas. As a boy, Sumlin first met Howlin’ Wolf by sneaking into a performance. In 1954 Wolf invited Sumlin to relocate to Chicago to play second guitar in his Chicago-based band. When first guitarist Jody Williams left the band in 1955, it left Sumlin as the primary guitarist, a position he held almost continuously for the remainder of Wolf's career.
Upon Wolf's death in 1976, Sumlin continued on with several other members of Wolf's band under the name “The Wolf Pack” until about 1980. Sumlin also recorded under his own name, and his final solo effort was “About Them Shoes,” released in 2004. He underwent lung removal surgery the same year, yet continued performing until just before his death.
BOOKER T. JONES is a Memphis multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, record producer and arranger, best known as the front man of the band Booker T. & the M.G.s. The band came together as an accident: 17-year-old organist Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bass player Lewie Steinberg, and drummer Al Jackson, Jr.were brought to Stax to back a demo session for rocker Billy Lee Riley. It was the first time they played together. The session with Riley didn’t work out, but there was some tape left over, so the band recorded two instrumental tracks: “Behave Yourself” and “Green Onions.” The latter song, a 12-bar blues with an unforgettable organ riff, went to #1 on the R&B chart and #3 on the pop chart in 1962, sold over a million copies and found a place on numerous lists of the greatest songs of all time, as well as on countless movie trailers.
The inter-racial Booker T. and the M.G.’s (with Donald “Duck” Dunn replacing Steinberg on bass) became the Stax house band that played on hundreds of recordings by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Bill Withers, Sam and Dave, Carla and Rufus Thomas, and many others, as well as being a successful group in their own right releasing over a dozen albums. In 1992, Booker T. & The M.G.’s were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2007 the group received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
After his work with the M.G.’s, Jones continued with a solo career. In 2009, he released “Potato Hole,” in collaboration with the band Drive-By Truckers, and in 2011, he released “The Road to Memphis” (with special guests The Roots) which won a Grammy Award.
Soul singer, songwriter and producer WILLIAM BELL was instrumental in shaping the sound of Stax Records.
Bell recorded his first sides as a member of the group the Del Rios. In 1961, he made his solo recording debut with the classic single, “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” which became one of the fledgling label’s first major hits.
After a two-year stint in the Armed Forces, William released his first full-length album in 1967, the classic The Soul of a Bell, which included the Top 20 hit single, “Everybody Loves a Winner.” That same year, blues great Albert King recorded what came to be his signature tune, “Born Under a Bad Sign,” also written by Bell, which has since become one of the most-recorded blues songs.
Among his other classic hits at Stax were “Any Other Way,” “Never Like This Before,” “A Tribute to a King” (William’s personal tribute to Stax legend Otis Redding), “I Forgot to be Your Lover,” his internationally-acclaimed duet with Judy Clay, “Private Number,” and the perennial Christmas music favorite, “Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday.”
As a performer, he is probably best known for 1961’s “You Don't Miss Your Water” (covered by The Byrds and Taj Mahal); 1968’s “Private Number,” and “Tryin' to Love Two,” Bell's only US top 40 hit, which also hit #1 on the R&B charts. Upon the death of Otis Redding, Bell released the well-received memorial song “A Tribute to a King.”
As a songwriter, Bell co-authored the Chuck Jackson hit “Any Other Way” (a cover of Bell’s original recording), “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” (covered by Billy Idol in his 1986 hit “To Be a Lover"). It has since been sampled by Ludacris (on “Growing Pains”) and Jaheim on “Put That Woman First”), among many other artists.
Bell’s other recordings include “Every Day Will be a Holiday,” “Tryin’ to Love Two,” “I Don’t Want to Wake Up Feeling Guilty,” and “Headline News.”
MAVIS STAPLES is an American rhythm and blues and gospel singer, actress and civil rights activist who recorded with The Staple Singers, her family's band. Led by her father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, Mavis, along with her siblings Cleotha, Yvonne, and Purvis began singing gospel, until they scored their first hit, “Uncloudy Day” in 1956. With Mavis' voice and Pops’ songs, singing and guitar playing, the Staples evolved from enormously popular gospel singers to become the most spectacular and influential spirituality-based group in America, and became the spiritual and musical voices of the civil rights movement. The Staples sang “message” songs like “Long Walk to D.C.” and “When Will We Be Paid?,” as well as Bob Dylan's “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” and a version of Stephen Stills’ “For What It's Worth.” bringing their moving and articulate music to a huge number of young people.
The group signed to Stax Records in 1968, where they hit the Top 40 eight times between 1971 and 1975, including two #1 singles, “I’ll Take You There” (written by Stax’s Al Bell) and “Let’s Do It Again,” and a #2 single “Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas?”
Mavis started to work as a solo artist in the late 60s, releasing her first album, “Mavis Staples” in 1969 for Stax, followed by “Only for the Lonely” (1970), “A Piece of the Action” (on Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label), and another album entitled “Mavis Staples.” She then signed with Prince’s Paisley Park label, where she recorded two albums produced by Prince, “Time Waits for No One” (1989) and “The Voice” (1993). She came back to Gospel with “Spirituals & Gospels: A Tribute to Mahalia Jackson” (1996), and “Have a Little Faith.” Her contributions to John Scofield’s Ray Charles tribute album, “That’s What I Say,” led to a tour with Scofield. She then collaborated with producer Ry Cooder on “We’ll Never Turn Back” (2007), which focused on Gospel songs of the civil rights movement. After “Live: Hope at the Hideout,” Staples collaborated with on two albums with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. She won a Grammy for the first one, “You Are Not Alone” (2010), and the second, “One True Vine” (2013) was the highest charting album of her career.
Staples has recorded and played with countless musicians of all genres, including Bob Dylan (with whom she was nominated for a 2003 Grammy Award for their duet on “Gotta Change My Way of Thinking”), The Band (notably with her unforgettable performance of “The Weight,” alongside the Staples, in Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz”), Ray Charles, George Jones, Natalie Merchant, Dr. John, Elton John, Los Lobos, Arcade Fire’s Win Butler, and Justin Timberlake.