With the passing of blues legend Bobby “Blue” Bland over the weekend, another link to the Beale Street of long ago is lost.
Bland parked cars at the foot of Beale Street as he worked on making it in the clubs as a black man singing country or “hillbilly” music, he told Margaret McKee and Fred Chisenhall in their 1981 book “Beale Black & Blue.”
“When I moved to Memphis it was very, very tough,” he said of his move to the city after World War II from nearby Rosemark. “Not many places blacks could venture into. It was the wrong time and the wrong place for a black singer to make it singing white country blues.”
But he got some help from another earlier arrival on Beale Street, B.B. King, who had Bland on his WDIA radio program. Bland caught on with a song he wrote called “Army Blues.”
King was a fellow competitor at amateur night contests at the old Palace Theater on Beale Street. Decades later, King talked of being able to recognize Bland’s car in Beale Street traffic by the sound its glass packs made.
“Army Blues” was Bland’s first recording for Memphis-based Duke Records and it was followed shortly by a draft notice.