Q&A with Memphis-based drummer Rodd Bland - the son of immortal singer Bobby “Blue” Bland - was born into the blues

"Learn to follow first before you begin to lead. Be honest with yourself and know when to take a step back. Memphis Music Scene, is much more than a scene…it’s a state of being, a state of mind. Mindset of a Memphian, is we are always going to do any and everything with soul power."

Rodd Bland: Born Into The Blues

As the son of immortal singer Bobby “Blue” Bland, there is no denying that Rodd Bland was born into the blues. But Rodd doesn’t sing the blues. Instead, he positions himself behind a drum kit, supplying rock-solid grooves for bands in his hometown of Memphis, including Brimstone Jones, Will Tucker, Ashton Riker, and the Blues Players Club. Bobby didn’t force his son into the blues business. As he got older, the Memphis native assumed his rightful place in his father’s mighty orchestra. Rodd was initially cast as half of a two-drummer onstage setup that moved and breathed as one. Great drummers were always integral to Bobby’s roaring orchestra, and the young timekeeper soaked up the rhythmic innovations of three of the best to ever pilot Bland’s orchestra: John “Jab’o” Starks, Harold “Peanie” Portier, and Tony Coleman. 

(Rodd Bland / Photo by Keenan Greer)

Rodd contributed drums and percussion to his father’s 1998 Malaco Records release “Live On Beale Street,” a sweet document of Bland’s majestic band during its later years that was recorded at the New Daisy Theater (there was a DVD version too). As if having “Blue” for a dad wasn’t enough of an inexorable blues connection, Rodd’s godfather was none other than B.B. King. Rodd kept right on playing after losing his two dads, expanding his stylistic scope to keep a rock-steady beat within a variety of contrasting musical formats. Memphis scion Rodd Bland did not hesitate, when approached in 2016, to put together a tribute to his father, Bobby “Blue” Bland, for a special showcase during the 2017 International Blues Challenge. The successful concert sparked an annual tradition that yielded three more shows and a new recording, "Live On Beale Street: A Tribute to Bobby “Blue” Bland" (2021) released in partnership with Nola Blue and a place in the blues music archives.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Soul music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

It’s given me a slanted view on how the world can sometimes be to me as a man of color. While not everyone celebrates all the beauty that my culture provides, they do tend to clamor for the popular elements it’s made of.

How do you describe your sound and songbook?

I’d say it’s a hybrid centered around strong rooted soul, with a flare for rock n roll, and all embodied by what blues began to be in earnest, to me which is feeling and emotive expression.  What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far? Touring parts of the world with my father Bobby “Blue” Bland, being called upon to anchor the drum throne for B.B. King, Otis Clay, and playing with more eclectic musicians.

Why do you think that the music legacy of Bobby "Blue" Bland continues to generate such a devoted following?

In my opinion, perhaps because of the purity and honesty of which he delivers from. He wasn’t manufactured to be placed into any particular category of entertainer. He was so much more than just a “Blues singer”.

"It’s given me a slanted view on how the world can sometimes be to me as a man of color. While not everyone celebrates all the beauty that my culture provides, they do tend to clamor for the popular elements it’s made of." (Photo: Rodd Bland and Bobby "Blue" Bland's statue, Memphis TN)

What was the best advice that your father gave you? What touched you from the Memphis Music Scene?

Learn to follow first before you begin to lead. Be honest with yourself and know when to take a step back. Memphis Music Scene, is much more than a scene…it’s a state of being, a state of mind. Mindset of a Memphian, is we are always going to do any and everything with soul power.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Two that stand out would be the time Slash sat in with us in Long Beach, CA in 1996. The other one was my father’s 80th birthday and B.B. King and he did a reunion duet in 2010.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

The impromptu learning tree moments. The times spent, just listening to old stories from my dad or BB or Otis Clay. The long overnight bus rides where conversations were of the essence. I hope that once we are all in a safer space as far as this global pandemic is concerned, we get back to basics and try to be better to and for one another. Be good humans to one another.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Be present in the moment and do your best whenever an opportunity presents itself to you to perform. You never know who’s watching and who’s life you just may impact.

"The impromptu learning tree moments. The times spent, just listening to old stories from my dad or BB or Otis Clay. The long overnight bus rides where conversations were of the essence. I hope that once we are all in a safer space as far as this global pandemic is concerned, we get back to basics and try to be better to and for one another. Be good humans to one another."

(Rodd Bland / Photo by Keenan Greer)

What is the impact of Afro-American music on the on the civil rights and socio-cultural implications?

Immeasurable.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I’d probably go back to a time where I could see Jimi Hendrix perform, as well as The Beatles, and of course I’d like to see both my dad and B.B. when they were in their earlier peaks of their careers.

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