“His California Album” was a return to form for Bobby “Blue” Bland. Having turned his personal life round in 1971, he turned his career round in 1973. For the first time in nearly ten years, his album charted, spending nineteen weeks in the US Billboard 200. Suddenly, he had a critically acclaimed and commercially successful album on his hands. Thirty-eight years later, the album has a timeless quality, like all good music has. On the album are some fantastic songs, brilliantly played by the cream of Las Angeles’ musicians and sung with a combination of passion, sadness and joy by Bobby. Both arranger Michael Omartian and producer Steve Barri played a huge part in the album’s success, with the arrangements and production perfect for the songs. It allowed people to hear the best of Bobby, who after too long in the doldrums was back. It’s just a shame the “follow up” album took four years to be recorded and released. If it had been out sooner, it would’ve allowed Bobby to build on the momentum of His California Album, and maybe, helped him to revisit the heights of his earlier career on the Chess and Duke labels. However, His California Album is a great reminder of a return to form from one of the real legends of music, Bobby “Blue” Bland.
A1 This Time I’m Gone For Good 3:32
A2 Up And Down World 3:33
A3 It’s Not The Spotlight 3:52
A4 (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right 3:50
A5 Goin’ Down Slow 5:35
B1 The Right Place At The Right Time 2:55
B2 Help Me Through The Day 3:50
B3 Where Baby Went 3:19
B4 Friday The 13th Child 3:14
B5 I’ve Got To Use My Imagination 4:14
Review by Mark Barry
Tennessee’s Robert Calvin ‘Bobby “Blue” Bland’ put out his first long-player “Two Steps from The Blues” in January 1961 on Duke Records. It was a 12-track ragbag of Duke 7″ singles – some titles stretching back as far as March 1957.
From there on in – the rasping singer moved ever further away from his Blues and R&B roots and embraced Soul Music for the rest of his career. Which brings us to the two albums he made with Dunhill Records in the USA – kicking off his Seventies output. First up was October 1973’s “His California Album”, following by another absolute masterpiece – “Dreamer” in August 1974. He would go on to make three more albums for ABC – “Get On Down With Bobby Bland” in September 1975, “Reflections In Blue” in May 1977 and “Come Fly With Me” in June 1978 – eventually signing to MCA Records in 1979 for “I Feel Good, I Feel Fine”.
But for many fans – the duo of LPs he made in California with Dunhill in ’73 and ’74 remain something of a Soul Holy Grail.
You know you’re in the presence of something special the moment the slow slinky Soul opener “This Time I’m Gone For Good” hits the speakers. Featuring his now trademark rasp (oh Lord!) – the Don Robey/Oscar Peter penned song was issued as a lead-off 45 for the album in November 1973 on ABC/Dunhill D-4369 with Side 2’s “Where Baby Went” as its flip-side. While the Pop charts ignored it – the US R&B charts loved the song and rewarded it with a No. 5 position – his highest placing since “These Hands (Small But Mighty)” on Duke Records in 1965. To say they were a bit slow to follow-up is an understatement – Bland would have to wait until March of 1974 for the equally excellent “Goin’ Down Slow” to be the next single off the LP – coupled with “Up And Down World” on ABC/Dunhill D-4379 which even then managed a respectable R&B chart placing of No. 17.
So many great songs – the ‘V. Morrison’ writer’s credited alongside Mr. Don ‘Dubious’ Robey for “Up and Down World” is Vernon Morrison and not Belfast’s Van – although the pair admired each other and would work together later in their careers. The fantastic and frankly beautiful “It’s Not The Spotlight” written by Gerry Goffin with Barry Goldberg would be picked up on by Rod Stewart (smart boy) for his “Atlantic Crossing” LP in 1975 and by so many afterwards (love Beth Orton’s version on her 1996 CD single for “She Calls Your Name”). Written by Homer Banks, Carl Hampton and Randy Jackson – the marital infidelity song “(If Loving is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right” is great Bobby Bland Soul. Luther Ingram had done a stone classic version of it in 1972 on Ko Ko Records. Rod Stewart would cover the torch song with the Faces and on his “Foot Loose & Fancy Free” album in 1977 (David Ruffin would have a go too in 1973 and Millie Jackson in 1974). Side 1 ends with the cool “Goin’ Down Slow” – a tune that finally allows the musicians to spread out – Michael Omartian giving it some Piano and Organ throughout.
After the near perfection of Side 1 – Side 2 unfortunately has one or two ‘not so good’ tunes. The ‘boppy’ Soul of “The Right Place At The Right Time” is attributed to Don Robey but its chipper flicking-guitar and uptempo Brass feel ever so slightly forced – like they’re looking for a hit single and not finding one. Things return to genius with his cover of Leon Russell’s “Help Me Through The Day” – a gorgeous slow-paced Soulful rendering. Freddie King would also cut a Blues-Soulful rendering of it for his “Woman Across The River” album on Shelter Records in the same year (1973). “…I’m driving a broken-down car…cost me my every last cent…show me a man in a Cadillac…and I’ll show you where my baby went…” poor Bobby moans in “Where My Baby Went” to an upbeat brassy backdrop. The bizarrely named “Friday The 13th Child” is a David Clayton-Thomas ballad and it turned up on the Blood, Sweat & Tears vocalist’s 1972 “Tequila Sunrise” album on Columbia Records. The album ends on Goffin/King’s “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination” – a return to the Side 1 form. The brass, the voice, the groove – brilliant…
The UK wouldn’t see “His California Album” until May 1974 on Probe Records SPB 1088 (the last in the Probe SPB series) – only months before the October 1974 ABC Records released of “Dreamer” on ABC ABCL 5053. They didn’t even try a 45 in the UK so it’s no wonder the album sank without a trace. Sure the entire album isn’t genius but the goodies far outweigh the ordinary any day of the week – and he would follow it with the brilliant “Dreamer” album in 1974.
“…If I ever feel the light again…shining down on me…I don’t have to tell you…how welcome it will be…” – Bobby Bland sings during the moving, Soulful and profound “It’s Not The Spotlight”.
Welcome this beauty into your life – in whatever form you can find “His California Album” in…