Merle Haggard was probably the greatest singer-songwriter I’ve ever seen. The only artist I can think to compare him to is Sam Cooke, who like Merle possessed the gift for writing songs that were at once both deeply personal and universally applicable to the human condition.
I owe Bobby Bland a real debt of gratitude.
Not just for the time he always graciously gave me (Bobby was the definition of “gracious”), particularly when I was working on the profile of him that appeared in Lost Highway.
Not just for the music he gave the world, which, like Sam Cooke’s, was an extraordinary blend of silky-smooth and deliberately rough. In Bobby’s case—and I guess he was like Sam in this, too, and, obviously, an entire generation of gospel-based soul singers—he took his inspiration from Perry Como, Tony Bennett, and Nat “King” Cole on the pop side and from the gospel shouters on the “rough” side. Particularly Archie Brownlee of the Five Blind Boys and, of course, the Reverend C.L. Frankin, Aretha’s father, from whom he always said he got his patented squall. (Listen to Rev. Franklin’s “The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest” if you don’t believe me.)
But I said that I owed him something more—and I do.
Bobby “Blue” Bland gave me my vocation.