Too Far Gone – Bobby Bland
…my friends, they console me, they say go out and find someone new…
It’s 1981. I’m all but recovered from Hepatitus B, although I’m still not drinking. When my liver finally recovers I’ll be a cheap night out. My vinyl-buying habits haven’t subsided though, and I can be found flicking through bins in Soho, Camden Town Record & Tape Exchange or Notting Hill. I actually scored a job at the Notting Hill Record and Tape Exchange – it’s in my collection of short-lived futile jobs.
On day one the manager (who was like a bitter incarnation of Alan Rickman), asked me what music I liked. It was a trick question of course. I think I answered “Roxy Music” and possibly “David Bowie” : being an honest kind of chap and not prone to pretending I was cool – much. He sneered in derision. “How about you?” I asked. “No rock music,” he deigned to answer but didn’t offer anything else. Wow what a twat. Gave me a box of records to put into the bins. They were unsorted – and I was expected to know what they all were. I think most of them were jazz, and placed them (in alphabetical order) in the various jazz bins. By the end of the shift I was asked not to come back tomorrow. So much for access to cheap vinyl….
My appetite was wide and deep – I was up for anything new. So when I found Bobby Bland smiling at me from the ‘blues’ bin I chose him.
I knew nothing about him, or his music, but felt that as a music lover, I ‘ought’ to know about the blues. It’s been a part of my musical journey this self-taught encyclopaedic approach and it has taken me up many delicious backwaters, and into plenty of powerful running rivers too. A lucky dip is a fun way to collect music too. I rarely really hate anything I’ve bought like this, but sometimes stuff gets returned, for a fifth of what I bought it for, that’s just how the 2nd-hand music market works. I’ll happily hand over 10 CDs now that I don’t need any longer and buy two “new” ones with the proceeds. But this was vinyl day, and each new slice was lovingly wiped clean, placed onto the turntable and the needle gently brought down onto the black shiny spinning groove.
If you don’t know Bobby “Blue” Bland – he is an astounding singer of the blues, with a deep and profoundly emotional voice. Bobby was brought up in Tennessee, never went to school, and got his breaks in Memphis alongside B.B. King – he was one of the Beale Street blues boys. (BB means blue boy King, and Bobby’s nickname was Blue) and he recorded a great live LP with B.B. King too. I never saw him live, although I did see B.B. King at Hammersmith. Bobby Bland’s big hits were Cry Cry Cry, I Pity The Fool and Stormy Monday, later he hit home with Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City but the tune which caught my ear & my heart & my soul was called Too Far Gone, which was the final song on the LP. Many years later, I tried to track this song down and discovered an LP called Get On Down which Bobby had made in 1975 – a collection of country music songs from Nashville…
Too Far Gone was written by Billy Sherrill for Tammy Wynette, and many others have covered it, notably Elvis Costello and Emmylou Harris. This blues version though, is astounding. I love how the different parts of the band join in one at a time. It’s a simple trick, but never done with such aplomb. First the rolling piano, then the off beat catches the rich warm voice, the strings join in, are we in country honky-tonk or Nashville – then the horns sweep majestically into the equation bringing Memphis back to the fore, the backing singers join us for some oohs, then the harmonica adds a blues harp twang before the mighty chorus, key change and finale, and we’re done. No middle eight, no more verses just a mighty last growl from Bobby before the end. I still find this song completely perfect, and it would always be in any mythical top-ten I may have to produce in pop-favourite-land. Not bad for a lucky-dip.
Around this time I visited previous flat-mate Nick Partridge (from West End Lane Pete and Sali’s place) as he was now living on a house-boat in Amsterdam, and running a blues show on the radio there. Or maybe I’ll leave that story for another song….
Many years later I would include this tune on a cassette tape I made for my new love, Jenny Jules, a C90 that I imaginatively called “The Soul Tape”. (See My Pop Life #29)