It should be no surprise that Luther Kent’s latest CD, The Bobby Bland Songbook, pays tribute to the “Three B Blues Boy,” as Kent considers himself Bland’s biggest fan.
“He’s without question the greatest blues singer of all time,” declares Kent. “There isn’t anyone even close. I’ve appeared with him three times and it was a great honor.”
Kent’s affection for Bland should have been apparent to anyone who has followed his career from his early days through his mid-’70s stint with Blood, Sweat and Tears, and his years with Luther Kent and Trick Bag. He was born in New Orleans on General Pershing Street, but he moved with his parents to Baton Rouge at an early age. There, like many baby boomer blues buffs, his life changed permanently in the early 1960s when he discovered Bland’s first solo album, Two Steps from the Blues on Duke Records.
“That album just blew my mind,” says Kent, who recently moved to Denim Springs, Louisiana. “It was completely different from all the other music that was out there at the time. It was sophisticated. Every song on that album was a classic. The arrangements, the material, Bobby’s vocals—nothing has surpassed that album since it was recorded. I used to spend hours listening to it and just looking at the photos on the cover. (Next to the Wikipedia entry for the word “cool,” there should be reproduction of the Two Steps from the Blues’ cover with Bland standing in front of the blue and tan checkerboard wall of a mod house.) I literally wore three copies of that album out. I still get goose bumps listening to it. It’s timeless.”
Bland was a frequent visitor to the Capitol City because he was working out of Houston at the time—the home of his booking agent, Buffalo Bookings, and his label, Duke. Kent caught the Bobby (don’t ever forget the “Blue”) Bland revue one of those visits shortly after his blues baptism.
“I was 13 at the time,” recalls Kent. “He played at a White club in Baton Rouge on North Boulevard called the Golden Slipper.” The show began with a set by Joe Scott’s orchestra, Scott being the arranger on Two Steps from the Blues and creator of the Bobby Bland sound. “I remember Wayne Bennett was on guitar and Mel Jackson was on trumpet. Then Al “T.N.T.” Braggs came on stage. I remember thinking to myself, ‘What the #@%#@ is this? I paid my money to see Bobby Bland.’ But he tore the house down. He was a real showman—danced all over the place. Later, I found out Al wrote some songs for Bobby and I got to work with him with the Chickenhawks. He set the audience up for Bobby. All Bobby had to do was stand on stage and sing. He didn’t even have to lift his pinky ring.”
When asked about a favorite Bland song, Kent demurs. “That’s a hard question because there’s so many. ‘Don’t Cry No More,’ ‘Who Will The Next Fool Be,’ ‘Little Boy Blue,’ ‘Further on up the Road,’ ‘I Pity the Fool,’—there’s just so many. I don’t know if he ever made a bad record.”
On The Bobby Bland Songbook, five of the 12 songs were originally on the Two Steps from the Blues album, which has been reissued on CD in glorious mono by MCA.
“We weren’t trying to duplicate these songs,” maintains Kent. “That would be impossible. There’s only one Bobby Bland, and only one Joe Scott. But by having Wardell Quezergue arrange it, recording it in New Orleans and with a lot of New Orleans musicians, we wanted to give the material a New Orleans feel. Also, like Wardell told me, ‘Luther, look you’ve got to put your own stamp on these songs.’ My producer, Don Chesson, and myself handpicked each song. Cyril Vetter [VCC Records] was very open to the project. There are 19 different musicians on the CD (including Mac Rebennack, a.k.a. Dr. John, on keyboards), but it was an easy session and a lot of fun to record. Every song was done on the first, second or third take. David Farrell, a dear friend, (and alumnus of Studio in the Country and Ultrasonic Studio) mixed and mastered it.”
Even with a new CD out, Kent isn’t letting the dust settle around him recording-wise.
“We’re working on a CD of original material right now,” he says. “Actually, we started work on it last spring. It’ll be the completion of an 18-month project. Stuff I’ve written and I’m looking at material submitted by a couple of songwriters, Some of it’s completed, but right now the plan is to get back in the studio right after Jazz Fest and finish it up.”