I Pity the Fool by Bobby Blue Bland
I Pity the Fool
Written by Deadric Malone. You can find the lyrics here (watch out for pop up ads).
If you don’t play an instrument and you don’t write songs, you better be able to sing. Bobby Blue Bland is a singer who more than earns his keep with his voice. He recorded “I Pity the Fool” on his seminal album from 1962, Two Steps from the Blues; the song rose to number one on the R&B charts and even made a dent on the pop charts.
What mastery we hear on this song: the production, the musicianship and the singing blend to form a sonic dynamo. The drums set the beat matched by a pulsing bass and masterful guitar work provided by Wayne Bennett who carries a BB King-influenced riff throughout the song. The performance starts quiet and small, as if the singer is curled up within himself, though as he goes on, the voices opens out and the music grows. We get horns (trumpets, tenor and baritone saxes and a slide trombone) and the tinkling of a piano. And that voice, soaked in hurt and maybe bourbon, raised on gospel and the blues, but now it’s something new altogether, call it soul or rhythm and blues, “I pity the fool that falls in love with you.”
By the second verse, the voices cries out, “Look at the people…watching you make a fool of me.” Hear the growl in the line, “Look at the people” and you understand that singing is not about hitting notes, but conveying meaning. The grit and rumble in that line will make you shudder. The words only hint at the torment. We hear the staccato punctuation of the horns, the guitar riffs dissecting his heart and that voice calling out from depths few allow themselves to feel.
By the third verse the hurt becomes nearly unbearable. “Look at the people…watching you make a fool of me.” What started quiet and small now explodes, the singer’s arms outstretched, his voice rising high, the music full of his trembling, “I pity the fool,” he sings, damning himself for he is that fool.
This song can be found on countless compilations, but it comes from one of the best and most influential albums in popular music, Two Steps from the Blues. Put out by Duke Records, produced and arranged by Joe Scott and overseen by label head, Don Robey. Recording technology has come a long way, but you will rarely find such a well-crafted album. The powerful horns add muscle, but don’t overwhelm, the shards of electric guitar tossed off by Wayne Bennett support the song and don’t district by calling attention to itself.
Born in Rosemark, Tennessee, Bobby Blue Bland came of age in Memphis where the Mississippi brings together all the music of the south: blues, country, jazz and gospel and nowhere are they blended better than in the peak recordings of Bobby Blue Bland. He made his name on Beale Street, one of a crew that included his life-long friend B.B. King and Johnny Ace. Often categorized as a bluesman, his mixing of gospel, R&B and blues with big band stylings created a path that Sam Cooke and Ray Charles would follow to greater fame.
Bland still performs today, often opening for B.B. King. They put on a warm-hearted show, full of history, professionalism and soul. Bobby Blue Bland does not have a recording contract today, a stunning fact especially given all the crap that makes its way into the endless stream of music. He is a member of both the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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