When you meet someone for the first time to do an interview, you never know what to expect. What will they be like? Nice? Smug? Condescending? Appreciative? All those questions were in my mind as I approached Club 152 to meet Rodd Bland for an interview. Rodd is a musician who plays mainly on Beale Street and is the son of one of the greatest blues singers of all time, Bobby Blue Bland. He is also the Godson of the King of Blues, B.B. King. Now, if that were me, I would be pretty smug and that’s what I expected when I met Rodd for the first time.
What I found instead was a very intelligent, polite, and humble man who has a good understanding of who he is and what he represents. Like so many of the musicians on Beale, he was just a down to earth good man. I was impressed, to say the least.
Rodd’s family is blues royalty. I never thought about that as we talked, he looked me in the eye and came across as honest as he could be. Being in such a musical family I asked when he started playing, to my surprise, he said he started playing with his dad’s band at the age of 5 and he started destroying pots and pans from the age of two.
He went on to say “I don’t take for granted how I grew up, what I’ve seen, who I’ve met, who I’ve become friends with, that’s why it bothers me to this day, the current state of the blues. The perceptions and misconceptions, what people think truly is the blues. Just because you have a harmonica, does not make you the blues any more than you playing a Gipson or a Fender Strat. You can’t just rely on playing Stevie Ray Vaughn’s greatest hits or playing “Red House” or “Little Wing.” That is why Rodd is so excited to be with the Will Tucker Band now. Rodd is the bridge between the classic blues of his father and godfather and a part of the future of Blues on Beale by working with the great Will Tucker. Will has already made quite a name for himself playing at B.B. King’s club. Rodd spoke as highly of Will as he did the blues greats he has known all his life. He had a sparkle in his eye and a sly grin on his face when he explained that Will was now like a little brother to him and went on to say “I’m extremely proud of the guy Will Tucker is.”
He also told me that he thought the reason his father passed away was the same reason B.B. passed away when you take away their ability to be on stage, you take away their reason for living.
I had read about Rodd’s role in B.B. King’s funeral so I had to ask him about that. He told me he was in Miss Polly’s to get something to eat and ran into Joe Witmer of the Blues Foundation. He told Rodd he had a favor to ask of him. “Sure, anything for you Joe” was his reply. Mr. Witmer asked Rodd to lead B.B. King’s funeral procession carrying Lucille. “Anything but that” Rodd told him. His thought was that they could find someone iconic to do it, someone more deserving or at least, better known, someone like Buddy Guy or Carlos Santana to do it. So he turned him down. At that point, Rodd thought he needed some time to himself, he was surprised he was asked, so he left and called his mother to get her thoughts. She was the voice of reason for him when she said, “Son you have no idea how much both of those men loved you, it would be wrong of you to not do this and more wrong for you to allow someone else to do it.”
After speaking to other family members and friends, Rodd called Joe Witmer back and said, “I’m nervous as hell, but I’m in.” Mr. Witmer explained “There is no one other than you to ask Rodd, they were both fathers to you. It’s not just for B.B., it’s not just for your dad, it’s for the love and legacy that they left behind, it’s for you. We can’t think of a better person who embodies Bobby Blue Bland, B.B. King, Beale Street, Blues, no one better than you.” Needless to say, Rodd Bland was the man carrying Lucille in B.B. King’s funeral procession.
It was a pleasure to meet and interview someone so closely connected to the men who helped make Memphis the home of the blues. Rodd Bland is living proof that you don’t have to play country music to carry on the family tradition.