Further On Up The Road: Bobby “Blue” Bland; Freddie King; Eric Clapton.

Hello there! This week features a great blues tune, Further On Up The Road. We will first review the original song by Bobby “Blue” Bland. Next we will discuss covers of this song by Freddie King and by Eric Clapton.

Bobby “Blue” Bland and Farther Up The Road:

Robert Calvin Brooks was born in January, 1930 in the town of Barretville, Tennessee. When he began to perform, he took the name Bland from his stepfather.

Bobby Bland dropped out of school after the third grade and went to work in the cotton fields. In 1947, he moved to Memphis with his mother and began singing in gospel groups. Eager to break into the Memphis music business, Bland joined a group of R&B musicians who called themselves the Beale Streeters; this included a young B.B. King.

Below is a publicity photo of a young Bobby Bland.

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Bland then served a couple of years in the Army, where he became a member of Eddie Fisher’s band. When Bland returned home, he found that several of the Beale Streeters were now successful musicians. They hooked Bland up with Don Robey, the Houston-based owner of Duke Records.

Robey signed Bobby Bland to a deal with Duke Records. Robey provided him with a contract that Bland signed; however, since Bland was illiterate, he did not realize that Robey’s contract gave him only ½ cent per record, instead of the industry-standard 2 cents.

The song Farther Up The Road (also known as Further On Up The Road) was apparently written by Joe Medwick Veasey, who was a songwriter in the Houston area. Veasey took his song to Don Robey. The ever-helpful Robey then gave the tune to Bobby Bland, while adding Robey’s own name to the songwriting credits.

Bland recorded the tune on Duke Records and it was released in 1957 as a single. It became Bland’s first big hit, and spent 14 weeks at #1 on the Billboard R&B charts. It was also a decent crossover hit for Bland, topping out at #43 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Poster for a concert featuring James Brown, Little Richard and Bobby Bland.

This song established Bobby “Blue” Bland as an R&B star, and he continued to have chart success for another couple of decades. At left we show a poster for a concert featuring Bland together with James Brown and Little Richard, among others.

Farther Up The Road was included in Bland’s first album, Blues Consolidated, which was a joint release with Memphis blues musician Junior Parker.

The style of Farther Up The Road is called a “Texas shuffle.” As you will see, a shuffle connotes a propulsive rhythm that was popularized in jazz.  The two types of blues shuffle are known as the Chicago shuffle and the Texas shuffle. The difference between the two styles depends on which notes are accented (I won’t go into detail, it’s a bit complicated). Stevie Ray Vaughn is generally regarded as the “king of the Texas shuffle.”

Farther Up The Road is what I would call a “payback” tune. The singer asserts that his woman has done him wrong; and he predicts that sometime in the future, she will get her comeuppance when she is treated equally badly by a new lover.

Further on up the road
Someone gonna hurt you like you hurt me
Further on up the road
Someone gonna hurt you like you hurt me
Further on up the road
Baby you just wait and see

You got to reap just what you sow
That old saying is true
You got to reap just what you sow
That old saying is true
Like you mistreat someone
Someone’s gonna mistreat you

So here is the audio of the 1957 single with Bobby “Blue” Bland singing Farther Up The Road.

Isn’t this enjoyable? Bland has a terrific voice for this classic blues song. Here he is backed by the big band of the Bill Harvey orchestra. The song is propelled forward by the piano, but the most impressive instrumental backing is provided by saxophone plus guitar, occasionally playing in synch.

There is some dispute as to the identity of the guitarist on this recording, but Bland stated that the guitarist was Pat Hare. As you can see, the song provides great opportunities for improvisation by a blues guitarist, and over the years this song has become irresistible to several of the iconic blues guitar players.

And now here is Bobby “Blue” Bland live, singing Farther Up The Road.

This is really fun to watch; unfortunately, it is just a snippet, cutting off after just 1:24. But you can see why Bland was considered one of the seminal artists in making the connection between gospel and blues.

Following his early work, Bland continued for some time to produce songs that entered the R&B charts, although his crossover success to pop music was limited. Bland moved to L.A. in the 70s and had the occasional hit, although his efforts to produce disco records did not succeed.

In the 80s, Bland mostly appeared at blues and soul festivals, occasionally with B.B. King. Van Morrison was an early fan of Bland, and Bland sometimes appeared as a guest artist in Morrison concerts.

Bobby Bland received a number of accolades over his career. In 1992, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their introduction credited him as “second in stature only to B.B. King as a product of Memphis’ Beale Street blues scene.” Bland also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.

Bobby Bland died in 2013 at his home in a suburb of Memphis. He was 83.

Freddie King and Further On Up The Road:

Freddie King was a great blues guitarist. He was born in January 1934 in Dallas, Texas. When he was 15, his family moved to the South Side of Chicago.

As soon as he arrived in Chicago, young Freddie became inspired by the South Side blues scene. He had a job at a steel mill, but spent his evenings playing guitar with various bands. Freddie began playing as a sideman on records with bluesmen such as Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, Little Walter and Jimmy Rogers. It was there that he honed his technique, melding Texas blues with Chicago blues.

Below is a photo of Freddie King with his signature Gibson ES-355 guitar.

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Freddie King had several auditions with Chess Records, but they never offered him a contract because they felt his vocal and guitar styles were too reminiscent of B.B. King.

Nevertheless, Freddie gained a following in Chicago nightclubs and bars. While Muddy Waters and others ruled Chicago’s South Side, Freddie King became extremely popular in the Windy City’s newer West Side blues scene.

Freddie King’s breakout hit was an instrumental tune called Hide Away. Released in 1960, it not only reached #3 on the R&B charts, but it also crossed over and hit #29 on the Billboard Hot 100. This was almost unprecedented for a blues tune at this time. So here is Freddie King in a live performance of Hide Away.

You can see the influences of other pop songs from this period, such as “The Walk” by Jimmy McCracklin; King also copies a lick from the Theme From Peter Gunn in this tune.

After his breakthrough, Freddie King began touring and appeared on programs with artists such as Sam Cooke, James Brown and Jackie Wilson. Eventually he was known as one of the “Three Kings” (the other two being B.B. King and Albert King).

In the late 60s and early 70s, Freddie King’s career continued to skyrocket. He toured with Led Zeppelin and then signed a contract with Shelter Records. Here he worked with Leon Russell and rock artists such as Eric Clapton and Grand Funk Railroad.

Freddie King achieved a piece of rock immortality by being mentioned in the Grand Funk Railroad mega-hit We’re An American Band (“Up all night with Freddie King, I got to tell you, poker’s his thing”).

Now, here is “Freddie King” in the audio of a live version of Further On Up The Road.

When I heard this song, I thought “Golly, Freddie King’s vocals sound like Eric Clapton.” It took me a while to realize that this clip is actually from an Eric Clapton concert. Freddie King sits in on guitar on this song, and Eric and Freddie alternate guitar riffs.

As you can see, Further On Up The Road has now been converted from the big-band sound of Bobby Bland to a straight-up twelve-bar blues jam. Both King and Clapton contribute classic blues licks on this tune.

Since I couldn’t find video of Freddie King playing Further On Up The Road, I show you video of Freddie in concert live, playing that great blues classic Sweet Home Chicago.

Isn’t this terrific? Freddie is a truly great blues guitarist (his vocals are pretty darn good, as well). Listening to Freddie, I see some similarity with the guitar style of B.B. King, but Freddie has quite a distinctive personal style. Both his vocals and his guitar playing are a perfect match for this song.

His blues guitar runs are a joy to listen to – nothing flashy, but he hits just the appropriate note each time. He pilots the song in to a satisfying landing.  By the way, Freddie King’s Sweet Home Chicago is considered a classic “Chicago shuffle” rhythm.

OK, now that you have seen Freddie King playing guitar solos, I want you to return to the duet Further On Up The Road with Eric Clapton. Your assignment is to pick out when King and Clapton are playing solos. I will give you a hint – at the 6-minute mark in that song, Eric takes off on a soaring guitar solo.

Alas, Freddie King’s career was tragically short. He was on the road almost constantly, touring for up to 300 days a year. In 1976, King began suffering from stomach ulcers. By the time he received medical treatment, the ulcers were fairly advanced.

On Dec. 28, 1976, Freddie King died from a combination of ulcers and acute pancreatitis. He was only 42 years old. What a shame. It took him a while for his artistry to be appreciated, and he only lived for a short time once he gained fame.

In fact, King’s duet of Further On Up The Road with Eric Clapton took place just weeks before his death. Freddie is now up in Rock and Roll Heaven with so many other guitar legends. He was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.

Eric Clapton and Further On Up The Road:

Eric Clapton is one of the greatest blues-rock guitarists of all time. He has appeared in several earlier blog posts. We covered him with Cream playing Crossroads, then Layla with Derek and the Dominos. Next we reviewed his cover of Willie and the Hand Jive, then Sweet Home Chicago and Love In Vain.

Eric Clapton was born in Ripley, England in March 1945.  He was a musical child prodigy. While still in his teens, he developed a cult following for his blues guitar work with the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. But he was restless, and moved rapidly from one band to another.

Below is a photo of a young Eric Clapton, sporting some spiffy rings.

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Clapton’s next move was the blues supergroup Cream, along with bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. Although Cream made Clapton a world superstar, his experience with the band was bittersweet.

Personal tensions within the group were exceptionally high. Clapton found himself caught in the middle between drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce, who loathed each other. In addition, Clapton was convinced that the group often ‘skated’ on their great talent, frequently turning in sub-par performances.

Cream broke up after about three years, and Clapton moved on to Blind Faith with Steve Winwood and Ginger Baker. However, that group lasted for only one year and a single album. After a short interval Clapton next formed Derek and the Dominos, which also dissolved after just one album.

Since that time, Eric Clapton has gone out on his own for a long and productive solo career. Clapton is incredibly versatile, and is an accomplished guitarist in the rock, country and pop genres. However, his first love has always been the blues, and he returns to that field as often as he can.

Here is Eric Clapton sitting in with The Band at their final “Last Waltz” concert at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom, on Thanksgiving Day 1976. Robbie Robertson is in the center with his back to the camera, while Eric is seated at right in the photo.

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And here is Eric Clapton and The Band in a live performance of Further On Up The Road.

Isn’t this great? Clapton is in great form here. He strings together some astonishing blues runs on his trademark Fender Stratocaster. Robbie Robertson also contributes some solos, and he is clearly no slouch on the guitar.  Further On Up The Road has become one of Clapton’s signature tunes, and there are several examples of Eric playing this song in duets with guest artists.

Earlier in his career, and especially during his time with Cream and Derek and the Dominos, Eric Clapton experienced serious issues with drug addiction that threatened not only his career but his life.

But the story has a happy ending. Beginning in 1982, Eric Clapton checked himself into Minnesota’s Hazelden Clinic. After a couple of stints in rehab, he conquered his addictions and appears to have been clean and sober ever since.

Clapton has since founded a drug treatment facility called the Crossroads Centre in Antigua, and organized a Crossroads Guitar Festival event in order to provide funds for the Centre. The event has been held five times, and features blues legends. It has been a phenomenal success both musically and as a fund-raiser.

I’m sorry to say that Eric Clapton’s health has deteriorated significantly. For some time he has been dealing with arthritis, but in 2016 he revealed that he has peripheral neuropathy, a condition that affects nerves in the extremities. It can cause tingling, shooting pains, numbness and loss of coordination, all symptoms that can have devastating effects on musicians.

Keith Emerson, the keyboardist of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, committed suicide in March 2016 after suffering dystonia, a condition similar to neuropathy.

Clapton’s legs have been affected by peripheral neuropathy, but not his hands. He has still been doing some work in the studio, but this condition has drastically curtailed his touring.

For over 50 years, Eric Clapton has been a giant in the music industry.  He is the only person to be inducted three separate times into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (for The Yardbirds, Cream and as a solo artist).  He was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2004.  We wish him all health and happiness at this point and going forward.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Farther Up The Road
Wikipedia, Bobby Bland
Wikipedia, Freddie King
Wikipedia, Eric Clapton

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. From 2002 to 2018, he and his wife shared their college-town experiences with two delightful cats, siblings Lewis and Clark, who enormously enriched their lives. Together with his colleague Steven Vigdor, Tim is co-author of a blog "Debunking Denial," that discusses the difference between skepticism and denial as manifested in various current issues. He is also co-founder of "Concerned Scientists of Indiana University," a group that supports evidence-based science, funding for science research, and policies based on the best available scientific information. His hobbies include tennis and ornithology, and he is a life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
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