The news from Bobby Blackmon’s doctor came last November. The popular Villages’ blues singer/guitarist had an internal growth and it could be cancer.
Then came the surgery.
Then came the waiting.
Then came the word:
Bobby Blackmon said the doctor told him he was cancer free. “It’s a spiritual thing and I feel very blessed,” he said Saturday evening before a performance in Lake Sumter Landing with his B3 Band. This month was the first time Blackmon performed in The Villages since his illness.
He thanked God for his health and also offered some praise to his own personal musical trinity: B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton.
“They helped make the blues and the blues are a big part of me,” Blackmon, 72, said. The early evening was hot and muggy. Blackmon wore a black fedora hat, with oversized brown-tinted sunglasses and his ever present smile. He doesn’t just play the blues. Blackmon makes the music come alive with an explosive blend of grit and passion.
He opened his Lake Sumter set with a cover of B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” This was vintage Blackmon, tearing into old school blues spiced with rock guitar licks and a gut-wrenching vocal.
“It’s so nice to be back in The Villages,” Blackmon told the crowd. “I’ve been gone four months and I’m so thankful to be back up here on this stage. I had to go pay a lot of money to the hospital for some surgery. But now I’m back and I feel great and I’m going to play the blues.”
Then Blackmon lit into “I’ve Got Blues On My Mind,” and added more heat to the Florida sun. He followed with an achingly soulful rendition of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Then Blackmon went back to hard-driving blues with “I’ve Been Down So Long.”
Put it all together and you have a Bobby Blackmon clinic on the essence of the blues.
“Bobby is all about keeping the blues alive,” said Maria Connell. She has been following the B3 Band – Jimmy Seay on bass; David Bynes III, drums and Jack Bumgarner, keyboards – for years, and knows them well.
“For Bobby and the band, it’s all about the blues,” Connell said.
“Bobby taught me a lot,” said Bynes, who plays drums in the band. “He taught me to lay back and have fun, but always be professional. Bobby is a true professional and an all-around good guy. He loves talking to people on stage and playing for them.”
Darayus Payne, who was watching Blackmon for the first time, was impressed by the depth of the music.
You can see a clip of Bobby Blackmon performing on the Villages-News.com Facebook page:
“He brings a lot of old school blues and mixes it in with new school music,” Payne said. “He keeps it real.”
It has always been that way, ever since Blackmon was a teenager growing up in Athens, Texas, a small town near Dallas. As a kid he was hooked on music, listening to B.B. King, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry. At 16, Blackmon talked his parents into buying him a guitar. He wanted to play Chuck Berry but the only song he really knew was, “Johnny B Good.”
“I played that one all the time,” Blackmon said. “I drove the neighbors crazy; they would tell my parents, ‘doesn’t that kid know any other song?’”
Before long, the kid had his own rock band and was getting gigs all over town. “I wanted a car and I made enough money to buy a ’49 Ford,” Blackmon said.
He wanted to play music fulltime but his grandmother told him, “If you think you can make a living with a guitar, you’ll starve.”
“I listened to her,” Blackmon said. So he went to Texas-Southern University in Houston. There he studied pharmacy and science and also made a name for himself in the big blues clubs around the city.
“I was playing with older musicians; I was part of the house band in a club and we would open for big-name acts,” Blackmon said. The list included Lou Rawls, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Arthur Prysock, Jerry Lee Lewis and James and Bobby Purify. “I was young and learning so much; it was a crazy time,” Blackmon said.
Eventually, Blackmon got out of college, moved to San Antonio and landed a job with a big pharmaceutical company. He would spend days wearing a white outfit doing work in the office and nights playing the blues.
Then Blackmon became a sales executive and lived all over the country working in such cities as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. He retired in 1998, and lives with his wife, Shirley, in Leesburg. The couple will celebrate their 50th anniversary in May.
One of Blackmon’s joys is playing in The Villages.
“I know I’m a little different than most of the acts who play here,” he said. “People here love to hear the oldies and so do I. But I want to play the blues and the people in The Villages have accepted me and I appreciate it. We play here twice a month and we always have a good response. When I was sick, my fans in The Villages were very supportive.”
Blackmon has released three CDs and they are available at www.cdbaby.com/bb2. He will play the Leesburg Bikefest on Friday, April 24, at 3 p.m. on the main stage.
Blackmon is grateful for his second chance in life and he strives to add more life to the blues.
“I know I dodged a bullet with the cancer surgery,” Blackmon said. “Music was given to me as a gift from the Lord and I’ve always loved it.
“To me, the blues is at the root of all American music, whether it’s rock, R&B, soul, funk, metal, rap or whatever. It all comes out of the blues. That’s why we have to keep the blues alive.”