Robert Cray Band
Tuesday, March 6 at 8 p.m.
Robert Cray has been bridging the lines between blues, soul and R&B for the past four decades, with five Grammy wins and over 20 acclaimed albums.
Growing up in the Northwest, Robert Cray listened to the gospel of the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, Bobby Bland’s soul, Jimi Hendrix’s rock guitar and the Beatles pop sounds. He would bring all of these influences into play throughout his career, but his teenage band was first captivated by Southern Soul and the blues. “In the early days of the band we were getting back into O.V. Wright and paying attention to my favorite blues players; Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Albert King and especially Albert Collins,” Cray says.
The glow of a career in music began when Cray was a teen, and in 1974 it burst into flames as the Robert Cray Band came together in Eugene, Oregon.
With the group’s 1980 debut release, Who’s Been Talkin’, word about the Cray Band began to spread. Playing packed bars and roadhouses, the Cray Band was thrilling. Blues and soul fans showed up religiously, but those steamy raucous sets also drew crowds whose tastes in music ranged from rock to funk and jazz.
The Cray Band’s next two releases, Bad Influence and False Accusations, charted, taking the four-piece’s sound across the airwaves and abroad. And on one of the band’s short touring breaks, Cray went into the studio to record Showdown! with Collins and another great Texas guitarist and singer, Johnny Clyde Copeland.
No one knew how broad the band’s audience would be until the 1986 release of Strong Persuader. The Cray Band’s tunes were soon put into heavy rotation on mega rock stations across the nation. The first hit, “Smoking Gun,” was followed by “I Guess I Showed Her” and “Right Next Door (Because of Me).” The Cray Band’s next two releases, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and “Midnight Stroll,” further increased sales.
“We were doing blues and R&B from the first,” Crays says. “That’s just part of what we do. If you’re writing a tune it’s only natural to grab something from someplace else. You’re gonna put in some soul changes and some jazz, something you’ve been listening to. With what we do there’s a whole lot of room to move.”
Eric Clapton’s admiration for Cray led to a writing collaboration on the hit “Old Love,” which featured Cray on guitar. During the ’90s, the Cray Band was also featured in concert with artists like Clapton, the Stones, John Lee Hooker, BB King and Bonnie Raitt, who declared that the band leader is “an original; he’s passionate, he’s a bad ass and puts on one of the best shows you’ll ever see.”
Amidst these accolades, soaring record sales and a packed touring schedule, the Cray Band recorded six CDs in the ’90s. Cray produced Shame + A Sin, followed by two more self-produced recordings, Some Rainy Morning and Sweet Potato Pie. The next recording Take Off Your Shoes delved even deeper into Memphis sounds of the ’60s. “That was definitely a soul record,” Cray says.
On both Take Your Shoes Off and 4 Nights of 40 Years Live, “Love Gone to Waste” showcases Robert Cray’s natural ease with soul ballads. He is intense but smooth in telling the story of love gone bad, then in a falsetto voice he soars through the sadness into the inevitable pain. It is a song that Cray owns—no other singer has dared try to do it justice. Take Your Shoes Off won a Grammy in 2000.
In the next decade the Cray Band recorded seven CDs, three of them live, and two, Twenty and This Time, were nominated for Grammys. The group’s most recent recordings, Nothing But Love and In My Soul put the band back on the Billboard Charts.
For his latest project, Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm, the Blues Hall-of-Famer traveled to Memphis with his friend, renowned Grammy Award-winning producer Steve Jordan, to make a classic soul album with Hi Rhythm, the band that helped create that sound.
“Robert is a great person, besides an extraordinary talent,” says Steve. “People gravitate to his guitar playing first, but I think he’s one of the best singers I’ve heard in my life. Not only because of his singing ability, but his interpretations. He’s an honest soul.”
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