Robert Cray is smooth as silk

By: Tom Leyde

Blues and R&B guitarist Robert Cray is on the road again. This time he’s promoting his latest album, “In My Soul,” his 17th.

The five-time Grammy winner will perform with his band at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Monterey’s Golden State Theater, 417 Alvarado St..

In a telephone interview from Portland, Oregon, Cray, 61, said the new album is being well received.

“It’s going really well. People are digging it,” he said. “We had a really good time making it. And also it’s great to work again with Steve Jordan.”

Jordan produced “In My Soul,” which blends funky originals with surprising covers. Cray describes Jordan as almost a fifth member of the band. It was Jordan who proposed covers of Otis Redding’s “Nobody’s Fault But My Own” and the song “Your Good Thing (Is About to End),” originally recorded by Mable John and a hit for Lou Rauls.

Cray’s music has a natural flow to it. His guitar playing is both gritty and artistic. When asked about it Cray said, “I never thought about myself in that kind of way. I’m just having fun doing what I enjoy doing.”

Based in Southern California, Cray first heard the blues listening to his father’s record collection. Recordings by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf got him hooked on the genre and he wound up getting a guitar and learning blues classics.

“I like the way people (blues singers and musicans) emote and show their soul in the thing they were doing,” he said. “In the early days these big guys had big names like Muddy Waters. … It was cool. There was a reason for them having big names: when you listened to their music you heard it.”

Hearing stories about blues legend Robert Johnson making a deal with the devil also intrigued him.

“When we were teens that stuff was thrilling and exciting to read about and hear about,” he said.

In his early years, Cray played in bar bands and moved around the country. He spent time in Tacoma, Washington, Eugene Oregon, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Critics pounced on him for drifting too far from the traditional blues shore with his music. But he kept pushing himself and his bands to find their own musical niche.

“We all grew up in the Sixties and listened to a lot of different music,” he said. “When you and I listened to music during the day everything was on the radio (not pigeonholed into distinct genres). … I listened to everything. … Ideas come from all those things.”

He and his band did it their way and it worked.

“We had our band and we played the music the way we wanted to do it,” he said.

They found no purpose in playing a cover just like it was laid down on a record. “We just tried to do what we wanted to do and do the cover our own way.”

Gleaning ideas from such sources as rock and roll, R&B, gospel and soul, gave Cray his own identity as an artist and his career skyrocketed.

He has been nominated 15 times for Grammys and has been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. He’s also received four W.C. Handy Awards from The Blues Foundation, a huge accomplishment for a basically self-taught guitarist.

As a songwriter, Cray said his method is more spontaneous than having a regular routine, although he finds that an art in itself.

“Most of my writing is (done) at home when I’m not touring,” he said. I can be at the chopping board chopping vegetables or in the shower and I have to get out of the shower and grab the notebook or the tape recorder.”

He said he finds inspiration for his songs from observing what’s going on around him and in the world.

“I’ve been taking pages from my past for the longest time,” he said. “But you can take it from other people and what they’re going through … and politics and crises around the world. I’ve been getting ideas from all of those things for the last twenty years. And more and more, as we get older, we look outside of our immediate world … so we use that as songs.”

Cray is no stranger to the Monterey Peninsula. Years ago he played at the Monterey Bay Blues Festival and he has appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival several times.

“It’s been awhile since we played the (jazz) festival and it’s great because we get to see other people,” he said.

Showtime for Cray’s performance is 8 p.m. Tickets range from $26-$52. Call 831-649-1070 for reservations or buy them online at the theater website.

Tom Leyde is a free lance writer and former Californian staff member living in Salinas. Contact him at thomasthomas9330@sbcglobal.net.

To attend

What: Guitarist Robert Cray and band in concert

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25

Where: Golden State Theater, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey

Tickets: $26-$52

Information: 831-649-1070 or www.goldenstatetheater.com

 

 

 

Article Source: TheCalifornian.com