By Rob Nagy
21st Century Media
When it comes to delivering the blues, guitarist and vocalist Robert Cray can go head to head with anyone. A five-time Grammy Award winning artist, Cray has enjoyed decades of success fronting the Robert Cray Band and as a soloist.
As one of the blues’ greatest cheerleaders, Cray has earned the praise of such luminaries as Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, all of whom he has worked with. With a new album in production, his follow-up to last year’s successful “Nothin’ But Love,” Cray has another busy year of concert tours.
He is currently on a month-long run with Peter Frampton on the “Frampton’s Guitar Circus” tour.
“We had never met before the tour started,” says Cray. “Peter had requested us to be on the tour together. Peter loves blues. We like to give a lot of different flavors of what the band is all about. We have music that goes from straight ahead blues to straight ahead R&B and everything in between.
“We have flavors of the Caribbean, some jazz, some rock. We want to give a little bit of everything. It makes a good show for the audience. It’s all about being in the moment and having a good time. That’s what we’re about. It’s a lot of fun.”
Emulating the songs of Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac and Quicksilver Messenger Service as a teenager, Cray was drawn to the work of Muddy Waters, Albert Collins and Freddie King.
By the late 1970s he formed the Robert Cray Band. Cray made a brief film appearance in “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978) as the bassist in the unforgettable frat party band Otis Day and the Knights.
Upon signing a recording contract with Mercury Records in 1982, Cray released his debut album, “Bad Influence” (1983), and then “False Accusations” (1985). While these releases attained moderate success, Cray was busy establishing himself as a live concert act.
The release of his 1986 multi-platinum Grammy Award-winning album “Strong Persuader,” featuring the single “Smokin’ Gun,” proved to be a pivotal point in Cray’s career. Rolling Stone recognized this record as one of the 100 greatest albums of the decade.
Cray was soon catapulted into the limelight, gracing the stages of concert arenas around the globe while opening for artists like Eric Clapton.
“Back in the mid to early ’80s, there was a kind of roots revival in the industry,” recalls Cray. “ the beginning of MTV and radio playing more roots-oriented music groups like Los Lobos, the Blasters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and the Robert Cray Band.
“The major labels were signing these bands. Our album “Strong Persuader” took off, and that’s what really helped us broaden our audience and made it possible for us to have success outside this country. After we are done with Peter, at the end of June, we head off for another European tour.”
With commercial success and critical acclaim came opportunities to work alongside blues legend John Lee Hooker on his albums “Boom Boom” (1992) and “The Healer” (1989), where he took the occasional guitar solo.
“Getting the chance to play with so many of my music idols has been amazing,” says Cray. “At the ‘Crossroads Festival’ in 2007, when all the guitar players are standing onstage and you turn to your left and it’s just unbelievable and you turn to your right and it’s unbelievable, and then you go, ‘I’m going to have to keep focused.’”
Cray is currently in the running for “Most Outstanding Musician” (Guitar) and “Blues Male Artist of the Year” as recognized by the 20th Annual Living Blues Award honoring the best of the blues. Voting ends July 15 and is open to the public by going to www.LivingBlues.com.
In 2011, Cray was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
“For a band like ours, that started off playing the blues and R&B which we enjoyed, the main objective was to work, have fun and get gigs,” reflects Cray. “We started off doing the same thing we’re doing now, except more people know about it. Being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame has been a great honor, with people deciding I’m worthy. It’s great to be recognized, and the work continues.”
Robert Cray and Peter Frampton perform Monday June 24, 8 p.m. at the American Music Theatre, 2425 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, PA 17605, Tickets: $69 – $99.
For information, call 800-648-4102,
717-397-7700, or visit www.amtshows.com.