Robert Cray on Being a Blues Legend: “At the End of the Day, You Have to Play Tomorrow”

Prior to 1986, Robert Cray was just another talented blues guitarist wondering where his next gig was going to be. But after the Strong Persuader album and the hit single “Smoking Gun,” Cray became a viable commercial proposition across several genres. Cray has parlayed that success into a four- decade-long career that has earned him four Grammys and a spot in the Blues Hall of Fame.

Speaking from a hotel room while on tour and in anticipation of his performance on Sunday, August 31 at the Bedford Blues and BBQ Festival, Cray spoke with DC9 about his love for the blues, his cameo in the film Animal House and how he’s maintained such a loyal following for all of these years.

DC9 at Night: How did you get introduced to the blues?

Cray: Well, I grew up listening to blues music at home. I rediscovered it again with some teenage friends of mine. We were about 15 or 16 years old.

Who in your family was the blues fan?

Well, my dad had the B.B. King and John Lee Hooker records. He also had records by Bobby Blue Bland, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles. We would sit home and listen to a lot of gospel music that was played on Sundays.

Is blues the only form of music to originate in America?

Blues is the root for most American music. When we go abroad, people look to America for the music they enjoy. That could be blues and country and rock and those are all a part of American music. Those kinds of music are known worldwide.

You are a renowned guitarist, but a lot of rock bands can get by with an average guitarist. With the blues, it seems you have to have an excellent guitarist.

It all depends on your approach. I mean, what kind of blues music you are playing? There are blues bands that have a front man who just basically plays guitar. And then there are bands that are more band-oriented. There’s a difference I think. There are people who play in an ensemble and there are guys who are up there with a guitar in their hands trying to be the guitar player.

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