Roots: Robert Cray comes to The Sage Gateshead

THOUGHTS of becoming an architect may have been left back in his teens but Robert Cray certainly knows how to build a solid career.
The evergreen soul-blues musician arrives at The Sage with his band on Monday in probably his hottest streak for years.
With the release of his latest album, Nothin’ But Love last summer, Cray quickly re-established high-profile and excellent radio coverage despite the album’s three-year gestation period.
The album, chosen as Guitarist magazine’s Album of the Year for 2012, also repeated the success of the previous 10 Cray albums by making the Top 10 of the US blues chart.

Cray proved his democratic approach, too, by ensuring that the other three band members – Jim Pugh (keys), Richard Cousins (bass) and Tony Braunagel (drums) – gained at least one writing credit on the record.
Of course, the focus is on the man out front, and Cray’s velvety, soulful voice and smooth fretboard fluidity are as distinctive as ever.

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Born into a much-travelled US Army family the Georgia-born guitarist started out with high school bands when he was living in Virginia. Influenced by The Beatles, Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac and others, he formed bands like Steakface, and with Curtis Salgado, The Cray Hawks.
Since those days, he has played with most of the top-notch bluesmen and by the mid-80s he had broken through to make number two on the US rock chart with his single, Smokin’ Gun, from the album Strong Persuader.
He repeated the exercise a little later with Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (single and album). Both of those albums won him a Grammy award and he has added another three since then.
From the success of the 80s he has continued to craft successful albums and has toured on a regular basis with big-leaguers like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and more.
Cray has often blurred any arbitrary line between blues and soul but he summed up both his approach and his appeal when he once said: “When I first started playing guitar, I wanted to be George Harrison – that is, until I heard Jimi Hendrix.
“After that, I wanted to be Albert Collins and Buddy Guy and BB King. And then there are singers like OV Wright and Bobby Blue Bland. It’s all mixed up in there.”
That comment is as succinct as it is accurate and I’m sure that Monday night’s crowd will get the full range of Robert Cray’s extensive repertoire.
A man that Cray would almost certainly have been aware of was Don Van Vliet, otherwise known as Captain Beefheart. Several members of Beefheart’s Magic Band appear under that name at the Cluny 2, also on Monday night.

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