By Jon Pompia

His mastery of the Fender guitar has earned him numerous Grammy Awards, big record sales and accolades from greats such as Eric Clapton and Keith Richards.

Wednesday at Memorial Hall, Georgia-born Robert Cray and his three-piece band (keyboards, bass, drums) dished out a hearty dose of blues-based rock that served well the reputation that preceded it.

Before 1,000 enthusiastic fans, the casually dressed Cray blazed through a full 16-song set of workingman’s blues. And while blues-based music was the only item on the menu, Cray served it up in a variety of styles, including somber, smoldering, funky and downright peppy.

While an adept vocalist with a tonal quality and range perfectly suited for his music, Cray for the most part let his guitar do the talking. And speak it did, in a language dripping with emotion and passion.

In Cray’s hands, the six strings transform into an urban symphony orchestra playing to “blue-” collar listeners who soak up every note, whether during a solo or in the phrasing throughout a song.

“Thank you for coming to Pueblo!” shouted more than one patron.

“No, thank you for the invite,” Cray replied with typical humility.

The evening’s set was an interesting mix of moody slow-burners — “Two Steps from the End,” “Don’t You Even Care,” “It Doesn’t Show,” the classic Lou Rawls’ number “Your Good Thing (Is About To End)” — and those of the more upbeat variety, including “I Shiver,” “On the Road Down,” “You Move Me” and “I Guess I’ll Never Know.”

Introducing the number as the band’s “hippie song,” Cray referred to the poppy “What Would You Say” as a song of hope, which indeed it is. It also was the most mainstream of the night’s offerings, right up there with “You Move Me,” the closest Cray gets to a dance number.

After closing the set with the powerful and melancholy ballad “Time Makes Two,” Cray returned for two encore songs, the funky instrumental “Hip Tight Onions” and the straight-ahead blues romp that is “Chicken in the Kitchen.”

Conspicuously absent, despite more than a few calls for it, was 1986’s “Smoking Gun,” Cray’s most commercially successful and highest-charting song.

The crowd was warmed up by an opening set from local rockers John Gerlock and the Big Cat Band.

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