By David Greenwald

Photo Credit: Jeff Katz

It’s been almost 30 years since Robert Cray’s 1986 album “Strong Persuader,” a release that sold millions and made the bluesman an unlikely MTV regular. But Cray has his mind on another birthday. 

“We’ve been talking about 40 years of the existence of the band,” he said over the phone from his home in Southern California. Started in 1974, the Robert Cray Band spent its early years in Eugene — joined by a singer and harmonica player named Curtis Salgado and inspiring future Blues Brother John Belushi. (That’s Cray making a cameo on bass in “Animal House,” filmed in Eugene.)

And Cray has one more anniversary to celebrate: 25 years with his wife, Susan Turner-Cray. He and his band will headline the Aladdin Theater on Friday: I called him up to talk about his romantic advice, his Oregon past and why he’ll never retire.

I saw on Facebook that you just had your 25th wedding anniversary, congratulations.

Robert Cray: Yesterday. Thank you so much.

What’s your advice on making it that long?

RC: Well, I mean, we’re good friends. And it might help also that I spend a lot of time on the road (laughs).

Your early days were in Eugene. Does coming to Portland remind you of that time?

RC: It does, even though Portland has changed so much since the time I was there. There’s still a kinship. It’s home. I have a lot of friends that are still there, too.

Do you keep in touch with your band and people from the early days? We see a lot of Curtis Salgado around town.

RC: I see Curtis every so often on the road, and we see emails from Peter Boe, who was in the band for a long time. It’s good to see everybody’s doing well.  

The Waterfront Blues Festival has been going since the ’80s. What has it been like to see something like that take off here?

RC: It’s fantastic. The last time we were there, I couldn’t believe how many people go to an event like that, it was a sea of people. And that’s a great thing for the city to have happen.

You played in 2011. Do you think we’ll see you back there again any time soon?

RC: I hope so.

You’ve been working with some new band members for the last couple of years. Does the lineup feel pretty settled?

RC: It feels good, yeah. Making change is always nice. The guys are really doing well and we’re having a lot of fun. That’s the most important thing.

Your album “Nothin But Love” was influenced by the recession. As the economy improves, what are you looking to write about? 

RC: You know, I don’t know. Whatever’s happening, whatever crosses my mind to write about — whatever comes about from the rest of the guys in the band who participate in the songwriting. In the past, with the homeless thing going on and the housing crisis and the war and all that stuff, those things are ongoing but it depends on my feelings… if I just got finished watching something on the news or listening to something on PBS and you get riled up.

Are you someone who watches the news every night?

RC: I keep track of what’s going on, yeah. And I have to say that when we were younger, that I didn’t pay much attention to it. With the traveling around, I guess we’re more attuned to what goes on around it, in and out of the country.

Do you have any new music coming up after this Portland show?

RC: Actually, back in December, we recorded — for the 40th anniversary — four live shows, rehearsals, and we had some guests with us. We’re going to release a compilation, a combination DVD/live album package in, I think, May. The rest of the year, we’ll be touring, we’re going to go to Europe again a couple times this year and the States.

Do you see yourself out there for another 40 years or are you thinking about your retirement eventually?

RC: I’m not thinking about retirement (laughs). I can understand how people like B.B. King or (the) Rolling Stones, nobody really seriously considers retiring because what would you do?

When you get up on stage now vs. when you were getting started, what’s changed? Are you more confident?

RC: Well, yeah. Things have changed quite a bit. In the early days, I couldn’t even speak to an audience. It’s not that I do a lot more speaking these days. I know that going up on stage is about making the music and having a good time. So that is first and foremost on my mind now, and I don’t think about being nervous.

Robert Cray, Aladdin Theater, Feb. 20, 7 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. show. Tickets: sold out.

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