Like his band, the ROBERT CRAY phenomenon just keeps on growing. Kenny Mathieson talks to a bluesman geared up for the eclectic 1990s.
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uitarist Robert Cray is undoubtedly the current superstar of contemporary blues, filling a niche which once belonged to white stars like Eric Clapton, who, as it happens, invited Cray to sing and play on his Journeyman album.
The music which has taken the Robert Cray Band from local gigs in Eugene, Oregon, to stadium mega-concerts over fifteen years of hard graft is not likely to sit well with the blues purists. That disapproval has not bothered Cray since he got over his own case of blues my0pia, and he is happy to acknowledge a wide range ofimportant influences feeding into the band’s highly successful twist on classic musical forms.
‘I like to call my music r’n’b rather than blues,‘ Cray confirms, ‘but I see what we are doing more as an expansion of the blues than moving away from it. We all love to hear and to play the blues, but if music doesn‘t open itself up to change then it dies.
‘I listened to and played a whole lot ofmusic before I got into blues, and I really like soul singers, especially the gospel-inﬂuenced soul
singers like Bobby Bland and Sam Cooke. I played rock and roll and I played soul. but I got involved with blues because I had some friends who were listening to guys like BB King and Buddy Guy.
‘At first I was digging their guitar playing. We‘d sit around and learn all the licks from the records. but there was also something about the feel of the music that I really dug. As I got a little older,l started to understand what they were singing about, and I liked the idea that the songs thehv were singing were about people’s everyday lives.
and mostly about trouble with women. which is what my songs are mostly about.
‘That’s what interested me the most. and that‘s why I stuck with it. Now, though, with the different kinds of musical backgrounds which we have available within the band, we have a much wider range of sounds to draw on. If we do a cover version now, we try to reconsider our approach to it in the light ofthe experience of everybodv in the band, and whatthey can bringtoit.‘ 1
The band which Cray will bring to Edinburgh is the ‘new’ line-up which dates from the summer of 1989, with drummer Kevin Hayes and keyboard player Jimmy Pugh replacing long-term members Peter Boe and David Olsen, while auxiliary touring guitarist Tim Kaihatsu became a regular band member. More surprising, though. was the permanent addition oftrumpeter Wayne Jackson
: and saxophonist Andrew Love. better known as
the legendary Memphis Horns.
‘I first met Andrew Love at a Blues Awards ceremony, and we worked with the Memphis Horns 0n the Strong Persuader album back in 1986. Everybody liked the way it turned out. and they continued to play with us on the road and in the studio, until eventually they came to me and asked ifthey could join the band. I‘ll tell you. man, I was real surprised and real pleased. In a way though, it’s not really surprising, because this kind ofmusic is really their forte. and I think they felt that too.’
The Memphis Horns. veterans ofcountless Stax/Volt classic sessions in the 60s, added a more soulful feel to the band long before they made the union permanent. Cray‘s version of r’n‘b also owes a lot to the mainstream slickness of contemporary rock. especially on the new Midnight Stroll set, but the guitarist denies there is any corporate image-making at work.
‘When you listen to music on the radio or television you can hear formulas at work. and you can see how people try to go about creating hits. but we are basically concerned with making a good record with good songs, and if we are lucky then there will be something in there which jumps right out.
‘Sometimes we get a little pressure from the marketing people who are always looking for that certain song which might be the big hit across a real wide audience, but we let them choose from what we have laid down. We never sit down at the start and try to manufacture that song by using some formula.
‘I’m still wary ofvideo, too, but we have to do them. We did them as concert-style videos for a while, but you can only do that so often, so now we have to try to mix that up with something else, but it is real hard to find a good script and so on. I still don’t like the idea oftrying to illustrate a song by using a video, though. Our songs have a pretty strong story to them anyway. and I think it‘s best to let people illustrate that song for themselves when they listen to it.’
The Robert Cray Barzdplay the Playhouse.
Edinburgh on Sunday 201cm.
18'l'hc List ll — 24 January 199]