By Catrina Satterwhite
There are many types of music, but there is nothing quite like the Blues genre. If you’re familiar with songs like Smoking Gun, Right Next Door, You Move Me, and Back Door Slam, then you are likely a fan of blues guitarist and singer Robert Cray and The Robert Cray Band. Cray is a five-time Grammy Award winner and has been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and earned the Americana Music Awards Lifetime Achievement for Performance.
He has played with artists like Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, and Eric Clapton [that’s a stellar list].
I had the pleasure of chatting with Cray about the legacy of his music that spans over 40 years. His love for music, like many musicians, began as an influence of his parents.
“The love of music came through my parents and their vast and varied record collection that included people like Sarah Vaughan and Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, Sam Cooke, Bobby Bland, and on and on and on, and then The Beatles hit, and I happened to be a boy at that time of 11 years old and after my parent’s music, they wondered why I was going in that direction and it’s because everyone else was, and the guitar was a really popular instrument at that time and also just listening to everything on the radio,” said Cray.
He ended up gravitating back toward the music he first discovered through his parents, the Blues, right before the end of high school.
I was curious about how Cray developed his unique sound.
“I guess that’s one thing that people tell you. I just had a lot of favorites that I enjoyed listening to like Albert Collins and B.B. King of course, and I listened to Jimmy Hendrix because he was the guy. When you start writing I guess that’s when you feel you have something to say and people tell you that they recognize your sound upon hearing you. It’s something that you just do,” he said.
The Robert Cray Band was formed in 1974, and though there have been many group member changes, Richard Cousins, who helped form the band, outside of a 12-year hiatus has been a part of the group since the beginning.
Though he has worked with many artists, Cray has many memories with Albert Collins who taught him a lot about the music business.
“I had the pleasure of working with Albert Collins for about a period of three years off and on whenever he was on the West Coast in the early days. He was kind of like a father to us because we were really young and we were on the road. He would ask, “Have you called your parents today and let them know where you are?” He was instrumental in showing us how to get our money from unscrupulous club owners. I also worked with John Lee Hooker for a while, B.B. King, of course, and Eric Clapton. We’ve had a lot of great opportunities over the years,” he said.
Cray is a guitarist as well as a singer, he doesn’t feel forced to choose which he enjoys the most. He loves them both equally.
“With the band and everybody listening and working together and getting a good groove going, and then trying to mix the vocal in between is a challenge I love a hell of a lot because every night there is always something different about the way we play a song and you always hear different ways to sing that same song so that’s a constant challenge that I enjoy trying to improve on, which you know is never going to happen but it’s always a challenge and a lot of fun,” he said.
Since Cray has been touring for many decades and most of his career, he’s learned that it takes a village for a tour to happen.
“It takes a good team of people. It’s a big family out here and then the people behind the scenes as well, management, booking, just good camaraderie. It’s your team moving into a different location, setting up and doing your best, and setting up at the next place. It takes ability and strength,” he said.
It was hard for Robert to narrow down his favorite city to perform in, but I loved his response.
“Whoever has the best food at the moment. You do travel with your stomach as well. And if you’re able to get whatever the specialty of the city is, if you’re lucky enough to have that time, that’s the best city of the moment,” he said.
As he is one of the musical greats. He’s never really thought about it that way but appreciates the respect for his music.
With so much time in the music industry, Cray has seen the change in the music industry like many artists have.
“It’s [the music industry] changed in a lot of ways. Streaming has changed things as people don’t have to purchase music from a particular artist or band. I think if you’re a touring musician you stand a chance of staying out there and making a living doing this but it’s really hard for those who are just now coming into the business because you can look at your record of how many plays you’re getting on a streaming service and you go I’m only getting two cents and they played my song 10 thousand times. It’s really disheartening. Also, the accessibility of people on internet services as opposed to going to concerts has changed quite a bit too because you don’t have to be there,” said Cray.
You can check out the Robert Cray Band here in Dallas on Friday, September 30, 2022, at Annette Strauss Square.