@The Heights Theatre
Sunday 9/22, 2019 8:00 PM
Robert Cray has been bridging the lines between blues, soul and R&B for the past four decades, this weekend he brings it to The Heights Theatre, Sunday September 22, 2019. The time Grammy artist and Blues Hall of Fame inductee, recipient of the Americana Lifetime achievement award, countless tours and over 20 acclaimed albums.
Growing up in the Northwest, Robert Cray listened to the gospel of the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, Bobby Bland’s soul, Jimi Hendrix’s rock guitar and the Beatles pop sounds. He would bring all of the influences into play throughout his career, but his teenage band was captivated by Southern Soul and the blues. “In the early days of the band we were getting back into O.V. Wright and paying attention to my favorite blues players; Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Albert King and especially Albert Collins,” Cray says.
Texas-born blues guitarist is known as Master of the Telecaster, Albert Collins, sealed the deal on the Cray Band’s early direction. The musical highlight of Cray’s senior year was his class voting to bring Collins in to play a graduation party. The glow of a career in music began when Cray was a teen, and in 1974 it burst into flames as the Robert Cray Band came together in Eugene, Oregon.
How strong was the fire? “Richard and I didn’t own a vehicle, and we were staying with his girlfriend in Eugene. We hitched a ride to Salem, where our drummer Tom Murphy was going to school, to rehearse,” Cray recalls. With the group’s 1980 debut release, Who’s Been Talkin’, word about the Cray Band began to spread across the Northwest and down into California.
Playing packed bars and roadhouses the Cray Band was thrilling. The fans would hear an Albert Collins guitar riff and a Howlin’ Wolf song but the sound was present. Blues and soul fans showed up religiously, but those steamy raucous sets also drew crowds whose tastes in music ranged from rock to funk and jazz. Also among the Cray Band admirers were other musicians. John Lee Hooker put his appreciation into action. “The first time we played with Hooker was in Montana. We were opening the set and he was playing solo,” Cray recalls. “We’d never met him before but he just walked on stage and started playing with us. We dug the hell out of the guy, and after that we became friends.”
The Cray Band’s next two releases – Bad Influence and False Accusations – charted, taking the four-piece’s sound across the airways and abroad. The group was on a roll, but the players slept on couches. “We were just road rats,” Cray says with a chuckle. “We’d take a break for two weeks to record, then go back out. We didn’t have a house, a home, any of those responsibilities.”
On one of those breaks Cray went into the studio with Collins and another great Texas guitarist and singer, Johnny Clyde Copeland, to record Showdown!, a CD that has become essential to any 80s electric blues collection. It was the sounds of the blues and soul that first drew attention from artists in the rock arena.
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