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Cray, Robert

Robert Cray



Singer, guitarist




Robert Cray is one of the few blues artists who managed to cultivate a mainstream following in the 1980s and 1990s. In the course of a long-running career that began in the 1970s, he uniquely blended elements of rhythm and blues, pop, and traditional blues to win fans to a more contemporary blues sound. Dan Forte of Guitar Player magazine acknowledged the rarity of a popular blues artist by noting, "Robert Cray is not only making great music, he's making history. With a few exceptionsit used to be that there was the blues and there were the masses, and never the twain shall meet. But Cray, who obviously is respected in blues circles, is a press darling and crossover smash." While achieving critical acclaim, Cray has not been without his critics, mostly blues purists unhappy with the "tainting" of the traditional blues sound with other genres. However, Cray made no apologies for his music, and he's been rewarded with five Grammy Awards for his innovative style.

Born on August 1, 1953, Cray did not have the typical upbringing of a blues musician. Cray's middle-class childhood as an "Army brat" stood in stark contrast to the impoverished Southern beginnings and Northern ghetto lifestyles of many blues greats. Like many children of military personnel, Cray spent his formative years moving from one location to another, starting in Columbus, Georgia, where he was born. The constant uprooting made Cray a shy, introverted child; when he convinced his mother to buy him a guitar, he found solace in music as one of the few permanent things in his life. Cray had a number of musical influences, gleaned from his father's voluminous record collection which included gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz, and traditional blues. He also picked up on the Beatles craze in the 1960s. He practiced diligently and joined a band while in high school in Newport News, Virginia. The family eventually settled in Tacoma, Washington.


Discovered the Blues

Cray had some training as a classical pianist as a child, but his first serious musical expression was an eclectic mix of rock and roll and rhythm and blues. "We played rock and roll and R&B," he recalled in an interview with Down Beat. "We used to do a half-psychedelic, half-soul set: we'd do an Otis Redding number, and then we'd do a Jimi Hendrix number, back to back." However, he discovered the music of blues greats Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf while searching for inspiration in his father's record collection, and from that point on, he was hooked on the blues. Cray spoke of this turning point in a Musician magazine interview with J. O. Considine: "Then and there is when I became a fanatic. Nobody could tell me that anything was better than blues." Cray tried to communicate this passion to his classmates, even going so far as to convince them to book blues musician Albert Collins for their graduation party. Cray's association with Collins later proved instrumental to his career. In 1969, Cray found a kindred spirit in Richard Cousins, a local musician. The two of them embarked on a study of the blues while playing together in Tacoma bars. Their findings influenced the development of their own music, and they traveled to Eugene, Oregon, in the hopes of finding success in the progressive college town. The Robert Cray Band hit the bar circuit with Tom Murphy on drums, and Cray as frontman on vocals and guitars. Cray was still very much an introvert at this time, and his stage-fright caused his teeth to chatter so badly that Cousins had to introduce each song to their audiences.

Cray's connection to Albert Collins from his high school days yielded a big payoff when Collins recruited the Robert Cray Band to play with him on his Pacific Northwest tour. In addition to the exposure to much bigger audiences, Cray and his band members gleaned invaluable information from the veteran musician about the financial side of a career in the music business. Cray credited Collins with teaching them how to collect money and deal with the bar owners. During this time, Cray also met actor John Belushi, who was then in the midst of filming Animal House. Belushi gave the young musician a small role in the movie. Cray may have given Belushi some inspiration in return, since the Saturday Night Live actor formed his "Blues Brothers" act shortly thereafter.

Departed from Traditional Blues


In 1978, the band finally attracted the attention of a record label when a promoter for Tomato Records noticed them at the San Francisco Blues Festival. The promoter, Bruce Bromberg, hoped to produce their first album on his own label, but mounting financial problems forced the project to finish on the Tomato label. Unfortunately, Tomato was in equally dire financial straits. It took two years for the finished album, Who's Been Talkin', to hit the stores in 1980, and when Tomato Records shut down shortly after, the recording disappeared with it.

The band returned to the festival circuit for a time, but then reunited with Bromberg to produce their second album, Bad Influence, on Bromberg's HighTone label. Released in 1983, the album brought the band increased attention and tour dates in England and Japan, including a few with music legend Eric Clapton. Cray's use of "evocative melodies and well-drawn characterizations" led one Rolling Stone reviewer to consider the album "the first major effort at revitalizing and advancing the blues song form in many, many years." Larry Birnbaum of Down Beat praised Cray's singing and guitar work: "Cray possesses a rich, supple voicereminiscent of Bobby Bland and Little Miltonand a pungent, tastefully restrained guitar technique that combines such influences as Albert Collins, Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, Freddy King, Buddy Guy, and Magic Sam into a fully personal synthesis." Pete Welding, also of Down Beat, took his praise one step further: "One would be hard-pressed to come up with an album that more perfectly illustrates the contemporary blues at its best, strongest, and most fulfilling." The Blues Foundation recognized the quality of the album by lauding it with four of its prestigious W.C. Handy Awards.

For the Record . . .


Born on August 1, 1953, in Columbus, GA; son of an Army quartermaster; married to Sue Turner-Cray.


Formed the Robert Cray Band, 1974; released first album, Who's Been Talkin', on the Tomato label, 1980; released Bad Influence on the HighTone label, 1983; released False Accusations, 1985; released Showdown with Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland, 1985; signed with Mercury Records, 1986; released Strong Persuader, 1986; Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, 1988; Midnight Stroll, 1990; I Was Warned, 1992; Shame + A Sin, 1993; Some Rainy Morning, 1995; Sweet Potato Pie, 1997; signed with Rykodisc, 1998; released Take Your Shoes Off, 1999; released Shoulda Been Home, 2001; moved to independent label, Sanctuary, and released Time Will Tell, 2003.


Awards: Multiple W.C. Handy Awards from the Blues Foundation; Grammy Award, Best Traditional Blues Recording for Showdown! (with Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland), 1985; Grammy Awards, Best Contemporary Blues Recording for Strong Persuader, 1987, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, 1988, and Take Your Shoes Off, 1999; Grammy Award, Best Rock Instrumental Performance for "SRV Shuffle" (with others), 1996.


Addresses: Agent The Rosebud Agency, P.O. Box 170429, San Francisco, CA 94117, phone: (415) 386-3456, fax: (415) 386-0599. Website Robert Cray Official Website: http://www.robertcray.com/.




The follow-up album, False Accusations, appeared in 1985 with a slightly different lineup. Peter Boe on keyboards and David Olson on drums joined original members Cray and Cousins. Cray broke new ground in blues music by eschewing covers of blues classics to only include original material on the album. Record buyers apparently liked the departure from the classics, buying enough albums to put it in the top 200 albums of 1985. That same year Cray made an album with guitarists Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland called Showdown, which garnered him his first Grammy Award. The critical acclaim and record sales attracted the attention of executives at the Mercury record label, who signed the band to its first major record deal.


Landed First Major Record Deal


The success bolstered Cray's creativity with his 1986 album Strong Persuader, as he blended rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock and roll with the blues sound. Reviewer Dan Forte of Guitar Player magazine wrote of the album, "On the one hand, [it] doesn't contain a single stock blues tune, but on the other, it's all bluesthe blues of the '80s. The singer/guitarist is true to the genre's spirit without resorting to its standard form." The album's use of several genres also made Cray's music more accessible to a broader audience; Strong Persuader went platinum and earned Cray another Grammy. The 1988 album Don't Be Afraid of the Dark continued his success streak by going gold and also garnering a Grammy award.


Although the record sales indicated a strong fan base for Cray's music, Cray expressed disappointment that his albums failed to reach a large black audience. "We're not getting much air play on urban radio stations," he commented in Ebony Male. "I can understand why, it's not too modern of a sound. But still I'm a little disappointed." In Cray's opinion, the blues do not appeal to black youth because it is the music of their parents' generation; and it lacks popularity with the older black generation because it is a reminder of harder times.


Cray also defended himself against accusations by blues traditionalists who believed he was glossing the blues into pop for mass consumption. "All the blues greats took chances and developed their own style," he said in an interview with People magazine. "They didn't copy. They dared to be different, which is what we want to do." Cray pointed out that, even if his music brought a newness to the genre, his lyrics were fundamentally blues storiestales of cheating lovers and lost love.


Perhaps in the hopes of attracting more African Americans to his music, Cray gave his 1990 album, Midnight Stroll, a more funky sound with the addition of the famed horn duo of Wayne Jackson and Andrew Loveknown as the Memphis Hornsand several new musicians. Critics and fans embraced his new sound. Bill Milkowski of Down Beat wrote of the album, "Robert Cray is capable of rising above polite radioplay fare and delivering an honest-to-goodness soul-stirring performance. [He] digs deep on Midnight Stroll and comes up with the genuine goods."

Became a Record Producer


Cray released I Was Warned in 1992 and then caused a stir in the blues community by creating the traditional blues album Shame + A Sin in 1993. Blues purists hailed his turn away from the contemporary blues that made his career to more traditional stylings as a positive move. The album was also Cray's first as a producer, and he used the creative freedom to get what he termed "a funkier barroom blues sound." To achieve this effect, Cray purposefully detuned some of the piano strings and removed the bass drum head from the drum set. He also invited his old friend Albert Collins to join him on one of the tracks as his first-ever guitar guest.


Cray's 1995 album Some Rainy Morning was also self-produced with Mercury's backing. As with Shame + A Sin, the newest album offered a grittier, more pared-down sound. He dispensed with the horn section in order to allow for greater spontaneity in recording, and some of the tracks were cut live. Cray linked his influence as a producer to the album's more pronounced blues and R&B sound; with full creative control, he was able to expand the sound of the two genres he most enjoyed playing. The 1997 album Sweet Potato Pie was his last record for the Mercury label.


Cray decided to end his 13-year association with Mercury in the late 1990s in order to further expand his creative boundaries with independent label Rykodisc. The result was the album Take Your Shoes Off, released in 1999. Cray left the producing to Steve Jordan, who opted to showcase the smooth vocal stylings of the blues musician, rather than his guitar work. Jordan told Billboard magazine, "Everybody thinks of him as this guitar player that can really sing, but he's a really great singer too. And that's what I tried to show people." The product was much more soulful than previous albums and did not include many of Cray's trademark guitar solos. A People reviewer called the album, "A head-first dive into the familiar waters of '60s and '70s soul music, with its gospel-flavored vocals and funky rhythms in the tradition of Otis Redding and Al Green." Traditionally based in the Bay area, Robert Cray and his band recorded the album at a studio in Nashville. Reviewers noted the Memphis sound of the album, which saw the return of the Memphis Horns. The album won a Grammy Award for best contemporary blues album. It also marked the 25th anniversary of the Robert Cray Band.


Jordan was at the helm again for Cray's 2001 album Shoulda Been Home. Cray's soulful voice grabbed the spotlight, and the fact that his guitar work was not the focal point gave the other band members greater freedom to experiment with their own instruments. That same year, Mercury re-released Cray's debut album Who's Been Talkin' as part of its Blues Classics: Re-mastered & Revisited.

After recording Shoulda Been Home, Cray and his band recorded an album independently. Time Will Tell was released in 2003 when the band signed with Sanctuary Records. Cray shared production duties on the album with his keyboardist, Jim Pugh. He also shared writing duties with his bandmates. Songs on the album were written by Pugh as well as drummer Kevin Hayes and his sister Bonnie Hayes. Time Will Tell expanded Cray's already progressive blues repertoire to include nods to many other musical styles. "Up in the Sky" has Cray playing an electric sitar while the Turtle String Quartet accompanies him. "Distant Shore" has a Latin flavor while "Your Pal" is influenced by the horn playing of former Sly and the Family Stone members Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson.

Not only did the album test the band's musical chops, it also marked Cray's first venture into political commentary with his song "Survivor" and Pugh's composition "Distant Shore." The excitement of collaboration and experimentation led Cray to say in a press release on the Sanctuary Records website, "There were times during the making of this record when I wasn't sure if certain ideas or sounds would fit, but I kept my mouth shut and just let things fall as they would. And now I'm excited, because I really think we have a good record here. It's almost like starting afresh, like we're a new band."

Cray's impressive career in music has included many highlights. He has worked with such music legends as B.B. King, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Willie Dixon. Almost all of his albums have either been nominated for or won a Grammy Award. His songs also have appeared in the movies When a Man Loves a Woman (1994), The Truth About Cats and Dogs (1996), and Mother (1997). Never content with playing the blues the same way twice, Cray's daring innovations have placed him at the top of the blues business.


Selected discography

Who's Been Talkin', Tomato, 1980; re-released, Universal, 2001.

Bad Influence, HighTone, 1983.

False Accusations, HighTone, 1985.

Showdown!, Alligator, 1985.

Strong Persuader, HighTone/Mercury, 1986.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, HighTone/Mercury, 1988.

Midnight Stroll, Mercury, 1990.

I Was Warned, Mercury, 1992.

Shame + A Sin, Mercury, 1993.

Some Rainy Morning, Mercury, 1995.

Sweet Potato Pie, Mercury, 1997.

Take Your Shoes Off, Rykodisc, 1999.

Heavy PicksThe Robert Cray Band Collection (collected works), Mercury, 1999.

Shoulda Been Home, Rykodisc, 2001.

The Best of Robert Cray (collected works), Mercury, 2002.

Time Will Tell, Sanctuary, 2003.



Sources

Periodicals


Billboard, October 23, 1993; April 1, 1995, May 12, 2001.

Detroit Free Press, March 30, 1987; November 7, 1990.

Down Beat, March 1984; August 1984; March 1987; May 1988; January 1991; October 1999.

Ebony Male, February 1989.

Essence, February 1991; June 1987.

Guitar Player, May 1987.

Living Blues, March/April 1990.

Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1990.

Musician, April 1987.

New York Times, November 16, 1986.

People, April 13, 1987; May 3, 1999.

Pulse!, March 1992.

Rolling Stone, December 4, 1986; June 18, 1987; November 16, 1989; June 27, 1991.

Time, December 8, 1986.


Online


The Rosebud Agency, http://www.rosebudus.com (February 12, 2004).

Sanctuary Records Group, http://www.sanctuaryrecordsgroup.com/ (January 30, 2004).


Rebecca Parks and Eve M. B. Hermann

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"Cray, Robert." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Cray, Robert." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cray-robert

Cray, Robert 1953–

Robert Cray 1953

Contemporary blues singer and guitarist

Discovered the Blues

Departed from Traditional Blues

Landed First Major Record Deal

Became a Record Producer

Selected discography

Sources

Robert Cray is one of the few blues artists who managed to cultivate a mainstream following in the 1980s and 1990s. In the course of a longrunning career that began in the 1970s, he uniquely blended elements of rhythm and blues, pop, and traditional blues to win fans to a more contemporary blues sound. Dan Forte of Guitar Player magazine acknowledged the rarity of a popular blues artist by noting, Robert Cray is not only making great music, hes making history. With a few exceptionsit used to be that there was the blues and there were the masses, and never the twain shall meet. But Cray, who obviously is respected in blues circles, is a press darling and crossover smash. While achieving critical acclaim, Cray was not without his critics, mostly blues purists unhappy with the tainting of the traditional blues sound with other genres. However, Cray made no apologies for his music, and hes been rewarded with four Grammy Awards for his innovative style.

Born on August 1, 1953, Cray did not have the typical upbringing of a blues musician. Crays middle-class childhood as an Army brat stood in stark contrast to the impoverished Southern beginnings and Northern ghetto lifestyles of many blues greats. Like many children of military personnel, Cray spent his formative years moving from one location to another, starting in Columbus, Georgia, where he was born. The constant uprooting made Cray a shy, introverted child; when he convinced his mother to buy him a guitar, he found solace in music as one of the few permanent things in his life. Cray had a number of musical influences, gleaned from his fathers voluminous record collection which included gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz, and traditional blues. He also picked up on the Beatles craze in the 1960s. He practiced diligently and joined a band while in high school in Newport News, Virginia. The family eventually settled in Tacoma, Washington.

Discovered the Blues

Cray had some training as a classical pianist as a child, but his first serious musical expression was an eclectic mix of rock and roll and rhythm and blues. We played rock and roll and R&B, he recalled in an interview with Down Beat. We used to do a half-psychedelic, half-soul set: wed do an Otis Redding number, and then wed do a Jimi Hendrix number, back to back. However, he discovered the music of blues greats

At a Glance

Born on August 1, 1953, in Columbus, Georgia; son of an Army quartermaster; married to Sue Turner-Cray. Education: Graduated from high school in Tacoma, Washington.

Career: Blues singer and guitarist, Formed the Robert Cray Band, 1974; released first album, Whos Been Talking on the Tomato label, 1980; released Bad Influence on the HighTone label, 1983; released False Accusations, 1985; released Showdown with Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland, 1985; signed with Mercury Records, 1986; released Strong Persuader, 1986, Dont Be Afraid of the Dark, 1988, Midnight Stroll, 1990, / Was Warned, 1992, Shame + A Sin, 1993, Some Rainy Morning, 1995, and Sweet Potato Pie, 1997 with Mercury; signed with Rykodisc, 1998; released Take Your Shoes Off, 1999; Shoulda Been Home, 2001.

Awards: Multiple W.C. Handy Awards from the Blues Foundation; won Grammy Awards for Showdown, 1985, Strong Persuader, 1986, Dont Be Afraid of the Dark, 198), and Take Your Shoes Off, 1999.

Address: Agent-The Rosebud Agency, P.O. Box 210103, San Francisco, CA, 94121.

Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf while searching for inspiration in his fathers record collection, and from that point on, he was hooked on the blues. Cray spoke of this turning point in a Musician magazine interview with J. O. Considine: Then and there is when I became a fanatic. Nobody could tell me that anything was better than blues. Cray tried to communicate this passion to his classmates, even going so far as to convince them to book blues musician Albert Collins for their graduation party. Crays association with Collins later proved instrumental to his career.

In 1969 Cray found a kindred spirit in Richard Cousins, a local musician. The two of them embarked on a study of the blues while playing together in Tacoma bars. Their findings influenced the development of their own music, and they traveled to Eugene, Oregon, in the hopes of finding success in the progressive college town. The Robert Cray Band hit the bar circuit with Tom Murphy on drums, and Cray as frontman on vocals and guitars. Cray was still very much an introvert at this time, and his stage-fright caused his teeth to chatter so badly that Cousins had to introduce each song to their audiences.

Crays connection to Albert Collins from his high school days yielded a big payoff when Collins recruited the Robert Cray Band to play with him on his Pacific Northwest tour. In addition to the exposure to much bigger audiences, Cray and his band members gleaned invaluable information from the veteran musician about the financial side of a career in the music business. Cray credited Collins with teaching them how to collect money and deal with the bar owners. During this time, Cray also met actor John Belushi, who was then in the midst of filming Animal House. Belushi gave the young musician a small role in the movie. Cray may have given Belushi some inspiration in return, since the Saturday Night Live actor formed his Blues Brothers act shortly thereafter.

Departed from Traditional Blues

In 1978 the band finally attracted the attention of a record label when a promoter for Tomato Records noticed them at the San Francisco Blues Festival. The promoter, Bruce Bromberg, hoped to produce their first album on his own label, but mounting financial problems forced the project to finish on the Tomato label. Unfortunately, Tomato was in equally dire financial straits; it took two years for the finished album, Whos Been Talking , to hit the stores in 1980, and when Tomato Records shut down shortly after, the recording disappeared with it.

The band returned to the festival circuit for a time, but then reunited with Bromberg to produce their second album, Bad Influence, on Brombergs HighTone label. Released in 1983, the album brought the band increased attention and tour dates in England and Japan, including a few with music legend Eric Clapton. Crays use of evocative melodies and well-drawn characterizations led one Rolling Stone reviewer to consider the album the first major effort at revitalizing and advancing the blues song form in many, many years. Larry Birnbaum of Down Beat praised Crays singing and guitar work: Cray possesses a rich, supple voicereminiscent of Bobby Bland and Little Miltonand a pungent, tastefully restrained guitar techniquethat combines such influences as Albert Collins, Johnny Guitar Watson, Freddy King, Buddy Guy, and Magic Sam into a fully personal synthesis. Pete Welding, also of Down Beat, took his praise one step further: One would be hard-pressed to come up with an album that more perfectly illustrates the contemporary blues at its best, strongest, and most fulfilling. The Blues Foundation recognized the quality of the album by lauding it with four of its prestigious W.C. Handy Awards.

The follow-up album, False Accusations, appeared in 1985 with a slightly different line-up. Peter Boe on keyboards and David Olson on drums joined original members Cray and Cousins. Cray broke new ground in blues music by eschewing covers of blues classics to only include original material on the album. Record buyers apparently liked the departure from the classics, buying enough albums to put it in the top 200 albums of 1985. That same year Cray made an album with guitarists Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland called Showdown, which garnered him his first Grammy Award. The critical acclaim and record sales attracted the attention of executives at the Mercury record label, who signed the band to its first major record deal.

Landed First Major Record Deal

The success bolstered Crays creativity with his 1986 album Strong Persuader, as he blended rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock and roll with the blues sound. Reviewer Dan Forte of Guitar Player magazine wrote of the album, On the one hand, [it] doesnt contain a single stock blues tune, but on the other, its all bluesthe blues of the 80s. The singer/guitarist is true to the genres spirit without resorting to its standard form. The albums use of several genres also made Crays music more accessible to a broader audience; Strong Persuader went platinum and earned Cray another Grammy. The 1988 album Dont Be Afraid of the Dark continued his success streak by going gold and also garnering a Grammy award.

Although the record sales indicated a strong fan base for Crays music, Cray expressed disappointment that his albums failed to reach a large black audience. Were not getting much air play on urban radio stations, he commented in EM. I can understand why, its not too modern of a sound. But still Im a little disappointed. In Crays opinion, the blues do not appeal to black youths because it is the music of their parents generation; and it lacks popularity with the older black generation because it is a reminder of harder times.

Cray also defended himself against accusations by blues traditionalists who believed he was glossing the blues into pop for mass consumption. All the blues greats took chances and developed their own style, he said in an interview with People magazine. They didnt copy. They dared to be different, which is what we want to do. Cray pointed out that, even if his music brought a newness to the genre, his lyrics were fundamentally blues storiestales of cheating lovers and lost love.

Perhaps in the hopes of attracting more African Americans to his music, Cray gave his 1990 album, Midnight Stroll, a more funky sound with the addition of the famed horn duo of Wayne Jackson and Andrew Loveknown as the Memphis Hornsand several new musicians. Critics and fans embraced his new sound. Bill Milkowski of Down Beat wrote of the album, Robert Cray is capable of rising above polite radioplay fare and delivering an honest-to-goodness soul-stirring performance. [He] digs deep on Midnight Stroll and comes up with the genuine goods.

Became a Record Producer

Cray released Was Warned in 1992 and then caused a stir in the blues community by creating the traditional blues album Shame + A Sin in 1993. Blues purists hailed his turn away from the contemporary blues that made his career to more traditional stylings as a positive move. The album was also Crays first as a producer, and he used the creative freedom to get what he termed a funkier barroom blues sound. To achieve this effect, Cray purposefully detuned some of the piano strings and removed the bass drum head from the drum set. He also invited his old friend Albert Collins to join him on one of the tracks as his first-ever guitar guest.

Crays 1995 album Some Rainy Morning was also self-produced with Mercurys backing. As with Shame + A Sin, the newest album offered a grittier, more pared-down sound. He dispensed with the horn section in order to allow for greater spontaneity in recording, and some of the tracks were cut live. Cray linked his influence as a producer to the albums more pronounced blues and R&B sound; with full creative control, he was able to expand the sound of the two genres he most enjoyed playing. The 1997 album Sweet Potato Pie was his last record for the Mercury label.

Cray decided to end his 13-year association with Mercury in the late 1990s in order to further expand his creative boundaries with independent label Rykodisc. The result was the album Take Your Shoes Off, released in 1999. Cray left the producing to Steve Jordan, who opted to showcase the smooth vocal stylings of the blues musician, rather than his guitar work. Jordan told Billboard magazine, Everybody thinks of him as this guitar player that can really sing, but hes a really great singer too. And thats what I tried to show people. The product was much more soulful than previous albums and did not include many of Crays trademark guitar solos. A People Weekly reviewer called the album, A head-first dive into the familiar waters of 60s and 70s soul music, with its gospel-flavored vocals and funky rhythms in the tradition of Otis Redding and Al Green. Traditionally based in the Bay area, Robert Cray and his band recorded the album at a studio in Nashville. Reviewers noted the Memphis sound of the album, which saw the return of the Memphis Horns. The album won a Grammy Award for best contemporary blues album. It also marked the 25th anniversary of the Robert Cray Band.

Jordan was at the helm again for Crays 2001 album Shoulda Been Home. Crays soulful voice grabbed the spotlight; the fact that his guitar work was not the focal point gave the other band members greater freedom to experiment with their own instruments. That same year, Mercury re-released Crays debut album Whos Been Talkin as part of its Blues Classics: Remastered & Revisited.

Crays impressive career in music has included many highlights. He has worked with such music legends as B.B. King, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Willie Dixon. Almost all of his albums have either been nominated for or won a Grammy Award. His songs also have appeared in the movies When a Man Loves a Woman (1994), The Truth About Cats and Dogs (1996), and Mother (1997). Never content with playing the blues the same way twice, Crays daring innovations have placed him at the top of the blues business.

Selected discography

Whos Been Talkin, Tomato, 1980.

Bad Influence, HighTone, 1983.

False Accusations, HighTone, 1985.

Showdown, Alligator, 1985.

Strong Persuader, HighTone/Mercury, 1986.

Dont Be Afraid of the Dark, HighTone/Mercury, 1988.

Midnight Stroll, PolyGram, 1990.

I Was Warned, Mercury, 1992.

Shame + A Sin, Mercury, 1993.

Some Rainy Morning, Mercury, 1995.

Sweet Potato Pie, Mercury, 1997.

Take Your Shoes Off, Rykodisc, 1999.

Shoulda Been Home, Rykodisc, 2001.

Sources

Periodicals

Billboard, October 23, 1993, April 1, 1995, May 12, 2001.

Detroit Free Press, March 30, 1987; November 7, 1990.

Down Beat, March 1984; August 1984; March 1987; May 1988; January 1991; October 1999.

Ebony Male, February 1989.

Essence, February 1991; June 1987.

Guitar Player, May 1987.

Living Blues, March/April 1990.

Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1990.

Musician, April 1987.

New York Times, November 16, 1986.

People, April 13, 1987; May 3, 1999.

Pulse!, March 1992.

Rolling Stone, December 4, 1986; June 18, 1987; November 16, 1989; June 27, 1991.

Time, December 8, 1986.

On-line

Biography Resource Center, Gale, 2001, http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC.

The Rosebud Agency, 2001, http://www.rosebudus.com.

Rebecca Parks

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

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"Cray, Robert 1953–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Cray, Robert 1953–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cray-robert-1953

"Cray, Robert 1953–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cray-robert-1953

Cray, Robert

Robert Cray

Singer, guitarist

Became a Blues Fanatic

Landed First Recording Contract

Acclaim for New Sound

Selected discography

Sources

In the 1960s a young Robert Cray, snooping through his parents record collection, discovered the music of Chicago bluesmen Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, and Otis Rush. Cray was immediately captivated by the sound, and his music bears the distinct mark of the blues of that era. After graduating from high school, he formed the Robert Cray Band and began playing the blues in clubs and at festivals all over the Pacific Northwest. Taking the early blues music that originated in the impoverished Mississippi Delta region of the southern United States, and blending it with soul, jazz, and rhythm and blues, Cray has developed a style that appeals to a wide range of listenersto which the popularity of his albums can attest.

Crays comfortable, middle-class upbringing stands in sharp contrast to the lifestyle of the original blues singers, many of whom eked out a living working by day on farms and plantations in the South during the Great Depression. Cray was born to a relatively well off family in Columbus, Georgia, but being an Army brat he moved frequently as a youth before the family settled in the Pacific Northwest. Earlier, during a stay in Germany, Cray studied classical piano. Unable to understand German television, he entertained himself by exploring his parents varied record collection, which included a wide range of black artists from Sam Cooke to Ray Charles.

Cray soon persuaded his mother to buy him a guitar, which he practiced faithfully. To the shy, often uprooted teen, music offered one of the few constants in his life. In high school, Cray joined his first band. They performed an eclectic mix of rock and roll and rhythm and blues. The Cray family then moved to Tacoma, Washington, where Cray joined another band.

Became a Blues Fanatic

Around the same time, Cray went rummaging through his fathers record collection looking for some new influences. He discovered the music of Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf. Then and there is when I became a fanatic, Cray revealed to J. O. Considine in Musician. Nobody could tell me that anything was better than blues. The young musician even convinced his high school classmates to invite blues musician Albert Collins to play at their graduation party.

In 1969, Cray met Richard Cousins, another local musician. Over the years a musical relationship developed, and they started playing in local bars while studying the blues. We became re-educated, Cray told Mikal Gilmore in Rolling Stone. We began figuring out who people like Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Johnson and

For the Record

Born August 1, 1953, in Columbus, GA; son of a U.S. Army quartermaster; Education: Graduated from high school in Tacoma, Washington.

Studied classical piano as a child; began playing guitar at the age of twelve; played in bands during high school; moved to Eugene, Oregon, and, with Richard Cousins, formed the Robert Cray Band, 1974; backed guitarist Albert Collins during a West Coast tour, 1976; recording artist with Tomato, HighTone, and PolyGram records, 1978.

Awards: Grammy awards for best traditional blues recording, 1987, for Showdown, and for best contemporary blues recording, 1988, for Strong Persuader; five W. C. Handy National Blues awards; Strong Persuader went platinum; Dont Be Afraid of the Dark went gold.

Addresses: Agent The Rosebud Agency, P.O. Box 210103, San Francisco, CA 94121.

Tampa Red were. I mean, its embarrassing to admit, but at one time wed thought these songs were written by the Allman Brothers. It was kind of funny to be learning this stuff in reverse. In 1974, they went to Eugene, Oregon, hoping to get more gigs in the progressive college town.

The Robert Cray Band featured Cousins on bass and Tom Murphy on drums. The shy Cray was on guitars and vocals. When I realized I had to be the frontman, I was scared to death. I couldnt look at anybody, and my teeth would chatter so bad, Richard had to do all the announcing of songs, Cray admitted in Rolling Stone. The band got their big break when Albert Collins asked them to open for him on his Pacific Northwest tour. Collins showed us the ropeshow to collect money, and how to deal with the bar owners. Hes like our father, Cray told Considine. Cray was also noticed by John Belushi, who happened to be in the area during the filming of the 1978 frat-house spoof Animal House. Belushi gave him a small part in the movie and shortly after formed the Blues Brothers act on Saturday Night Live.

Landed First Recording Contract

The year 1978 turned out to be a pivotal one for the fledgling band. Playing at the San Francisco Blues Festival, they caught the eye of Bruce Bromberg, a promoter for Tomato Records. Bromberg wanted to produce the band on his own label, but mounting financial problems led to the completion of their recording project on the Tomato label. The resulting album, Whos Been Talkin, was finished in 1978 but not released until 1980. Shortly afterward, Tomato Records folded and the recording vanished.

The Robert Cray Band went back to playing blues festivals and clubs for a while until they ran into Bromberg again and agreed to have him produce their next album. Bad Influence was finished in 1983 and released on Brombergs HighTone label. The recording won the band some notoriety, as well as tours in England and Japan and a few dates with Eric Clapton. Gilmore praised the work in Rolling Stone, indicating that with its emphasis on evocative melodies and well-drawn characterizations, the album came across as the first major effort at revitalizing and advancing the blues song form in many, many years. The album won four W.C. Handy awards and became a hit in England.

In 1985, Cray released False Accusations with a lineup of Cray, Cousins, Peter Boe on keyboards, and David Olson on drums. Cray broke ground by including only original material on this album instead of covers of blues classics. The album was quite popular, ending up in the top 200 for the year.

Success continued to follow the band. Their 1986 album, Strong Persuader, went platinum, won a Grammy, and was in the top 20. Cray continued to stray from blues tradition by adding other influences to the music. Our music is a combination of blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock and roll. I think its kind of hard to put a label, an exact tag on it. I think thats made it a lot more accessible to a lot of people, Cray commented in EM. Dan Forte of Guitar Player praised the albums deviation from standard blues form, saying, On the one hand, Strong Persuader doesnt contain a single stock blues tune, but on the other, its all bluesthe blues of the 80s. The singer/guitarist is true to the genres spirit without resorting to its standard form.

Acclaim for New Sound

Cray scored again with Dont Be Afraid of the Dark in 1988. In spite of the bands success, though, they failed to reach a large black audience. Were not getting that much air play on urban radio stations, he commented in EM. I can understand why, its not too modern of a sound. But still Im a little disappointed. In 1990, Cray decided to shake things up within his band by recruiting the Memphis Horns to join the group and adding keyboardist Jimmy Pugh, drummer Kevin Hayes, and guitarist Tim Kaihatsu to the lineup. Cray debuted the new group on Midnight Stroll, a recording he described in the Detroit Free Press as extremely funky.

Bill Milkowski in Down Beat was thrilled with the new sound, commenting that Robert Cray is capable of rising above polite radioplay fare and delivering an honest-to-goodness soul-stirring performance. [He] digs deep on Midnight Stroll and comes up with the genuine goods. With a string of successful albums, Cray no longer has to worry about getting money from bar owners. Being in a classic genre like the blues has helped him allay fears about the fickleness of fame. I dont have to worry about trying to slip into Spandex, he commented to Steve Hochman in the Los Angeles Times. You know what I look at? I look at my friend John Lee Hooker and the success hes having now. Hes 73. He doesnt have to act like hes in his 20s.

Selected discography

Whos Been Talkin, Tomato, 1978.

Bad Influence, HighTone, 1983.

False Accusations, HighTone, 1985.

(With guitarists Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland) Showdown, Alligator, 1985.

Strong Persuader, HighTone/Mercury, 1986.

Dont Be Afraid of the Dark, HighTone/Mercury, 1988.

Midnight Stroll, PolyGram, 1990.

I Was Warned, Mercury, 1992.

Sources

Books

Newsmakers 1988, Gale, 1989.

Periodicals

Detroit Free Press, March 30, 1987; November 7, 1990.

Down Beat, March 1984; August 1984; March 1987; May 1988; January 1991.

Ebony Male, February 1989.

Guitar Player, May 1987.

Living Blues, March/April 1990.

Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1990.

Musician, April 1987.

People, April 13, 1987.

Pulse!, March 1992.

Rolling Stone, December 4, 1986; June 18, 1987; November 16, 1989; June 27, 1991.

Nancy Rampson

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Cray, Robert

ROBERT CRAY

Born: Columbus, Georgia, 1 August 1953

Genre: Blues

Best-selling album since 1990: Midnight Stroll (1990)

Hit songs since 1990: "The Forecast (Calls for Pain)," "Just a Loser"


Since the 1980s Robert Cray has brought blues music into the mainstream, giving the idiom a degree of popularity not seen since the early 1970s work of blues master B.B. King. A skilled guitarist as well as singer, Cray's most impressive achievement has been to combine traditional blues forms with more recent styles such as rhythm and blues and soul. The result is an exciting series of albums that capture a modern edge without losing their historical awareness. If Cray has any weakness it is that his music tends to sound overly clean and polished, but even at its slickest it is never less than enjoyable. In the years following the late 1990s Cray moved away from blues to explore a straight-ahead R&B vein, with excellent results.

Cray was born in Columbus, Georgia, but raised in Oregon. As a child his influences included piano and vocal R&B legend Ray Charles as well as lesser-known artists such as searing 1960s soul vocalist O. V. Wright. In 1974 he formed the Robert Cray Blues Band and began playing local engagements around the Oregon city of Eugene. His big break came in 1977, when he was invited to play the San Francisco Blues Festival with legendary artist Albert Collins. Soon after, Cray hooked up with producer Dennis Walker, who arranged for the young performer's initial entry into the studio in 1979. Although several fine albums resulted, Cray's popularity was confined to a small blues audience until the success of Strong Persuader (1986). A perfect mixture of tough blues and punchy, horn-driven R&B, the album is distinguished by an excellent selection of material. Hard-driving songs such as "Smoking Gun" and "I Guess I Showed Her" feature classic blues themes of sin and redemption, but Cray fits them into a contemporary matrix of stinging guitar, organ, and swaggering horns. On top of it all is the power of Cray's voice, only slightly less distinctive than those of his idols Wright and B.B. King. While a shouting rasp lay at the center of Wright's voice, Cray's roughness is reserved for the upper edge of his range. His singing is smooth and keening in a manner that recalls 1950s and 1960s R&B great Sam Cooke.

The success of Strong Persuader made Cray the only blues artist to place an album on the Top 20 charts in over a decade. His popularity at its peak, he entered the 1990s with a string of albums that, while lacking Strong Persuader 's first-rate songs, were fine examples of his unique blues-R&B hybrid. Critics mentioned that occasionally Cray's albums during this period sounded too smooth, lacking the visceral bite that characterized the work of his forebears. Still, Cray's commitment and drive always lent his music credibility. Midnight Stroll (1990) features the tough hit "The Forecast (Calls for Pain)," with its opening lyric capturing the essence of blues philosophy: "Coffee for my breakfast / Shot of whisky on the side." I Was Warned (1992) is another strong set, highlighted by the simmering ballad "The Price I Pay." Increasingly Cray was showing his skills as a detailed shaper of slow songs, gradually building intensity within a performance. His guitar playing, economical yet incisive, worked hand in hand with his vocals to achieve an exciting synthesis.

As the 1990s progressed Cray began shifting his energies more to singing than playing. Concomitant with this change was a heightened interest in 1960s and 1970s R&B music. On albums such as Take Your Shoes Off (1999) the traditional blues influence is still present, but it is overshadowed by the suppleness of his pulsating R&B sound. Rather than diluting the power of his music, this new focus strengthens it. A highlight of the album is the ballad "All the Way," which Cray wrote with his wife, film-maker Sue Turner-Cray. Set against an inviting bed of bottom-heavy percussion and churchy-sounding organ, Cray's vocal achieves a slow-burning power. The drums and organ recall the deep R&B records created in the early 1970s by master producer Willie Mitchell; Take Your Shoes Off honors Mitchell's pioneering sound without resorting to imitation. Cray's release Shoulda Been Home (2001) continues in the same style, although songs such as the stinging "The 12 Year Old Boy" prove that Cray has not lost his sharp blues edge.

Robert Cray's fusion of blues and classic R&B has been so successful that by the late 1990s the two genres were perceived, from a marketing standpoint, as interchangeable. Cray's records and those of his 1960s R&B influences are found side by side in music stores, while the term "R&B" is now reserved for more contemporary artists such as Mary J. Blige and Usher. This development points to Cray's influence and the enduring potency of his soulful blues sound.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Bad Influence (Hightone, 1983); Strong Persuader (Mercury, 1986); Midnight Stroll (Mercury, 1990); I Was Warned (Mercury, 1992); Sweet Potato Pie (Mercury, 1997); Take Your Shoes Off (Rykodisc, 1999); Shoulda Been Home (Rykodisc, 2001).

WEBSITE:

www.robertcray.com.

david freeland

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"Cray, Robert." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cray-robert