Great piece on LoHud.com today by my colleague Chris Serico, who spent some time with Grammy-winning blues guitarist Robert Cray in anticipation of Cray’s gig tomorrow at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Peekskill.
Give it a read::
GUITAR LEGEND ROBERT CRAY BRINGS SIGNATURE SOUND TO PEEKSKILL
When a young Cray was working out the quirks of his first six-string — a Harmony Sovereign with only one pickup to amplify the chords — he never dreamed he’d eventually have his own namesake Fender Signature Stratocaster.
“In my early days, before I had a real guitar, I used to get the Gibson catalog and just go through all the pages and dream like all the kids do,” says the five-time Grammy Award winner, 57.
“It’s a big deal to me to have a guitar with my signature on it.”
Since his 1980 debut album, “Who’s Been Talkin’,” Cray has helped define the instrument and the music he plays with it, fusing elements of blues, pop, rock, soul and R&B. Along the way, he’s gigged with Buddy Guy, Tina Turner and Keith Richards, and toured separately with Eric Clapton and Albert Collins.
As part of the four-piece Robert Cray Band, he’ll be bringing that signature sound back to the Lower Hudson Valley with a Saturday performance at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Peekskill.
“When you’re on stage, it’s all about having fun,” he says. “In that respect, it means being free to be open to all kinds of other things, (performing) the song different from the way you played it the night before, being receptive to anything that pops into your head, making the vocal lines a little bit different, with different inflections — just let yourself be free to have your way with the song.”
Part of that freedom comes with performing live, and without a set list. And let’s not forget those memorable — and inimitable — guitar solos, which helped propel Cray to stardom. Which means though you heard it before, you may not hear it the same way at one of his live gigs.
“I think a great guitar solo is something that speaks to you, not unlike the song,” he says. “A song has a beginning, middle and end, and a great guitar solo should connect in that same way.”
Touring with Cray in his quartet are bassist Richard Cousins, drummer Tony Braunagel and keyboardist Jim Pugh. For Cray, “Playing With My Friends” isn’t just a song he co-wrote with B.B. King; he grew up with Cousins, who rejoins Cray on tour after performing with him from 1974 to 1991.
“We have this camaraderie that goes back to when we were kids — since 1959 — so, it’s over 40 years now,” Cray says. “Richard
knows where I wanna be, and I know where Richard’s at for our music; it’s the same with the friendship. We work really well as a team.”
Cray is touring in support of his latest concert CD, “Cookin’ in Mobile” — his 20th album, overall — and his most recent studio CD, “This Time.” For the tour, he’s revisiting his biggest hits (“Right Next Door,” “Smoking Gun”) and considering other cuts from albums that yielded Grammys: “Showdown,” “Strong Persuader,” “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and “Take Your Shoes Off.”
With 15 career Grammy nominations, he keeps the five gilded phonographs in his home-office. When asked if the awards serve as motivation or a source of admiration, he replies with a quiet laugh: “They’re just there.”
Beyond shifts in pop music sensibility, Cray has taken the music industry’s sweeping changes in stride. As someone who released his first major album 15 years before the proliferation of household Internet use, he warns of as many drawbacks as there are advantages to breaking big via World Wide Web.
“There are some people who get lucky and get successful by posting something on one of those social networks, and they get a lot of fans, and it helps their career,” he says. “But to have a (music label’s) A&R man come to see you at a show and sign you up for hundreds of thousands of dollars, (that) doesn’t exist anymore.”
What continues to endure is Cray and his sound, to which many fellow famous musicians have gravitated. Yet for someone who’s successfully collaborated with Stevie Ray Vaughn, Chuck Berry and Bonnie Raitt, he seems content to remain independent for the foreseeable future.
“I’ve never really thought about who I’d like to collaborate with,” he says, “because I think, basically, I’m pretty much a guy whogoes on his own.”
After all, there’s a reason you don’t see many Stratocaster guitars with two signatures on them.
If You Go:
Who: Robert Cray Band
When: 8 p.m., Feb. 26
Where: Paramount Center for the Arts, 1008 Brown St., Peekskill
For information: Call 914-739-2333 or visit www.paramountcenter.org
Follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LHListeningRoom