Interview with Robert Cray


On the phone, Robert Cray comes across as a thoughtful man. Each question posed during the interview with the musician was met, at first, with silence: Not the kind of silence one offers when they are stumped, and not the kind of silence that illustrates
 disinterest, but the kind that comes before a well articulated answer.

He is thought of as a blues musician, but purists and critics are quick to 
point out that he often veers from their tracks. He agrees.

“What makes our sound is the fact that we’ve listened to a lot of different
kinds of music,” said Cray. “That is the basis of our sound. It’s not locked 
into blues. It’s not locked into R&B. It’s not locked into rock and it’s not
 locked into gospel. But it’s all of those things.”

Like Bobby “Blue” Bland, B.B. King and Eric Clapton before him – he cites
 them all as influences – Cray prefers to incorporate more modern sounds than
the old train rhythms or 12-bar blues will allow.

You are just as likely to 
find Memphis soul, complicated political messages, or even Caribbean rhythms 
on one of his records as you are likely to find a blues classic. (And Cray’s
version of “Cry for Me Baby” stands strong next to versions done by Junior
 Wells or Elmore James.)

That is because Cray is a triple threat. He is able to write songs, play
 guitar and sing with equal verve.

“Primarily, I think I am a guitar player,” said Cray. “But I (also) like to
write songs and sing… I think that performing the songs that we’ve written
is the most fun.”

His love of music comes from his upbringing. His parents were music lovers
 and their stereo was always on. Cray “absorbed” the sounds around him: Sam
 Cooke and Jackie Wilson stick out in his mind but pop and Motown also filled
 his ears as a kid growing up in the sixties.

“The blues music was at home,” said Cray. “But I don’t think I was able to
 get into it until my latter days in high school.”

When it did hit him, Cray said it was the emotion of the players that stood
out.

“I got into the fact that people were really emoting when they were singing
- people like Elmore James and Muddy Waters. You could hear the lonesomeness in their voices,” Cray said.

Emoting loneliness is also one of Cray’s skills. Mood is an element of music 
that keeps him inspired to this day. One gets this sense listening to the
 names of his favorite artists as he scans the bedroom shelves in his Los
 Angeles home… Thelonious Monk, Toots and the Maytals, Ray Charles, Elmore
 James, Dinah Washington, Clifford Brown, Don Covey and Ike and Tina.

“It’s not so much particular songs,” Cray said. “It’s the vibe from the 
people who are making the music.”

When he is listening to records, Cray says his main interest is in figuring 
out “where in the hell the guy got the emotion from.”

 That question seems heavier when it’s put in the context of his 25-year
-plus career.

Keeping things fresh is, admittedly, a struggle. To that end, Cray and his 
band don’t use a set list of songs. They prefer to wing it in front of
 audiences. Cray also said that he tries to keep himself in the moment by not 
over practicing.

“I try to stay away from playing the same solos all of the time, and try 
different ways of singing songs,” he said. “Sometimes it works. Sometimes
it doesn’t.”

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About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
This entry was posted in blues guitarist, Elmore James, interview, Jackie Wilson, Journalism, Muddy Waters, music, Robert Cray interview, Sam
 Cooke and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Interview with Robert Cray

  1. Wendy says:

    At his best, Cray brings me to tears. He really has a sound all his own and I love it.

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