Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Robert Cray: Natural Blues

Robert Cray
Robert Cray Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm

Blues great Robert Cray recently took time out of a busy tour schedule to speak to Chaz Brooks about his hunger for vinyl, his favourite singer/album, recording with the legendary BB King and of course, Donald Trump!

What are your thoughts on your latest album Hi Rhythm...what was it like working with those guys?”

“The more I hear the record, the more we play the songs, the record, the whole record, has things that appeal to me immensely.  And to play with the guys from the Hi Rhythm, that was like one of the coolest things, because I have been a fan of the music they have performed on, and of musicians they have backed up, so it was a wonderful opportunity. And to have them come over to do the Jools Holland Show when we first got here, that was great too”.

Is there a particular song you would like to mention?

“When we did the song “Aspen Colorado” it was great that we had Tony Joe White in the studio with us. We actually did two Tony Joe White songs, but especially when we did “Aspen” - it was great because he was there and you know, he brought the feel of the song that we could only get from him being there, through our interpretation of it. To have him there playing the harmonica and guitar on that song was fantastic”.

Your voice isn’t the typical blues voice, it’s much gentle, more soulful.  Was that natural, or did you develop that vocal style?

“Well, you know it’s just from the years of doing what we have been doing. The band’s always done a combination of a lot of different kinds of music and that’s how it’s formed itself over the years”.

Of your own albums, which is your favourite?

“Robert: I couldn’t tell you (laughs). I look at the records, as in different time periods of stuff we were writing or co-writing, or somebody else wrote songs for us back in those days.  There were the times when there was different personnel, and that’s been changing quite a bit too. I look at it as different periods over the span of the band”.

What do you do to relax when you are on tour?

“One of the things that we enjoy doing when we are out on the roads is going to vinyl shops and picking through, whether it’s in the jazz, soul, R&B, blues or even rock. That’s what we’ve been doing in a couple of towns and cities on this trip. We went to Ben’s Records in Guildford, all four of us went in there at different times during the same day. We normally get weighed down and get real close to the weight limit on the baggage, on flights on the way home.  Everybody is trying to figure out how they are going to get our stuff back!”

You’ve done a lot of collaborations, do you have any stories about BB King?

“Well, you know, one of the coolest things we ever had the opportunity to do was the BB King tribute album, where we had John Lee Hooker and Albert Collins. “Blues Summit” was the name of the album. It was just great to be around those guys, especially when the stories were being told of the past. When BB’s talking and he says ‘John, do you remember that time in Detroit when we were down in your basement?’ And then John would laugh. Things like that...just being in the studio with those guys, being around these gentlemen and their stories was great”.

“Richard Cousins, who plays bass with us, and another friend of mine Bobby Murray, who is a guitar player, and myself - we all went to high school together. When we were in High School and were playing blues music we all wanted to grow up and be blues men. These were like fantasy dreams! All three of us wound up for this session of Blues Summit. We went back to remembering the time at High School, saying we wanted to play with BB King and all of our heroes. And we were doing that! AND we were all there together. That was pretty cool”.

You’ve sold a lot of records. What drives you to keep on performing and touring?

“Fun! Playing music is a lot of fun. And that’s what it’s all about, it’s always been about that from day one when we first started playing. We played this music because we enjoyed the music - we still do. You always want to be successful at what you do. We knew that playing the music that we do isn’t like the big pop stars you know in the news every second.  But we were playing the music that we love and we wanted to play and we are still able to do that. That’s what it’s always been about. We are able to travel, make a living from doing that and that’s what we love doing so that’s why we do it”.

You are one of the most commercially successful blues artists around.

“Well Yeah. We got really lucky. At the time Strong Persuader came out radio was accepting the music that we were doing and MTV came out with video. We got a lot of exposure which obviously helps us to continue to do it the way we can do it. It’s great”.

Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?

“I can’t say that I have. Whatever has happened is just because we have been in the right spot. I don’t have a list that I check things off from - we just take it as it comes”.

"Just How Low”, from your latest album, is about President Trump. Do you have anything to say about it?

Well, me and all my friends, we didn’t vote for him (laughs). There is ‘a lot’ to say. My only thing about that song is that I wrote it back in October/November and so many more things could have been added to it. And when the song is performed, I am sure there will be a lot of verses that just happen spontaneously!” (laughs)
Do you have a favourite artist?

There are so many that have so much to offer. My favourite singer, I won’t say the best, but my favourite singer is the late O.V. Wright.  I can’t say who my favourite guitar player is, as there are just so many. If I did I’d be in a lotta trouble!” (laughs)

Do you have a favourite album?

I can’t say.  I can say what my favourite O.V. Wright album is and that’s “Nucleus of Soul”. There’s just so much music, you know, and it’s hard to really pinpoint one thing and it depends on your mood I think and your mood change”.

Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm’s self titled album is out on the Megaforce label.

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