Music: Heart and soul

Master guitarist Robert Cray and his blues band are in Israel to do what they love.

By
April 12, 2015 18:27
3 minute read.
Robert Cray

Robert Cray. (photo credit: J.KATZ)

 
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For someone who relies on the blues to make a living, Robert Cray appears to be a pretty happy guy. In a series of interviews surrounding his current tour in support of his 17th studio album In My Soul, the 61-year-old master guitarist kept returning to the themes of gratitude and joy at still being able to do what he loves.

“I enjoy playing, and I can understand why B.B. [King] has been doing what he’s been doing and The Rolling Stones can never quit. I can understand that. What else can you do with yourself when this is all you know?” he told the New Hampshire Union Leader last month.

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And he’s not just biding his time.

A Village Voice review of Cray’s New York City show at the apt venue of BB King’s Blues Club in February crowned him the “rightful King of the Blues” and complimented his “pitch perfect performance” and virtuosity, which traversed from blues-rock to late 1960-’70s soul to funk and even soft rock balladry.

Cray and his three-piece band – which constitutes longtime collaborators Richard Cousins on bass, Dover Weinberg on keyboards and newcomer Les Falconer on drums – are on their way to Israel, with two shows scheduled: Saturday night at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center and Sunday night at the Zappa Shuni Amphitheater in Binyamina.

Describing Cousins to the Ithaca Journal, Cray said, “We’re like brothers, and we read each other really well on the stage, which is a wonderful thing. Dover Weinberg was in the band in the late 1970s, so it’s like old family. And Les is the new addition on drums,” he added.

“We all have different aspects of our views of music, but we all share a commonality as well. So it’s fun to play with them.”



With five Grammy Awards and 15 nominations since his 1986 breakout album Strong Persuader, it’s been more than fun for Cray – it’s been history in the making.

Forty years after forming the Robert Cray Band (with Cousins on bass) in Eugene, Oregon, Cray is considered one of the greatest living guitar players. Along the way, there were some interesting side trips, including taking on the role of Albert Collins’s house band for 18 months, and appearing in the iconic 1978 film Animal House as part of Otis Day and the Knights while performing “Shout.”

However, following the left-field success of Strong Persuader that thrust him to stardom, Cray has never played sideman again.

“I guess Strong Persuader just captured a good spirit and energy,” Cray said on his website.

“People are still calling out for some of those songs at shows. It gave us a good springboard. I guess it was the songs, but it was also the era because radio and MTV gave us a foothold, and we had videos out, too.”

In a 2011 issue on great guitarists, Rolling Stone credited Cray with reinventing the blues with his “distinct razor sharp guitar playing” that “introduced a new generation of mainstream rock fans to the language and form of the blues.”

Over the years, he’s shared the stage with everyone from Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan to Bonnie Raitt and John Lee Hooker.

And in 2011, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame at the tender age of 57.

The inspiration is still flowing, with In My Soul winning Cray some of the best reviews of his career and his finely tuned band performing live at peak capacity. The album features eight originals and some aptly chosen covers, including “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” by Otis Redding, “Your Good Thing (Is About to End),” which was a hit for Lou Rawls, and Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Deep in My Soul,” which provided the album its title.

Cray told The Wall Street Journal that even though there’s plenty of his distinctive guitar, there’s more of an emphasis on songs.

“I think that also has something to do with us getting older and understanding the importance of the story in the song. You can be out there onstage and think the emphasis is on the musicianship and trying to be the hot guitar player, and it’s not about that anymore,” he said.

But don’t be fooled by Cray’s sense of modesty. Anyone who attends one of his shows will attest that the guitar player may protest too much. You don’t only get accomplished songs, you get bona fide blues and soul guitar virtuosity.

Now that’s what they call a bargain.

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