Robert Cray is an American blues musician, guitarist, and singer.
According to the book Guinness Rockopedia, "the 1980s 'blues
revival' revolved around Cray. His blend of soul vocals and blues
guitar work won approval from the 'old guard' - Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Diana
Ross, Cray is also a multiple Grammy Award winner.
Cray has generally played Fender guitars (Telecasters and
Stratocasters) and there are two signature Robert Cray Stratocasters
models available from Fender. The Robert Cray Custom Shop
Stratocaster is made in the U.S. in the Fender custom shop and is
identical to the guitars that Cray currently plays, while the Robert
Cray Standard Stratocaster is a less-expensive model made in
Fender's Ensenada, Mexico plant.
Cray started playing
guitar in his early teens. At Denbigh High School in Newport News,
Virginia, his love of blues and soul music flourished as he started
collecting records. Originally, he wanted to become an architect,
but around the same time he began to study architectural design, he
formed a local band "Steakface", described as "the best band from
Lakewood you never heard of".
By the age of twenty, Cray had seen his heroes
Albert Collins, Freddie King and
Muddy Waters in concert and decided
to form his own band; they began playing college towns on the West
Coast. Cray and his long-time bassist Richard Cousins had met in
1974. They soon joined up with Collins as his backing unit, before
branching out on their own. In the 1978 film, National Lampoon's
Animal House, Cray was the uncredited bassist in the house party
band, Otis Day and the Knights. With keyboardist Peter Boe and
drummer Tom Murphy, they launched the Robert Cray Band in 1980 with
Who's Been Talkin'. It was recorded during constant touring in the
U.S. in 1978. The record was initially shelved for two years, being
eventually issued by the short-lived Tomato label (whose license was
picked up by Atlantic (U.S.) and Charly in the UK.
After several years of regional success, Cray was signed to Mercury
in 1982. It was the connection with the producing and songwriting
team of Bruce Bromberg and Dennis Walker at Hightone that helped to
create the mold-breaking music of Bad Influence (1983) and False
Accusations (1985). In 1984, The Robert Cray Band completed their
first European tour to critical acclaim. Cray's participation with
Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland on Showdown! (1985, Alligator)
and his own 1986 album release, Strong Persuader, again produced by
Walker, both received Grammy Awards, while the crossover single
"Smoking Gun" gave him wider appeal and name recognition. During
1986 Cray played 170 concerts, including his seventh European tour
since 1984, building on his increasing reputation in the UK.
Cray then appeared in the Chuck Berry biopic, Hail! Hail! Rock 'n'
Roll, in 1986. One month later Cray won six W.C. Handy Awards at
America's seventh National Blues ceremony. April 1987 saw Strong
Persuader reach #13 in the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, becoming the
first blues album to reach the U.S. Top 20 since 1972. The album
went on to sell over one million copies. By now, Cray was an opening
act for such major stars as Eric Clapton
(who remains a friend to this day), and sold out larger venues as a
solo artist. Cray appeared alongside John Lee Hooker on his album
Boom Boom, playing the guitar solo in the song "Same Old Blues
Again". He was also featured on the 1989 Hooker album, The Healer;
he played a guitar solo on the song "Baby Lee".
Sales ticked over for Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1988), Midnight
Stroll (1990), I Was Warned (1992) and Shame + A Sin (1993),
dwindling only with 1995's Some Rainy Morning. Don't Be Afraid of
the Dark was recorded in Los Angeles, California, and featured David
Sanborn on guest saxophone. The title song from the album won Cray
his third Grammy, and he guested on Clapton's Journeyman, whilst
also being on the bill at Clapton's eighteen show marathon at the
Royal Albert Hall in London. In 1991 Cray was selected to present
Howlin' Wolf's induction trophy to Wolf's widow, Lilly Burnett, at
the sixth annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Awards. Later that year
Cray took part in the Newport Jazz Festival with B. B. King and John
Cray was invited to play at the 'Guitar Legends' concerts in
Seville, Spain at the 1992 Expo, where he played a signature track,
"Phone Booth". Albert Collins was
also on the bill on the evening of these 'Legends' gigs. Cray later
joined Boz Scaggs, Johnny Rivers and The Doobie Brothers with
Michael McDonald to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Memphis
Horns in Memphis, Tennessee.
Cray signalled a new direction in 1997, with his soul album, Sweet
Potato Pie. After switching to Rykodisc in the late 1990s Cray
released Take Your Shoes Off in 1999, and Shoulda Been Home in 2001.
Take Your Shoes Off was another Grammy winner as Best Contemporary
Blues Album. A Grammy was also awarded in 1997 to Cray for the Best
Rock Instrumental Performance for "SRV Shuffle".