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Robert Cray in concert, 2007
|Robert William Cray|
|Night Train Clemons|
August 1, 1953 |
Columbus, Georgia, USA
|Genres||Blues, Blues Rock|
|Labels||Mercury, Vanguard, Nozzle|
|Eric Clapton, B. B. King, Jimmie Vaughan, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Stevie Ray Vaughan|
|Oral History, Robert Cray talks about growing up in Washington, and going to the local music store and dreaming about becoming a musician." Interview date August 8, 2014, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Oral History Library|
One music journalist noted "If you define 'blues' by the rigid categories of structure rather than the flexible language of feeling allusion, Robert Cray... Larry Garner, Joe Louis Walker and James Armstrong are a new and uncategorizable breed, their music blues-like rather than blues, each of them blending ideas and devices from a variety of sources - soul, rock, jazz, gospel - with a sophistication beyond the reach of their forerunners".
Robert William Cray was born on August 1, 1953, in Columbus, Georgia, while his father was stationed at Fort Benning. Cray's musical beginnings go back to when he was a student at Denbigh High School in Newport News, Virginia. While there, he played in his first band, The One-Way Street. His family eventually settled in the Tacoma, Washington, area. There, he attended Lakes High School in Lakewood, Washington.
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. In the late 1970s he lived in Eugene, Oregon, where he formed the Robert Cray Band and collaborated with Curtis Salgado in the Cray-Hawks. In the 1978 film National Lampoon's Animal House, Cray was the uncredited bassist in the house party band Otis Day and the Knights.
After several years of regional success, Cray was signed to Mercury Records in 1982. Two albums on HighTone Records in the mid-1980s, Bad Influence and False Accusations, were moderately successful in the United States and in Europe, where he was building a reputation as a live artist. His fourth album release, Strong Persuader, produced by Dennis Walker, received a Grammy Award, while the crossover single "Smokin' Gun" gave him wider appeal and name recognition. Under the pseudonym "Night Train Clemons", he recorded with Ted Hawkins in 1986. He was invited by Keith Richards to join the backing band for Chuck Berry in the 1987 film, Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll, directed by Taylor Hackford.
By now, Cray was an opening act for such major stars as Eric Clapton and sold out larger venues as a solo artist. 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 United States 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 had the opportunity to play alongside John Lee Hooker on his album Boom Boom, playing the guitar solo in the song "Same Old Blues Again". He is also featured on the Hooker album, The Healer; he plays a guitar solo on the song "Baby Lee". The entire Robert Cray Band backs Hooker on the title track of Hooker's 1992 album Mr. Lucky, where Cray plays lead guitar, sings, and banters with Hooker throughout the song.
Cray played with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan, and Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin, performing "Sweet Home Chicago". This was Stevie Ray Vaughan's final performance before he died in a helicopter accident later that night.
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 this blues night of the "Legends" gigs.
Cray continues to record and tour. He appeared at the Crossroads Guitar Festival, and supported Eric Clapton on his 2006-2007 world tour. In Fargo, North Dakota, he joined Clapton on backup guitar for the Cream song "Crossroads". In 2011, Cray was inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame and received the Americana Music Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance in 2017.