The Hippo


Jun 3, 2020








Robert Cray

Blues Summit featuring Robert Cray Band

Where: Thursday, March 20, at 8 p.m.
When: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $27 & $40 at (VIP tickets with reception are $75 — call 518-4156)
Also appearing — Jon Butcher & MB Padfield

Guitar man
Q&A with Robert Cray

By Michael Witthaus

 Robert Cray, a member of the Blues Hall of Fame with crossover success, has shared stages with everyone from Eric Clapton to John Lee Hooker. On Thursday, March 20, Cray headlines NH Child and Family Services’ Concert for the Cause at Concord’s Capitol Center for the Arts. Cray spoke with the Hippo from his home in Southern California.

What’s the reason for topical songs like “What Would You Say,” from your new album (In My Soul, out April 1)?
When you get older, you are concerned about what goes on around you more than when we were in our 20s and 30s. We read the paper; we watch the news and pay attention to what’s going on politically, and all those things make a lot more sense to us now. We pay attention to it and we try to be more involved. … The topic of conversation becomes the topic of songs that come out. 
You made the record with producer Steve Jordan and some new band members. What was that like?
Steve Jordan has done a couple other records for us [and] he is like the fifth member of the band … we were all in one room together and Steve’s dancing, directing, playing the conga, getting everybody into the groove. We had a lot of fun making the record. 
You made it pretty quickly after the last one. What compelled you to get right back into the studio? 
Well, we have a very anxious record company … They want to put out records, which is kind of the opposite of what’s going on today for the industry as a whole. 
You were in the movie Animal House, playing with Otis Day and the Knights. What was that like?
It was fantastic. … We ended up meeting John Belushi. A friend of mine, Curtis Salgado, had a band called The Nighthawks. Belushi would come in and play with us a few times. … It turned out that he got the idea for the Blues Brothers from that whole experience of being in Eugene, Ore. The first appearance on SNL, Paul Schafer did this Don Kirshner impersonation – ‘With with the help of Curtis Salgado and the Cray Band, we give you The Blues Brothers!’ That’s pretty funny. 
The Beatles inspired you, and George Harrison was your favorite. Why George?
Well, he was the guitar player; he was the guy playing the cool stuff. I dug the Beatles. I dug the melodies; I was like everybody else, and when they came out, everybody got a guitar because of the Beatles [and] we were learning anything we could. I dug him because he played the cool rhythms and he played greatly. 
You began with The Beatles and found your way to the blues. How did that journey happen?
It was just all about turning around and going back through my parents’ records that I listened to before The Beatles came out. There was Bobby Bland and Sam Cooke and there was Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, a record I stole from them once. … After school we would go to a friend’s house and put on B.B. King, thinking that was really cool. It was ours.
Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker encouraged you early on. Do you similarly mentor young players today?
It’s a whole different thing now. Those guys — Muddy and John Lee — they were more concerned about the music going away … they are more like the founders of music. I don’t consider myself one of those. I mean, I will lend a helping hand and/or give advice to somebody who asks for it, but it was a whole different thing when you hung out with Muddy. And on top of that, there wasn’t any advice that they gave. It was just the opportunity to be with them. 
What do you tell younger players if they ask?
I think the most important thing is to take the opportunity to play with other musicians and be a part of an organization. I try to steer the guitar players away from what to play and just get into a groove, like Booker T & the MGs. Those four guys together as a unit were rock solid. Play together, play your part and then, after that, you can start playing solo or something like that. I think one of the hardest things to listen to with music is some guy trying to be the guitar god with a bunch of sympathetic nobodies playing behind you. Play the songs; play the music.  
As seen in the March 20, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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