Guest Writing: Robert Cray Interview by our guest Don Vecchio

Posted on 10/03/2009 by Monica Yasher

After waiting for Robert Cray to return from a tour in Japan, I finally got a call so we could talk.

Robert Cray:Hi Don. This is Robert Cray.

Don Vecchio:Hi Robert. Welcome back to the States. How did the Blues go in Japan?

RC: Thanks. The Blues are always welcomed with open arms in Japan.

DV: Really? I had heard a bit but had no idea. Has it been that way for a while or has it been recent?

RC: Oh, for many years. I first played in Japan in the early 80’s with John Lee Hooker. There was a huge line of people with old John Lee albums to be signed.

DV: That’s incredible. I know you have a bittersweet story about Johnny Guitar Watson while you were performing in Japan.

RC: Yes, I was scheduled along with him at the Japan Blues Carnival (1996). I met him on the elevator and was excited. Later that night, he died on stage. It was such a tragedy.

DV: I’m sorry to hear that. He was a great talent and a good person, I’m sure. Speaking of great talents, I was watching an incredible video on youtube. The longer it went, the more amazed I was. It was listed as “Let the Good Times Roll” BB King and Albert King. I started watching. One by one comes- Junior Wells, you, Dr. John, Etta James, KoKo Taylor, Ry Cooder, Willie Dixon! WOW! Where and when was that filmed? How did they assemble all that talent on one stage?

RC: Oh, yeah. That was the Grammy Awards back in the late 80’s. There was that wild sax player, too.

DV: Big Jay McNeely-he was crawling backwards on the stage while playing.

RC: That’s it exactly! (laughs)

DV: You know you all sounded like you’d been playing together for years. How can you all do that with short practice time?

RC: It’s easy. You practice for an afternoon and you’re so scared you’ll be the one who screws up. You play the best you possibly can (laughs). The hardest part was that Ry Cooder and I tried to adjust to the way Albert King tunes his guitar. It was different and a little difficult.

DV:Robert, You have a pretty unique style on guitar and your music, itself. I really can’t look at any performer and say, “That’s where Robert Cray got his style.” Who were your influences?

RC: Well, that’s tough to pinpoint. My father was in the Army in Germany. That’s where I first got into music. We listened to Armed Forces radio. There was a mix: my dad liked Sara Vaughan and Ray Charles; my mother liked the singers like Sam Cooke and the Dixie Hummingbirds. It was from 1961-1963. I played the piano back then. After that, we moved back to Washington State. I quit the piano and picked up the guitar. I wanted to be a Beatle.

DV: (laughing) I think we all did back then.

RC:True, but then I listened and played Jimi Hendrix. He was from the area. The following year we moved to Newport News, Virginia and then I joined my first band. We played Hendrix and other rock. Then we moved back to Washington and got together with friend, Bobby Murray, who later played guitar for Etta James on tour. We played together through school. We were introduced to the music of Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, Albert King, Albert Collins and more. That’s where the blues influence kicked in. In 1974, I formed the Robert Cray Band.

DV: So, it’s tough to pinpoint one person as your main influence?

RC: Well, if I had to pick one person, I’d say Albert Collins. Love his great style on guitar.

DV: Good choice, I love the Iceman.

DV: Do you prefer playing before a live audience, where it’s possible for errors, faulty equipment and tired from touring…or playing in a studio where you can take your time and perfect your music?

RC: Oh, live for sure. Live is where it’s at! Even if you’re worn from the road, once you get on stage you get and adrenalin rush. You have no idea where it comes from but it’s there; even three hours after you’re done, you still are trying to wind down. (laughs)

DV: That’s great. I think it’s easy to tell the bands who love playing for an audience. I’ve seen it.

RC: Oh, yes. I have too. As far as the studio…”you’ll never attain perfection.” So just go out and play the best you can!

DV: One more interesting item-I understand you had your big screen debut in Animal House.

RC: Oh yes, I was the bass player in Otis Day and the Knights .They were filming that near where I lived.

DV:Thank you, Robert. I can’t wait to see you perform.

RC: Thank you, we’re looking forward to it.

Don Vecchio


Thanks for a great interview, Don! Our guest writer today is Don Vecchio, who is the Vice President of my local blues society, Blues Society of Western Pennysylvania. His past accomplishments as co-editor of his college newspaper are paying off, as he is a major contributor for the BSWPA publication. You can catch all the great things happening in Pittsburgh at their website:

Copyright © 2009 Don Vecchio. All Rights Reserved.

To purchase the rights to reprint this article, please email myasher.americanbluesblog@gmailcom.

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