Robert Cray is an R&B vocalist ensnared in the body of a grandee blues guitarist.
  • Robert Cray is an R&B vocalist ensnared in the body of a grandee blues guitarist.
  • Image by James L. Bass
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Forty years of Robert Cray: all the while, some among us are waiting for that guitar of his to quicken into flames, rather than smolder like last night’s fire. Not a very heroic guitar hero, his playing lays chained to simple melody and is never given over to crowd-pleasing rips up and down the fretboard. Perhaps the greater appeal of Robert Cray is his voice, which has cured over the years into something approaching honey-glazed. That’s the stronger of his two instruments, in my opinion. Cray’s singing is a righteous proclamation that surely took stimulus (if not grit) from soul crooners such as O.V. Wright or Bobby Bland. Today, Robert Cray is an R&B vocalist ensnared in the body of a grandee blues guitarist.

Video:

"Smoking Gun"

...by Robert Cray

...by Robert Cray

But he’s not one to write off — Cray put the blues back into pop music radio playlists during the 1980s, and for a time, he was a fixture on the rock-concert circuit.

Born in Virginia, Cray hooked up with Curtis Salgado in the late 1970s; the band became a club favorite in Oregon and landed on the radar of the actors who would later become the Blues Brothers, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. They gave Cray a cameo in Animal House (playing bass), but he wouldn’t break out big time until the early ’80s, when his Strong Persuader earned the first of Cray’s five Grammy awards.

Past Event

Robert Cray Band

  • Friday, December 4, 2015, 8 p.m.
  • Belly Up Tavern, 143 S. Cedros Avenue, Solana Beach
  • 21+ / $42 - $74

A performance I’ll not forget is the quiet guitarist paired with Shemeka Copeland, a fire-and-brimstone blues shouter if ever there was one. A heavyweight facing off against a flyweight (in terms of volume) is what I believed was going to happen, but no, Cray stood his ground and came away unscorched. Simple and dignified, he got the job done, and by the end of the gig I realize that Robert Cray’s greater skill was that he had somehow sidestepped his way around the multitude of blues clichés present that night.

Shawn Jones also performs.

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