With a new album ‘In My Soul’ out and a UK tour in the Autumn, it’s a good time for Pete Sargeant to talk to Mr Cray in Los Angeles
JLTT: Thanks for coming through
RC: It’s alright, it’s good to be able to talk to you
Robert. Now strangely, I have met, spoken to and played with most of the Provogue artists but not you, which is why I seized on this opportunity when it came through from the magazine, label and PR here. You’re a real missing part of my blues jigsaw! Now the new album, I listened closely to it and it’s got a terrific crisp vocal on opener ‘You Move Me’ and it sounds like almost gated-reverb guitar …what made you decide on that for the arrangement?
It’s just the way the song came about. It wasn’t something I gave a whole lot of thought to, the song has that immediacy thing about it, it’s upbeat, straight-ahead square beat
It’s a very good opener and it grabs your attention. See overall, I had your last album and I enjoyed it but this one, I don’t know but I like it a whole lot more. Maybe it’s the material, maybe it’s the production .. There’s something about it that has quite a nice edge when needed. What was in your head when you recorded this one? What frame of mind were you in?
Well, what I enjoyed about making this record was the fact that we were working with Steve Jordan.
He thought that for instance on the second cut ‘ Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ – this being an Otis Redding tune, I could maybe do justice to the vocal along with Les, get a Sam & Dave tinge to it… he is so enthusiastic, wants to get it right, get the feel captured for each number. Y’see Pete – Steve is in the studio with us when we record and he comes in and we work the songs out. We’d get the tempo and on a lot of the tracks, Steve was always searching for that special band groove. So I think that has a lot to do with it. The other thing is, his drumkit is an older style kit so whatever situation he’s in he’s playing a period kit. He’s all about the sound….
‘Fine Yesterday’ – it’s very airy, a blues ballad thing
Came together over a while, over a summer and fall..I just pieced it together. There is a touch maybe of ‘Sitting In the Park’.
Billy Stewart! On Chess/Cadet…..’ Your Good Thing Is About To End’? Nice chords in there
Yeah! Now Steve is one of the biggest Lou Rawls fans EVER! Happens I always loved that tune and what we did was touch on some different versions of the song, so what you get is Mabel John and O V Wright elements blended in there and we just cut it..that’s what you hear
‘Guess I’ll Never Know’ – made me think of Little Milton, did you ever meet him?
Just the once….great artist, for sure
Now obviously there’s a mistake on the disc I have because by mistake they’ve included a track 6 called ‘Hold On’ which is very clearly a demo for Billy Paul.
(Laughs, rumbling me ) Haha!! Take me back to the seventies! That kind of groove. Richard Cousins and his writing friend Hendrix Ackle came up with that
Forgive the gag…it really IS that Philly sound!
(Laughs ) No, it’s alright….it does kind of get it down, don’t you think?
Dead right. But it’s just something I think your voice would sound so good with a Tedeschi type lady because you’re a natural accompanist as well as a frontman. See I don’t think you are a great musician unless you can back other people, make them sound good . That’s my own personal opinion from many years of playing is what I’ve come to think. Backing other people is the greatest fun ever. I like ‘Hip Tight Onions’, the Booker T homage track. It sounds like the theme to some dumb show like ‘Leave It to Gopher’ or something.
(Laughs) well that Cousins and Ackle again…we don’t do instrumentals but it seemed a fun idea to put this into the order in with songs in whole other moods
‘You’re Everything’ – this is may favourite cut here – you sound most comfortably yourself on this one and the piano /organ is terrific. Sounds like a set closer you can dig into then name your band members…
(Thinks) I kinda know what you mean, there. It does build up, I wanted to do a Bobby Bland tune but initially couldn’t settle on one, y’know ? I didn’t want to change it, just do it as a pretty direct tribute to Bobby who was one of my heroes . he had come to see us not long before he passed, had his wife and son with him..was a real honour
How lucky was Bobby to have a guitar foil in Wayne Bennett? A master player, that man.
(Emphatically) Absolutely, killer musician and collaborator..one of the best ever
My edition of this new album has cut called ‘Pillow Talk’ that different to the other songs – is that a Coral electric sitar on there? Cos it doesn’t sound quite like one
Ah no, they’re pretty rare..it’s a Telecaster and we put a block of wood by the bridge, to get that sound
OK – I get a quasi-sitar harmonic by picking a note neat the neck and VERY lightly damping with my palm so the string starts to whine as you bend it
As you’ve sensed we enjoyed making the album and it’s cool to talk about what you’re hearing
Now I’ve got a question from another player if I may. My mate Pete Gunn is in a band called The Inmates and they did a fantastic version of ‘Bad Influence’ – do you have it?
I haven’t. Ah ! No, wait! Yeah I have actually I was given that CD, black cover?
Good man. . Is it still one you manage to include in the shows?
Yeah we do.
Oh good. My favourite track of yours but I bet you’ve forgotten it, ‘Night Patrol’. Unfortunately as relevant now as it was back when released
Oh well,, that is one we haven’t done f or a while… yes, with more wars continuing and more people left homeless, these things trouble me, what people can do to other people
Please play that live again! That song is a diamond piece of work, to me—-on songs, I wonder why you haven’t recorded more material by Curtis Mayfield?
(Big sigh) Good question! I LOVE Curtis Mayfield
And with your voice? Eric Clapton – I don’t particularly go for the material he’s done in recent years, BUT about twenty years ago there was a tribute to Curtis album and he played a song called ‘You Must Believe Me‘. That song is a brilliant version, Eric can be SO good, when he puts his mind to it
(Singing) ‘ No matter what the people might say..’ Oh yes, that is a great song. He had so much talent, that man..you’ve got me thinking now..
I read a thing a couple of years ago where you said you had some good advice from Eric Clapton in your early days of playing in regards to the courtesy of guesting. You said something along the lines of ‘He said when I want you to play out I’ll give you the nod and you can do your thing. But please don’t try and cut me.’
(Laughs) It wasn’t quite exactly like that…
Stephen Stills told me Clapton taught him the courtesy of guesting. He said ‘Go in and be yourself but don’t try and outshine the host’
I didn’t do it onstage, actually it’s a true story but it was just a conversation. We were just joking and having fun, maybe I had one drink too many and he said that as a jokey warning . Pete – I’ve seen people try and do that, shut down the host
Oh, so have I. Someone who should know better tried that macho guitar solo it with Susan Tedeschi in London and when she came back in, she shredded him . In your lyrics especially early on you’re often very vulnerable or a potential victim. Are you / were you that vulnerable or are you assuming a character for such a song?
(Pause) Well it all depends on the time period. The songs I write nowadays don’t have so much of that first-hand anguish or whatever , I have been happily married for a long time now, In fact – our 24th wedding anniversary is coming up next week….You’re right to ask about that because there’s some events in the past that made me think certain ways, react to situations in particular ways.You know what I’m saying?
Of course…I’m not prying..because the recorded performance captured that the mood or attitude can be picked up when you hear it now; ‘Strong Persuader’? What you doing after this?
Got some more interviews to do then we prepare for the tour – hope to see you on one the UK dates!
Robert Cray’s album ‘In My Soul’ is out now on Mascot Label Group/Provogue
Later in 2015 Robert Cray will also be releasing ‘4 Nights & 40 Years Live’, a live CD and DVD filmed over four nights at four separate venues on the US West Coast to celebrate forty years of The Robert Cray Band on Mascot Label Group/Provogue.
In addition, Robert Cray will be returning to the UK in 2015 on a 16-date UK Tour with special guest Shawn Jones at the following venues:
Saturday 3rd October- The Lowry, Salford, United Kingdom (Box Office: 0843 208 6000) www.thelowry.com
Monday 5th October- Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, United Kingdom (Box Office: 0115 989 5555) www.trch.co.uk
Tuesday 6th October- St David’s Hall, Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom (Box Office: 02920 878 444) www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk
Wednesday 7th October- Hall for Cornwall, Truro, Cornwall, United Kingdom (Box Office: 01872 262466) www.hallforcornwall.co.uk
Friday 9th October- The Anvil, Basingstoke, United Kingdom (Box Office: 01256 844 244) www.anvilarts.org.uk
Saturday 10th October- Theatre Royal, Norwich, United Kingdom (Box Office: 01603 630 000) https://secure.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk/Online
Monday 12th October- Barbican Centre, London, United Kingdom (Box Office: 020 7638 8891) www.barbican.org.uk
Tuesday 13th October- The Sage (Hall One), Gateshead, United Kingdom (Box Office: 0191 443 4661) www.sagegateshead.com
Wednesday 14th October- Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom (Box Office: 0141 353 8000) www.glasgowconcerthalls.com
Friday 16th October- Birmingham Town Hall, Birmingham, United Kingdom (Box Office: 0121 345 0600) www.thsh.co.uk
Saturday 17th October- City Hall, Salisbury, United Kingdom (Box Office: 01722 434434) www.cityhallsalisbury.co.uk
Sunday 18th October- Orchard Theatre, Dartford, United Kingdom (Box Office: 01322 220000) www.orchardtheatre.co.uk
Monday 19th October- Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, United Kingdom (Box Office: 01892 530 613) www.assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk
Wednesday 21st October- Cheltenham Town Hall, Cheltenham, United Kingdom (Box Office: 0844 576 2210) www.cheltenhamtownhall.org.uk
Thursday 22nd October- Cambridge Corn Exchange, Cambridge, United Kingdom (Box Office: 01223 357 851) www.cornex.co.uk
Friday 23rd October- The Alban Arena, St Albans, United Kingdom (Box Office: 01727 844488) www.alban-arena.co.uk
Further info: www.robertcray.com