The Robert Cray Band celebrates forty years’ stage and studio efforts with a double cd and dvd release, all live. Pete reconnects with to Robert to talk about the releases, collaborators, guitars and much more
JLTT: Thanks for the time – where are you right now, Robert?
RC: Good to speak again – I’m in Southern Oregon, we’re doing a show tonight
I’ve been listening to the anniversary release material..let’s talk about your current band..Les Falconer?
That’s correct , on drums
With the O’Jays once of course
Yeah he played with them for a bit…Dover Weinberg on the keys, you saw him at Guildford, Pete…on the bass, Richard Cousins back with us
The opener on CD1, Shiver – choppy horns, very relaxed vocal..you are yourself as always but there’s a tinge of Little Milton about this one
Hmm..actually I never consciously think about Milton when I do that tune..however towards the end I do kind of channel some John Lee Hooker, sometimes
I’ll Always Remember is on this set, with the emphatic figures..there’s some very smoky sax on that
Ah yes! that’s Trevor Lawrence on that song..and that idea came from Steve Jordan, our producer…song written by former keyboard player Jim Pugh..it was just the quartet on the first and original recorded version..ah no, we had horns on that record, thinking back now..anyway, we thought it would be pretty cool and it worked out
Poor Johnny is of course about the over-reaching guy..I’ve always thought this would work so well as an acoustic number
I think there was a woman who did an acoustic version, on TV in France..guitar, acoustic bass and violin
News to me, Robert!
No, you called it, the version worked well. Sometimes you can take a song and reimagine it but keep the spirit, the intention
You’re a man who can spin a story..I like the fact that a lot of your songs are mini-screenplays
That’s exactly the thing that I’ve been trying to work on, since I worked with one of the producers Dennis Walker..songs Like Porchlight and Right Next Door..I admired that facet of his songwriting..it paints pictures, as you say
Is I Guess I Showed Her one of his? Storytelling has done Dylan some favours, it’s a strong suit in your pack of cards, I think. Won’t Be Coming home sounds good, a BB King touch?
Richard Cousins co-wrote that song..it does have that good R&B feel..suggests that kind of singular notes thing to happen, on the guitar
On The Road Down has that deliberate arpeggio chording…a real Southern Soul mood
A co-write with Steve Cropper and that was a lot of fun to do..yes, it has that soul thing to it so we decided to add that to the set. It covered that side of things for the setlist we were putting together
And then, you pay tribute to one of my great heroes Howlin’ Wolf, with Lee Oskar on Sittin’ On Top Of The World…Lee is Mr Feel, isn’t he?
Yeah – he sounds great on that harmonica…I love Howlin’ Wolf, too, what a great musician and singer..the best ….
Wrap It Up is on the CD and the DVD – fantastic Sam & Dave tumble through that!
Yeah – so much fun doing that..Kim (Wilson) was in town..of course, he was in the T-Birds..we’ve been friends forever. Try to meet up wherever and whenever we can manage it
And with your other mate, Jimmie Vaughan…
(Laughs) Yeah, Jimmie! Well I heard them do that song when I was thirteen years old !
My favourite track on the record – for what it’s worth – is Love Gone To Waste..I love the tempo of this one, what’s the story here ?
I think Richard Cousins brought it up, for these shows. He was with us back when we recorded that song, in the late 90s I think. We were lucky to be recording then with Willie Mitchell
The Hi label man?
Yes..when the arrangement was being done he brought in Jim Horn, Jim Spake a a guy playing the trumpet..it was like, here we go, we get to work with people with such vast musical knowledge, what a privilege
Bad Influence – did Etta James ever record this one? It seems so right for her voice
Don’t think so…but that would have been cool…I did meet Etta quite a few times and Richard, when he was out of the band, he played with her. She was fantastic to me..I would sit on the side of the stage when she was performing and take it all in. She had so much control of her delivery, it was just unbelievable
Smokey Robinson has that too, in a slightly different vein
Yes. And Pop Staples, did you ever see him?
Yes, at The Borderline in London. He seemed to connect the listener straight to the heart of what matters in life.. I’m not trying to be poetic, did that come out wrong?
No, no – that makes perfect sense to me. I have stood outside the gospel church hall in New Orleans and by the time the next singer was up, I was inside of it! And like you, I’m not particularly religious
These Things – you have this fine amp tremolo here..I humbly suggest that’s the best vocal on this collection..how did it go down ?
Oh we had a ball – I thought it was really cool that Steve Jordan decided to double up the drums. Gave it a really good drive. It’s a fun song to play because of its simplicity and it has, y’know, a lot of power
That’s what I liked about John Lee Hooker, he could take the simplest riff and imbue it was so much edge..it would be the centre of the universe, for the duration of the song
Ry Cooder said something similar, that John’s music was like a mantra, hypnotic
Right Next Door – I’ve always loved that song, sounds like it was written yesterday
Oh thanks – the great Dennis Walker, the master storyteller. It was in a big theatre and when you do song like that you can command the attention of the crowd. It’s always good, that kind of situation
The Forecast Calls For Pain – another stone classic. I used to play this cut to people who asked me what you were all about, newcomers. It sort of shows the edge you can call up
Yes, it does have that tension, a strong dynamic. Lends itself to that narrative thing, too..with the rain and the forecast, the thunder and the lightning
Time Takes Two seems to wrap up the first audio disc
And that’s my tribute to Bobby Blue Bland..I do wish that he had recorded it, in his lifetime. I only got to meet Bobby within the last two years before he passed. He came to see us and he sat on the stage behind us
I thought (guitarist) Wayne Bennett with Bobby..the way he could frame the vocal and spin out the fills, kinetic!
Sure – like the Wolf and Hubert Sumlin pairing, I guess, Pete…the guitar a foil for the vocal, when it works it’s such a beautiful thing
The DVD has some quite interesting interviews, by many of your friends – Keef, Eric, Bonnie. It must be flattering to hear what they comment
Indeed, very flattering and I’m grateful for them all being a part of it, that they would take the time to contribute, to want to do that
Is it because you’re happy to be in a group and play and not grab the spotlight all the time?
I do hope that they see that that is what we are all about…I always have a band situation , I encourage everyone to come up with material, to compose, to truly be a part of it..I’m still upfront, but it’s a band
One of the records from your past that I am very fond of is the Cray/Copeland/Collins aggregation. Blackjack Game and so on. I thought that was such a rich musical collaboration
(Warmly) That record,y’know – I hadn’t actually met Johnny Copeland til we got together to prepare the sessions! Til we all walked in the studio door, Johnny gets out of the car and he’s hunched over…now Johnny and Albert went back to the 50s of course. Albert walks up to the car and asks what’s going on. Johnny says that he’s fasting! Albert – given his personality – starts ribbing Johnny nonstop, going on about food..but anyhow we took all that energy into the studio.
Copeland was an immensely talented man, in my view very underrated
Yep! Very true, he was a fine artist
Did you adapt your style to play with them or did you just be Robert Cray?
No, I was just doing what I did. They had us all in there and let us do what we did – it was so much fun… and creative
Instruments – what would I get if I bought a Robert Cray Signature model Strat against say an American Standard sunburst?
There’s a Custom Shop edition and Mexican version but they both have pickups from the Custom Shop, wound to my liking ..would really depend on what you like as regards the neck. A lot of people wouldn’t like the neck because it’s somewhat wider..and I have my strings high off the neck, comparatively
First thing I do is raise the bridge as I like paying slide
And then of course there’s no whammy bar ( vibrato arm, any beginners – PS ) on it
I hate them, can never keep the guitar in tune when I use them
Exactly! And that’s the reason I just don’t have them on my guitars
You have a baritone guitar don’t you, Robert? A Fender XI?
Ah yes! Fortunately I found one in Memphis, happened to walk in to a music store..they wanted a few hundred bucks for it, so I got it…turned out to be 1961 or something like that
Mr Lucky !! Ampwise, do you still use a combination of Matchless and Fender VibroKing?
I have a stereo link so it can go speaker to speaker kinda thing
Zach The Builder at work!
(Laughs) Yeah! The great Zach..the Matchless I use for very clean and the VibroKing for the just the opposite, a fatter and dirtier sound.
Dave Olsen was in the band,,,he played with Savoy brown too…do you still see him?
Oh yes – he’s up in Syracuse and he come to see us when we’re in town, he plays still in local dates
Look forward to you coming here in October
Thanks for the chat Pete. See you in October.
Robert Cray’s 40th Anniversary live release ’40 Years in 4 Nights’ is released on Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group on the following formats: 2 LPs + Mp3, 2 CDs + DVD, Blu-Ray + 2 CDs and digitally. It is out now. In addition, The Robert Cray Band will be embarking on an extensive UK Tour in October 2015 with special guest Shawn Jones at the following venues:
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
For more information visit: www.robertcray.com
(Thanks Lee and Steve)