Grammy award winner and guitar icon Robert Cray is back with a new album recorded at the legendary Royal Studios – home of the Memphis sound. He's also back on tour, bringing those sweet blues and soul infused sounds that have lasted over forty years years back to venues across the country. Photogroupie caught up with Robert for a quick chat about the new album and tour.
PG: WHAT CAN WE LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING AND HEARING ON THIS NEW TOUR?
RC: Well we're going to be playing some tracks from the new album but also some older things. We're excited because we have a new member in the band – a new drummer Terence Clark. It will make a nice change for us, so we're really excited about that.
PG: YOU'VE GOT A NEW ALBUM OUT AT THE END OF APRIL WITH HI RHYTHM CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT IT?
RC: I got an email from Steve Jordan who produced the album and Steve came up with an idea. He said 'I got it! Robert Cray and High Rhythm will record at Royal Studios', and I said 'that sounds great'. We went into the studio and we had some songs, Steve would turn out some suggestions and we came up with some material. Steve sent me a song called Aspen written by Tony Joe White. It's a beautiful tune and it's something that's different to anything I've ever done. We added strings to it in the studio and it sounds great. A whole different new feel and of course we have some funky things on the record too, a song by O.V. Wright. We have a couple of tunes by Mack Rice, the writer of Mustang Sally. It's got a little bit of everything on there.
PG: DOES THE ALBUM DIFFER FROM YOUR OTHER WORK – IN TERMS OF STYLE AND SOUND?
RC: The main difference is because we recorded with Hi Rhythm - the house band of Royal Studios in their element. It's the same place that Al Green recorded material and so its got a really nice sound to the record overall. Royal Studios looks the same as it has forever, Charles Hodges who plays the organ has had that same organ sitting in the same spot for over 40 years so the sound is the same.
PG: YOU'VE BEEN PLAYING FOR A LONG TIME NOW, HOW DO YOU KEEP IT FRESH ON TOURS?
RC: Well doing this project helps keeps thing fresh, but as a band, we don't have strict arrangements, we keep things loose and keep it fun, that's the way you do it. You don't play the same songs in a particular order, you change it up you change the set list at times.
PG: I GUESS IT KEEPS PEOPLE GUESSING TOO.
RC: That's the way I like it – on the edge.
PG: I'VE HEARD YOU SAY YOU DISLIKE THE TAG 'BLUES MUSICIAN' BECAUSE IT'S TOO CONFINING FOR YOUR MUSICAL STYLE.
RC: It just doesn't cover it. I don't mind it, it just doesn't cover all the bases. With this particular record, it's a soulful thing, we've always had touches of soul and rock and gospel and everything else with our music. The tag is one thing, it's just not complete.
PG: DO YOU STILL GET NERVOUS PLAYING LIVE?
RC: I don't know how it's gonna be. I don't how my voice is going to be and that's my main concern. I don't want to go out there and start squeaking at the first number. Once that's passed you can feel grounded and then you can get to work.
PG: IN THE 80S YOU WERE OFTEN CREDITED WITH HAVING THE LOOK AND THE SOUND THAT TOOK BLUES SOUND MAINSTREAM, TAKING IT TO A DIFFERENT AUDIENCE AGAIN – WHY DO YOU THINK THAT WAS?
RC: I think that was all about the time that we got major exposure. It was a time when rootsier music was being played on radio and MTV. Groups like Los Lobos, Stevie Ray Vaughn, The Fabulous Thunderbirds were doing more roots music and we were there too, so that's how all of that got going.
PG: WHAT DREW YOU TO THE GUITAR INITIALLY?
RC: The Beatles. I played the piano for a little bit like most kids do and then The Beatles came out. I was living on a military base at that time because my Dad was in the army. Everybody was excited about The Beatles and we saw George and John on the television playing the guitar so everyone wanted to be a Beatle, and I wanted to be a Beatle too. So I got a guitar and went from garage band to garage band and I never stopped really.
PG: DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE SONG TO PERFORM LIVE?
RC: No, I like them all.
PG: I GUESS A LOT OF PEOPLE WOULD SAY THEY LIKE TO HEAR SMOKING GUN OR RIGHT NEXT DOOR, SO YOU MIGHT NOT GET OUT WITHOUT A RIOT IF YOU DIDN'T PLAY THOSE.
RC: (Laughs) Most people like to hear those, so we are pretty consistent with playing them.
PG: HOW DO YOU APPROACH YOUR WRITING?
RC: I just take advantage of ideas when they come along, I'm that kind of writer. There are different approaches, but sometimes it's different if you are working with another writer or a band mate at a sound check and you come up with an idea. What's handy now is your cell phone and you just record.
PG: WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO WHEN YOU'RE NOT MAKING MUSIC?
RC: I Cook. I cook just about everything, from grilling to pretty much anything. I like to experiment.
PG: COOKING IS A JUST ANOTHER EXTENSION OF THAT CREATIVITY ISN'T IT?
RC: Yeah. I do gardening and those kind of things too.
PG: IT MUST BE NICE TO HAVE A RELAXING PAST TIME AFTER ALL THE FRENETIC TOURING.
RC: Yeah it's nice to be a homebody.
Robert Cray tour dates
04/27/2017 - Festival Marquee – Belfast, UK 04/29/2017 - Cheltenham Jazz Festival – Cheltenham, UK 04/30/2017 - Liverpool Philharmonic Hall – Liverpool, UK 05/01/2017 - Queens Hall Edinburgh – Edinburgh, UK 05/03/2017 - Cadogan Hall – London, UK 05/04/2017 - Salisbury City Hall – Salisbury, UK
Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm is out on 28th April