Under Rated Classics
By Anthony Sid Stobart
Tuesday 18 Jan 2011 22:09:00
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The 1980s saw a great renaissance for the blues. New acts such as The Fabulous Thunderbirds; the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robben Ford and Robert Cray would go on to create a new vibrant rhythm and blues music scene. The blues scene throughout the UK also boomed and the North East was particularly buoyant. There were good acts such as The Blues Burglars (featuring harp genius Paul Lamb), No Time For Jive, Little Mo, Big Ray and the Hipthrusters; although the daddies of them all were The Skywalkers.  Funnily enough I first heard Robert Cray from a mix tape from The Skywalkers lead guitarist: the late great Robert Langdown. He put a number of Cray tracks as well as the Fabulous Thunderbirds and BB King onto the tape. For this I will be eternally grateful, as he got me into the blues....

 

Bad Influence (1983) was Cray’s long awaited follow up album to Who’s Been Talkin’ (1978).  In my view Bad Influence changed the face of the blues; it’s a ground breaking album. It merges Memphis style soul alongside classic blues tones.  The album kicks off with the funky tune ‘Phone Booth’. This was even covered by Albert King and has become a classic blues tune. The title track was hugely influential and Eric Clapton covered it on his comeback album August (1986) and had great success with it. Cray’s version is certainly the definitive version, although Clapton helped raise Cray’s profile. So much so, that within two year he would be a Grammy Winner. There’s some beautiful slinky playing on ‘The Grinder’ and ‘Where Do I Go from Here?’  The cover of Eddie Floyd’s ‘Got To Make A Comeback’ and the groove fused feel of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s  ‘Don’t Touch Me Baby’ are superb and feature some sublime guitar playing.  ‘No Big Deal’ has humorous lyrics and is driven by a Bo Diddley-style beat. This album is produced amazingly well and shows a modern audience brought up on decent musicians such as Joe Bonamassa that being able to play a million notes doesn’t beat ‘the feel’. Robert Cray is a guitarist who certainly has a beautiful feel and like predecessors before him such as Peter Green, Albert King, Otis Rush and Albert Collins. Albert Collins would be Cray’s role model and he attempted to emulate his guitar sound.  It’s almost by accident that he created his unique guitar sound through years of playing Albert Collins songs like the records and not realising he used a capo. This helped Cray create a unique style and sound.  Just as important Cray’s a singer who blends the style of Sam Cooke and Sam Moore. He has a warm velvet- like soul voice. Some people see this as the reason for selling huge amounts of records and other blues purists (snobs) see it as a reason to dislike him. The use of the Memphis Horns adds to the Stax sound. There’s definitely a Booker T and the MGs sound to the rhythm section on Cray’s early albums.

 

I was lucky to see The Robert Cray band at Newcastle University in the mid 1980s and they blew my socks off. They were cool, funky and soulful. What more could you ask for from a live band? It’s a shame he lost his way and other guitarists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Gary Moore became key carriers of the blues flame. However, Cray has recently come back to form and I hope this continues with his recommended album Twenty. To all the young buck guitarists –you may be a fantastic musician, but how many people could know it was you after a couple of bars. That’s what makes you unique.

 

Nobody mixes Memphis soul and blues better than Robert Cray. If you want to try a new form of blues I recommend Bad Influence; his aforementioned debut and his international hit album Strong Persuader (1986), all of which are excellent. Indeed all are better than his greatest hits.

 

By Anthony (Sid) Stobart



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