Robert Cray likes his blues unpolished

CorrespondentApril 18, 2013 

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The Robert Cray Band will perform with B.B. King at Durham Performing Arts Center on Sunday.

LARRY BUSACCA — Getty Images

  • More information

    Who: B.B. King, with the Robert Cray Band

    When: 7 p.m. Sunday

    Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St, Durham

    Cost: $50-$120

    Details: 919-680-2787; www.dpacnc.com

When it comes to recording music, Robert Cray doesn’t have time for perfection. He wants to get his music out there, however rough or flawed it may be, as soon as possible.

Case in point: “Nothin But Love,” his latest album with the Robert Cray Band, was recorded last spring in just 10 days. (Cray says he and the band took the weekend off.)

“We don’t spend a lot of time, you know, going over something to try to perfect it,” says Cray, on the phone from his Los Angeles home base. “What we try to do is try to capture the best, live feel and, normally, try to do that in less than three takes. And that’s how we normally go about it.”

Except for a cover of Bobby Parker Jr.’s “Blues Get Off My Shoulder,” Cray and his band members – keyboardist Jim Pugh, bassist Richard Cousins and drummer Tony Braunagel – collectively composed the material on the album, making sure the music they created would appeal to them as well as to listeners.

“Well, we’ve accomplished quite a bit with this record,” he says.

“I mean, every time that you go into the studio, for a band like ours, there isn’t any real theme going through the record. There are a lot of different musical ideas. There’s a lot of different subject matter on the record and that kind of thing. But, actually, what you want to have happen is some kind of co-existence from one song to the next, so it’s just a pleasure to listen to. And, then, after that, what you want with the record is for people to be able to hear it … And I think we’ve done that with this record more than we have in the past. So I’m pretty happy about what’s going on.”

At 59, Cray continues to do what he does best: giving audiences blues with his own definitive stamp on it. While the Columbus, Ga., native has been performing blues with his own band since the ’70s (he also played the bassist of the toga-party band in “National Lampoon’s Animal House”), he didn’t rise to prominence until the mid-’80s, when he released his fifth album in 1986, the Grammy-winning, double platinum-selling “Strong Persuader,” which included the crossover single, “Smoking Gun.” Cray became one of the few blues artists to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Now that Cray is a full-fledged veteran of the blues game, he’s gained more wisdom about who he is as an artist and what he wants to accomplish in the long run.

“Well, I think that, over time, you find your footing, you know,” he says. “You find what you really want to do, as far as music is concerned. And also, age has a lot to do with it, and the kind of music that (blues artists) do. I think that living is inspirational, especially as far as the songs that you write. You can grab ideas from that, and the playing becomes a lot more balanced.”

Cray also finds joy and inspiration touring with fellow guitar greats such as B.B. King. Both Cray and King will be entertaining local blues fans Sunday at the Durham Performing Arts Center.

“We’ve done a lot of shows with B.B. over the years, and it’s great,” he says. “It’s just great to be on the bill with B.B. King. And every time that we get the opportunity, we treasure it more because he’s getting up there in age. He’s still out there kicking butt, you know.”

He’ll also be touring this summer with, of all people, Peter Frampton, joining a leg of his “Frampton’s Guitar Circus” tour. (King will also do a leg of that tour.) “We’ll be doing our set, Peter will be doing his and it goes on throughout the summer,” he says.

In the end, Cray feels that, like most blues artists (including the artist he’s currently touring with), it’s much more important to build a lasting legacy than just entertaining audiences for one night. “I think that we understand that, in the kind of music that we do, that the subject matter is more important than just being onstage and trying to be a flash player, you know what I mean?” he says. “I think that those are the things that now, you know, being around as long as we have, are important.

“And, also, just the fact of being around,” he says, laughing, “that’s a great thing.”

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