Music News & Reviews

Bluesman Robert Cray plays Carolina Theatre in Durham

Robert Cray plays at Carolina Theatre in Durham on Monday Feb. 15th.
Robert Cray plays at Carolina Theatre in Durham on Monday Feb. 15th. Getty Images

It’s no surprise that Robert Cray still loves putting together concert albums. Cray’s 2006 gem, “Live From Across the Pond” and 2010’s look back, “Authorized Bootleg: Austin, Texas, 5/25/87,” are smoldering examples of what the guitar master and his band can do under the lights.

“I’ve always loved playing live, and it’s just a nice way to show off the band,” Cray says while calling from Montreal. “There’s a certain challenge to playing live. You’re baring your soul. You have no place to hide. We’re a different band in front of a crowd.”

This past August, the blues vocalist-guitarist released “4 Nights of 40 Years Live,” a 2-CD and DVD collection of four recent concerts.

“I was going through a couple different shows and it hit me that we have more than enough really good material for an album,” Cray says. “This disc will shine a nice light on the band. You listen to this and you’ll know what we can do live.”

Or you can catch Cray and his mates doing it live Monday night at the Carolina Theatre.

“That’s the way to experience what we can do,” Cray says. “I love playing live more than anything since anything can happen. At least that’s the way I look at it. The challenge is to nail it without playing the same solo or going with a different tempo. There is no point in replicating what you did in the studio. I learned that a long time ago.”

Cray, 62, picked up ideas about how to cut it live after witnessing performances from such guitar masters as Jimi Hendrix and Albert Collins. The latter actually played Cray’s high school graduation party in Tacoma, Wash., in 1971.

“How crazy was it that we had this blues legend playing our party,” Cray says. “I was blown away. I went up to Albert and told him I play guitar. He said, ‘Young man, you play guitar and you keep it up.”

Cray honed his craft and fell for the blues. “Seeing guys like Muddy Waters and Freddy King and of course Albert left me with little choice,” Cray says. “What they did was magical.”

Cray cut his teeth by touring constantly. It all paid off when his fourth album, “Strong Persuader,” was embraced by rock and blues fans shortly after its 1986 release. The single “Smoking Gun” hit the Billboard Top 40 and the album went double platinum. “Strong Persuader” earned the first of Cray’s five Grammy Awards.

“It was surreal,” Cray says. “I never expected that kind of success. It was gratifying. It enabled me to be able to have this stable career.”

That’s when doors opened for Cray. Shortly after “Strong Persuader” broke, he jammed with such guitar heroes as Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

“All of that was incredible, but the best part was that it afforded me the opportunity to make records and tour,” Cray says. “That’s all I ever really wanted to do. It was never about me becoming a star. I just want to play guitar and sing.”

Cray has produced 20 studio albums and countless shows since first touring behind his 1980 debut, “Who’s Been Talkin’.”

“It’s hard to believe so much time has passed since that first album,” Cray says.

Cray is still an effective recording artist. His latest, “In My Soul,” which dropped in 2014, finds him melding blues and Memphis soul. The warm, stylish album, which features a number of elegant tracks, was produced by his longtime pal Steve Jordan, who was also behind the board for Cray’s 1999 release, “Take Your Shoes Off.”

“What I love about working with Steve is that he’s an active participant,” Cray says. “He’s playing drums or dancing in the studio or just adding some great input.”

Cray says fans can expect even more studio work. “I still have some ideas,” he says. “I definitely want to create.”

Details

Who: Robert Cray Band

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St., Durham

Cost: $30-$79

Info: 919-560-3030 or carolinatheatre.org

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