Five-time Grammy winning guitarist Bluesman happy with more recognition
A few weeks ago, the Recording Academy announced the nominees for the 60th Grammy Awards.
Five-time Grammy winning guitarist Robert Cray, who will open the Park City Institute’s 2017-18 Main Stage season at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, is one of the nominees for his album “Robert Cray and Hi Rhythm.”
While he has received multiple nominations on top of the awards, Cray said he is always thankful for the recognition.
“First of all, it shows people are listening to our record,” he said duri ng a phone call from a hotel outside Phoenix. “It’s exciting that people deem us worthy of a nomination.”
After a pause, Cray added another perk to the nomination.
“I also saw the category and we’re in a category with all of our friends,” he said. “So they’re getting listened to as well.”
Cray promised Saturday’s concert will feature different songs from his 30-year career. He just didn’t know which songs he and his band were going to play.
“We go back and forth with using a set list or not using one,” he said. “Our bass player Richard Cousins puts together a set list every night, and I look at it to see if it sounds OK and then go from there. Sometimes we just make it up every night.”
The set list will include some songs from the new album, which Cray recorded with renowned Grammy-winning Hi Rhythm, the band who is responsible in part for creating the Memphis soul sound.
Producer Steve Jordan, who is a good friend and collaborator with Cray, came up with the idea for the album.
“I thought that was fantastic because I’ve always been a fan of the music that has come out of Memphis,” Cray said. “So we sent emails back and fourth to come up with some songs and Steve told me that I should write some songs as well.”
Cray, Hi Rhythm and Jordan recorded the album at the famed Royal Studios with engineer, arranger and writer Willie Mitchell, whose Hi Records label used Hi Rhythm as its house band.
“I listened to Anne Peoples, Al Greene, Otis Clay and Syl Johnson, so it was like going back and rekindling our love for the music and the people who were responsible for the people who made the music,” Cray said about the recording sessions. “To work in Royal Studios where nothing has changed since the ‘70s was great, because the sound that came out of there was like it was built in after all of these years.”
Cray and Jordan started recording with a jam session.
“The first thing we did was have Steve sit behind the drum kit and start playing,” Cray said. “Then everybody kind of fell in because they started feeling comfortable because we were speaking the language that everyone knew.”
These spontaneous jams went on for 15 to 20 minutes before Cray and Jordan even start playing one of their songs.
“Once you start the song, you play it for a while until everyone feels good and then you roll tape,” Cray said.
The guitarist said there wasn’t any major challenges that got in the way of recording the album.
“It’s all about going in and having fun and being creative, and if you keep your mind open, things start happening,” he said. “You can’t go in with an objective of selling a million records. That rarely happens. So your objective is to just make something that sounds good to you.”
Cray, who started playing piano as a child, discovered the guitar after he saw The Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964.
“I was 12, and like everybody who saw them, I wanted to get a guitar,” Cray said. “At that time, though, we also listened to everything on the radio and would try to figure out what we could, because it was fun.”
Although Cray listened to blues albums his parents had around the house when he was a kid, he didn’t really discover the style until he was in high school.
“I had a couple of friends who listened to B.B. King and Magic Slim,” Cray said. “We would put on the records and just be fascinated that there was someone names Howlin’ Wolf or someone named Muddy Waters.”
Cray and his friends would read as many books about the blues as they could.
“We wanted to learn more about Robert Johnson and his so-called connection with the devil,” Cray said. “We were locked in to that and added blues to our listening catalog.”
Cray said he hopes the Park City audience will enjoy the upcoming concert as much as he will.
“We play music because it’s fun,” he said. “Even though it’s a business, once you hit the stage it’s all about having fun.”
Park City Institute will kick off its 2017-18 Main Stage season with Grammy winning blues guitarist Robert Cray at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd. Tickets range from $29 to $79. They can be purchased by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org.
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