New Jersey Stage
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Blues Legend Robert Cray Comes to The Newton Theatre
Since then, Cray has gone on to record fifteen Billboard charting studio albums and has written or performed with everyone from Eric Clapton to Stevie Ray Vaughan, from Bonnie Raitt to John Lee Hooker. Recently inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame at the age of 57, he is one of the youngest living legends to receive the prestigious honor. His astonishing three-decade career is punctuated by his trademark sound, distinct playing style and explosive live performances.
Cray still remembers the first love that led him here. "My dad was in the army, so we moved around quite a bit," he explains. "I had a lot of time and the guitar became my friend. Also, when I first picked up a guitar, The Beatles were just out, and that's why I got one. That's why a lot of kids got guitars. The whole atmosphere of that time was, 'Hey, I learnt this'. 'Well, let me show you this...' So that's what sparked my interest, and it never really went away."
Cray cites Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy and B.B. King as formative guitar influences, alongside singers like Bobby 'Blue' Bland, but just as pivotal for the aspiring bluesman was witnessing Albert Collins play a set at his high-school dance.
It was that Collins performance that led to the formation of the Robert Cray Band in 1974, a four piece touring band featuring Cray on lead vocals and guitar and longtime friend Richard Cousins on bass, whose thrillingly modern take on the blues was the talk of the circuit. In 1976 after two years of touring and in the first of many pinch-yourself moments the band was invited to be the house band for Albert Collins; a stellar musical apprenticeship and schoolboy fantasy that lasted over 18 months.
Opening their account with 1980's Who's Been Talkin', the Robert Cray Band fired off three albums in quick succession, and although 1985's False Accusations hijacked the charts and won an industry blues award, it was the following year's Strong Persuader that achieved lift-off, hitting a US#13 chart position that was unprecedented for a blues record in the synthesizer age. "I guess Strong Persuader just captured a good spirit and energy," Cray reflects. "People are still calling out for some of those songs at shows. It gave us a good springboard. I guess it was the songs, but it was also the era, because radio and MTV gave us a foothold, and we had videos out too."
Cray had arrived in the big leagues. As songs like "Smoking Gun" scaled the singles charts across the planet and word spread of his incendiary live shows, his name began to be mentioned in the same breath as the blues heavyweights, and he was regularly to be found working alongside them. He spent the years that followed guesting on Eric Clapton's Journeyman album, jamming live with Keith Richards, appearing in Tina Turner's TV special, posthumously inducting Howlin' Wolf into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, and supplying solos for the late John Lee Hooker, who he did a lot of shows with. "We became good friends," says Cray of this latter hero. "It was fantastic. He was a real one-off."
The oft-quoted line reads 'that bluesmen improve with age', and Cray's evolving output through the next two decades gives weight to the theory. "In the '90s, we had the I Was Warned album (1992), and then Sweet Potato Pie (1997), which was a Memphis kind of thing that got into the soul bag," he recalls. "I really liked those two records: there was some good songwriting."
In 2000 he took home a Grammy for the album Take Your Shoes Off and went on to release two additional Grammy nominated albums Twenty (2005) featuring the poignant anti-Iraq war song of the same name, and This Time (2009) featuring the soul drenched favorite "I Can't Fail." The following year, the Robert Cray Band released the live album Cookin' In Mobile (2010) and once again toured worldwide to sellout crowds.
"We have been very lucky," says Cray, "with music becoming mostly digital in recent years and artists not selling the same number of physical records, we're afforded the luxury of having a great loyal and amazing fan base around the world, allowing a band like ours to continue to work."
It's quite a humble and unassuming statement, given his illustrious career – but that's always been Cray's style. He doesn't take anything for granted, doesn't rest on his laurels. So on his sixteenth studio release, Robert Cray is once again laying down his cards, testing his talent, fusing that dazzling voice to some of the most powerful material in his three-decade back catalogue and offering his fans Nothin But Love, a blend of blues, rock, soul and jazz with a lyric-sheet that examines the triumphs, fallouts and follies of life and love.
Tickets for Robert Cray are $57.00 for Premium seating, $52.00 for the Orchestra and $47.00 for the Balcony. Tickets for this performance will go on sale on Friday, September 27th at 11:00 am. Purchase tickets by visiting www.thenewtontheatre.com or contact the Box Office at 973-383-3700.
The historic Newton Theatre, located at 234 Spring Street in Newton, NJ, was founded in 1924. Revitalized and fully renovated, Sussex County's premier entertainment venue reopened in 2011 as a 605 seat capacity live performing arts center. With it's rich history and diverse programming The Newton Theatre is essential to the buoyancy of New Jersey's Skylands region. More information about The Newton Theatre may be found by calling 973-383-3700 or by visiting its website at www.TheNewtonTheatre.com.