Robert Cray - electric guitar, vocals, recording artist
Robert Cray is one of the few blues artists who managed to cultivate a mainstream following from the get go. In the course of a long-running career that began in the 1970s, he uniquely blended elements of rhythm and blues, pop, and traditional blues to win fans to a more contemporary blues sound. Cray, who obviously is respected in blues circles, is a press darling and crossover smash. While achieving critical acclaim, Cray made no apologies for his more popular music, and he's been rewarded with four Grammy Awards for his innovative style.
Born on August 1, 1953, Cray did not have the typical upbringing of a blues musician. Cray's middle-class childhood as an "Army brat" stood in stark contrast to the impoverished Southern beginnings and Northern ghetto lifestyles of many blues greats. Like many children of military personnel, Cray spent his formative years moving from one location to another, starting in Columbus, Georgia, where he was born. The constant uprooting made Cray a shy, introverted child; when he convinced his mother to buy him a guitar, he found solace in music as one of the few permanent things in his life. Cray had a number of musical influences, gleaned from his father's voluminous record collection which included gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz, and traditional blues. He also picked up on the Beatles craze in the 1960s. He practiced diligently and joined a band while in high school in Newport News, Virginia. The family eventually settled in Tacoma, Washington.
Cray had some training as a classical pianist as a child, but his first serious musical expression was an eclectic mix of rock and roll and rhythm and blues. However, he discovered the music of blues greats Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf while searching for inspiration in his father's record collection, and from that point on, he was hooked on the blues. Cray tried to communicate this passion to his classmates, even going so far as to convince them to book blues musician Albert Collins for their graduation party. Cray's association with Collins later proved instrumental to his career. In 1969, Cray found a kindred spirit in Richard Cousins, a local musician. The two of them embarked on a study of the blues while playing together in Tacoma bars. Their findings influenced the development of their own music, and they traveled to Eugene, Oregon, in the hopes of finding success in the progressive college town. The Robert Cray Band hit the bar circuit with Tom Murphy on drums, and Cray as frontman on vocals and guitars. Cray was still very much an introvert at this time, and his stage-fright caused his teeth to chatter so badly that Cousins had to introduce each song to their audiences.