Cray releases his second live album in four years
It took Robert Cray nearly 30 years before he released a live CD – something that undoubtedly disappointed fans that had long known the guitarist and the various lineups of his band consistently delivered tight and grooving shows on stage.
But it wasn’t as if Cray hadn’t entertained the idea of a live disc long before that first concert release, Live From Across The Pond, arrived in 2006.
It was just every time the band had recorded shows before that first live release, something would go wrong. The band would get psyched out by the pressure of knowing tapes were rolling or some other mishap would doom the idea.
But with the release of Cookin’ In Memphis, Cray has released his second live project in just four years. What’s more, where Across The Pond was culled from a string of shows in which the Robert Cray Band opened for Eric Clapton in London, the new CD was a one-shot deal, recorded both for DVD and CD.
So what happened to allow Cray, with his recently revamped lineup, to succeed with Cookin’ In Mobile, when quite a few previous attempts to capture the magic of a Cray concert had failed?
“Since we did Across The Pond, and I think with the new band, I think there was too much anticipation and excitement going on to have other things, mental things, get in the way,” Cray said in a recent phone interview. “I think it was a lot more relaxed situation.”
As Cray noted, the tour that included the show (performed earlier this year at the Saenger Theatre in Mobile, Alabama) featured a revamped lineup of his band.
Seeking to re-invigorate his music and his live act, Cray parted ways with his rhythm section of nearly 20 years – bassist Karl Sevareid and drummer Kevin Hayes.
Sevareid’s replacement was familiar to Cray’s long-time fans, Richard Cousins, who was Cray’s original bassist and remained in his band until 1991.
“Richard and I have remained friends over the years since he’s been out of the band, and I’ve always loved his energy,” Cray said. “I think he brings that into the fold.”
The new drummer – Tony Braunagel – is also a familiar name to many blues fans, thanks to his years of playing with Taj Mahal and Bonnie Raitt. (He played on Raitt’s hit albums, Nick Of Time and Luck of the Draw.)
Cray retained the other member of his band, keyboardist Jim Pugh, who first played with Cray in 1989.
The new lineup made its debut on the 2009 studio CD, This Time, and Cray said the fresh blood in the band had its desired effect, first of all, on that studio album.
“I think there’s a lot of vigor in this new record,” Cray said.
The same vigor – as well as musical precision – is evident on Cookin’ In Mobile.
That’s no surprise, considering that Cray’s output and his concerts have been consistent throughout his long career.
He emerged from the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1970s and his early albums on HighTone Records – False Accusations and Bad Influence – quickly earned him recognition as a fresh force on the blues scene.
The attention those albums garnered earned Cray a major label deal with Mercury, an alliance that paid off with the success of 1986’s Strong Persuader (which featured the hit song “Smoking Gun”) and its 1988 follow-up album, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark.
The days of crossover radio hits pretty much ended there, but Cray has maintained the musical quality of his albums ever since, even as he has cycled through several record deals before arranging his current arrangement in which he has his own label, Nozzle Records, with distribution and other functions handled in partnership with Vanguard Records.
Cray said it’s not easy to sustain a career in today’s era of downloading and file sharing, but said he has been able to build enough of an audience to stay viable.
“The market is hard for us, and it’s hard for just about anybody out there now,” Cray said. “When you see the scans for albums sold per week by anybody, even the big names, it’s a lot less than it used to be…I think the most important thing for us is the tour schedule and selling the discs at the shows or letting people know that it’s available. If we weren’t touring, it would be next to impossible to let anybody know, for the lack of airplay or the lack of outlets to go and buy CDs in the shops.”