Robert Cray has a timeless approach to the blues that takes the roots of the music and makes it fresh, captivating and enjoyable to dive into. The Grammy award-winning guitarist & singer has been leading his own band for over 40 years and he’s one of the top blues artists around. You could even say that he’s reached legend status at this point in his illustrious & prolific career. He and his band will be performing at the Garde Arts Center in New London on March 11. Nashville singer-songwriter, activist and music therapist Kyshona will be starting off the show at 8pm.
Cray and I had a talk ahead of the festivities about growing up in a military family, being part of the iconic comedy flick Animal House, the musical and artistic growth of him and his band and feeling glad to be back on the road again.
RD: You were born in Columbus, Georgia while your father was stationed at the Army base Fort Benning, so what was your life like as a kid in that environment? Did you move around a lot due to your father’s involvement in the military?
RC: We moved around a lot, yeah. I have no recollection of being down at Fort Benning because I was only there for around 11 months right after I was born. Then we moved up to the state of Washington just outside of Tacoma.
RD: Then you moved to Virginia, right? That’s where you went to high school.
RC: I started high school in Virginia, in Newport News, and then I finished high school in Washington state once again. I’ve always seemed to go back there, before going to Virginia we spent two and a half years in Germany and then back to Washington, then to Virginia and then back to Washington once again.
RD: Wow, that’s a lot of traveling.
RC: Yeah, a lot of traveling.
RD: In the 1978 comedy flick Animal House, you were the bassist in the house party band Otis Day & The Knights. Who approached you about being in the film?
RC: I was approached after a gig we did in Eugene, Oregon, where I lived at the time and it was someone from a casting group, I can’t remember her name. She asked if we wanted to be in a film and she was scoping around town to hold auditions in the Eugene area to be included in the cast of Animal House. Then I gave her my information and a couple months later I was down in Eureka, California, playing the last gig of the run we were doing and afterwards we started rehearsing that night. During the next few days we were on the set and that’s how it happened.
RD: Fast forward to more recent times, a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything in 2020 you released your 20th album “That’s What I Heard.” Over the time of amassing this vast discography of yours, what do you think has evolved or grown the most for you as a musician?
RC: Over the years a little bit of everything has grown as things have changed. Just the way that we approach songs that we do we’ve played more cohesively and I think we’ve gotten more personal with the music. We talk about a bunch of different subjects that probably didn’t matter that much to us in our younger days. We were doing things that were ahead of our age with more bluesier songs to now when we do bluesier songs we have more life experience. More life experience as to what goes on in the political world nowadays and we write about those things as well. We play more for the song than anything else these days than we used to.
RD: What’s your opinion on the state of blues music these days? The past 20 or so years have seen a lot of new bands and musicians putting their own spin on the style.
RC: Everything is all generational, it was that way for us too. I can look back to where I was growing up listening to Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, B.B. King, Albert King and Albert Collins and Buddy’s still here with us. Nowadays there’s this new group of musicians who talk about growing up listening to myself and the guys I came up with during the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s funny to me when I hear it, but I guess that’s how it goes. With every generation, there’s a whole lot more that they can choose from.
We have the ones that we listened to in order to build our own style. There’s another generation following us who will be listening to the ones before them and they’ll continue their own styles. Music keeps moving as the artist takes from what’s around and puts a new touch on what was happening before.
RD: You’re totally right, the blues is a purely generational art form and it’s over a century old so I can see how you look at it with that perspective. Also, these days you can just go on the internet and find any style of music you want to listen to which I think it’ll be interesting to see how it goes forward in the next few decades. Can we expect a new release to follow up “That’s What I Heard” later this year?
RC: We don’t have any immediate plans to go into the studio to record. We started getting back to work last August and now as the venues have been opening back up we’ve been getting the opportunity to play. There’s a lot of dates that still need to be made up from 2020, we have another tour coming up in May that was supposed to have happened back during that year so we’ll be playing a lot of catchup which is going to be fun. It’s great to be able to be out on the road again, work, play music and catch up with old fans but we’ll get to making a new record not too far down the road. We just don’t have any immediate plans as of now.
When: March 11, 2022 at 8 p.m.
Garde Arts Center
325 State Street
New London, CT, 06320
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of the Connecticut Examiner, he also writes for DigBoston, The Aquarian Weekly, The Providence Journal, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.