Do you know about the legendary blues guitarist named Robert Cray? For the last 40 years, he’s been releasing hits that you may have heard, like Smoking Gun, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and Right Next Door (Because of Me).
From an uncredited movie appearance in 1978 to his induction into the Blues Hall of Fame, Robert Cray has had a fascinating life.
We decided to learn more about this iconic blues artist!
Let’s dive in!
The Story of Robert Cray
Georgia-born Robert Cray formed his first band while attending high school in Newport News, Virginia. He grew up taking classical piano lessons and began playing blues guitar as a teenager. Cray drew his inspiration from blues legends like Freddie King and Muddy Waters.
Robert’s first band, One-Way Street, played covers at the local bar in Virginia. Before graduating high school, the Cray family relocated to Tacoma, Washington. After graduating, he moved south to Eugene, Oregon, where he started the Robert Cray Band. The band toured the west coast with their mentor, Albert Collins.
In 1978, Cray played bass in a scene in the movie Animal House. Though uncredited, it helped him gain recognition from musicians leading to the release of his first album in 1980. He shot to stardom in the blues world, winning the first of five Grammy awards for his work on Showdown! in 1985. In 1986, the song Smoking Gun became the first of many of his tunes to go platinum.
Robert Cray toured with other famous musicians, such as Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton throughout his career. He even played with Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1990 at what ended up being Stevie Ray’s final show.
Robert released his most recent album, That’s What I Heard, in 2020. He still tours today, over forty years after the beginning of his iconic career in the blues industry.
Robert Cray’s Best Album
With the release of so many first-rate blues CDs, you may be wondering, how can we pick just one favorite? We looked at sales records, chart rankings, and critic comments, concluding that Robert Cray’s best album, his fifth, is Strong Persuader.
The 1986 recording peaked at number 13 on the Billboard 200. Rolling Stone rated Strong Persuader 42 on the list of 100 Greatest Albums of the 80s. It sold over two million copies by 1995, won a Grammy award, and received five out of five stars from multiple critics.
Best Songs By Robert Cray
Robert Cray has released several phenomenal songs throughout his career. Whittling down the list to just three of his best tunes proved to be a difficult task. You may not be surprised that two of Robert’s three best songs all hail from the aforementioned, Strong Persuader. The other, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, served as the title hit for the 1988 album of the same name.
Robert Cray’s most popular song, Smoking Gun, peaked at number 22 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The song captures the modern blues sound while integrating some aspects of the traditional blues. The lyrics of this tune about infidelity express, “I get a strong uneasy feeling/ You’re not sitting there alone…And I’m so afraid I’m gonna find you/ With a so-called smoking gun.”
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
The Grammy-winning album Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark remained on the Billboard Hot 200 chart for over a year. Its success was driven by the track, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. This song tells the story of lovers in the night. The lyrics declare, “Once we get settled/I’ll turn out the lights…I’ll be there to hold you/Don’t be afraid of the dark.”
Right Next Door (Because of Me)
Robert Cray’s bass player, Richard Cousins, inspired the song Right Next Door (Because of Me). Cousins had an affair with his neighbor’s wife, and the song describes overhearing the ensuing argument. The lyrics, from which the CD got its name, say, “She was right next door, and I’m such a strong persuader/She was just another notch on my guitar/She’s gonna lose the man that really loves her.”
Is Robert Cray in the Hall of Fame?
Robert Cray, who has never gone more than four years without releasing an album, is no stranger to musical accolades. In 1984, he won four Blues Awards for best album, single, song, and vocalist. He has accumulated five Grammy awards, and ten CDs have made it to Billboard’s Hot 200 charts.
In 2017, he was honored alongside Van Morrison and Hi Rhythm Section at the 16th Annual Americana Awards. He won the Americana Music Awards Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance at the ceremony.
Perhaps as his greatest achievement, Robert was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011. He became the youngest person to do so at 58 years old. Robert Cray continues to contribute to the genre today as one of the blues giants of our time.
What Is Robert Cray Doing Now?
It has been nearly 50 years since the Robert Cray Band first hit the scene. They have released 20 albums and toured around the world. The band has no intention of slowing down just yet. Robert says, “the band continues with the same enthusiasm and joy in what we do, and no matter the accolades, today is all that matters!”
Cray released his most recent recording, That’s What I Heard, in 2020. He has been touring to promote this album throughout 2022 and will continue touring the United States during 2023. With shows as far west as Solano Beach, CA, and as far east as Saint Petersburg, FL, you may have a chance to catch the legendary Robert Cray Band on tour!
From the Muse: You can find out more about the latest tour on Robert Cray’s website.
Cray Is the Strong Persuader
Robert Cray helped create the modern blues sound. Drawing his inspirations from old-school blues artists like Muddy Waters, he propelled the genre into the modern day. His accolades, extensive catalog, and commercial success demonstrate his monumental contribution to the blues. If the Robert Cray Band tours near you, make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to hear one of the greats!
Have you seen Robert Cray perform live? Tell us about it in the comments!