This story is featured in CityBeat's April 5 print edition.
When the Robert Cray Band takes the stage at Memorial Hall this month as part of their national tour, they’ll likely keep the crowd guessing. “It’s best to be in the moment,” Cray told the Arizona Republic in January. “I just like the idea of being up there and not knowing exactly how everything’s going to pan out.”
They’ll no doubt deliver at least a few cuts from Cray’s most recent album, 2020’s Grammy-nominated That’s What I Heard, a peppery blend of new originals and covers of long-lost soul tunes he grew up loving.
Cray and his signature Fender Stratocaster have kept us guessing for nearly 40 years, during which he’s won five Grammy Awards and amassed a global following. He won his first Grammy in 1986 for Showdown!, an album with Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland, and he played in Chuck Berry’s band in the iconic documentary Hail, Hail Rock and Roll.
But his true breakthrough occurred later that year when he released Strong Persuader, which earned him a second Grammy. Key to the double-platinum album’s success was “Smoking Gun,” a surprising crossover single that grabbed a mainstream audience with soulful hooks and a propulsive, mid-tempo groove.
Now with 20 studio albums and three more Grammys on his résumé, Cray continues to draw new fans. Through the years, he’s expanded from roots-based blues to soul, funk and R&B, exploring and fusing various genres to maintain a fresh, dynamic sound. While his Strat has lost none of its sting and his voice none of its force, both have gained a wizened texture that deepens their effect. No matter what song he’s playing, Cray remains as persuasive as ever.
The Robert Cray Band plays Memorial Hall at 8 p.m. April 21. Info: memorialhallotr.com.
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