GROWING UP IN THE NORTHWEST, ROBERT CRAY LISTENED TO THE GOSPEL OF THE FIVE BLIND BOYS OF MISSISSIPPI, BOBBY BLAND’S SOUL, JIMI HENDRIX’S ROCK GUITAR AND THE BEATLES POP SOUNDS. HE WOULD BRING ALL OF THE INFLUENCES INTO PLAY THROUGHOUT HIS CAREER, BUT HIS TEENAGE BAND WAS CAPTIVATED BY SOUTHERN SOUL AND THE BLUES. “IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE BAND WE WERE GETTING BACK INTO O.V. WRIGHT AND PAYING ATTENTION TO MY FAVORITE BLUES PLAYERS; BUDDY GUY, OTIS RUSH, ALBERT KING AND ESPECIALLY ALBERT COLLINS,” CRAY SAYS.
 
THE GLOW OF A CAREER IN MUSIC BEGAN WHEN CRAY WAS A TEEN, AND IN 1974 IT BURST INTO FLAMES AS THE ROBERT CRAY BAND CAME TOGETHER IN EUGENE, OREGON. HOW STRONG WAS THE FIRE? “RICHARD AND I DIDN’T OWN A VEHICLE, AND WE WERE STAYING WITH HIS GIRLFRIEND IN EUGENE. WE HITCHED A RIDE TO SALEM, WHERE OUR DRUMMER TOM MURPHY WAS GOING TO SCHOOL, TO REHEARSE,” CRAY RECALLS. WITH THE GROUP’S 1980 DEBUT RELEASE, WHO’S BEEN TALKIN’, WORD ABOUT THE CRAY BAND BEGAN TO SPREAD ACROSS THE NORTHWEST AND DOWN IN TO CALIFORNIA. PLAYING PACKED BARS AND ROADHOUSES THE CRAY BAND WAS THRILLING. BLUES AND SOUL FANS SHOWED UP RELIGIOUSLY, BUT THOSE STEAMY RAUCOUS SETS ALSO DREW CROWDS WHOSE TASTES IN MUSIC RANGED FROM ROCK TO FUNK AND JAZZ.
 
ALSO AMONG THE CRAY BAND ADMIRERS WERE OTHER MUSICIANS. JOHN LEE HOOKER PUT HIS APPRECIATION INTO ACTION. “THE FIRST TIME WE PLAYED WITH HOOKER WAS IN MONTANA. WE WERE OPENING THE SET AND HE WAS PLAYING SOLO,” CRAY RECALLS. “WE’D NEVER MET HIM BEFORE BUT HE JUST WALKED ON STAGE AND STARTED PLAYING WITH US. WE DUG THE HELL OUT OF THE GUY, AND AFTER THAT WE WERE FRIENDS.” THE CRAY BAND’S NEXT TWO RELEASES – BAD INFLUENCE AND FALSE ACCUSATIONS – CHARTED, TAKING THE FOUR-PIECE’S SOUND ACROSS THE AIRWAYS AND ABROAD.
 
WITH THE 1986 RELEASE OF STRONG PERSUADER THE CRAY BAND’S TUNES WERE PUT IN HEAVY ROTATION ON MEGA ROCK STATIONS ACROSS THE NATION. THE FIRST HIT, “SMOKING GUN,” WAS FOLLOWED BY “I GUESS I SHOWED HER” AND “RIGHT NEXT DOOR (BECAUSE OF ME).” THE CRAY BAND’S NEXT TWO RELEASES, DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK AND MIDNIGHT STROLL, BROUGHT MORE RADIO LISTENERS TO RECORD STORES, INCREASING SALES OF THE GROUP’S CDS. FOLLOWING THE PATH OF FAME TAKEN BY BLUES-BASED ROCKERS LIKE JOHNNY WINTER AND STEVIE RAY VAUGHN, CRAY BECAME A SENSATION, LEADING HIS BAND IN CONCERTS AT LARGE ARENA AND ROCK FESTIVAL. HE WAS THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTIST SINCE JIMI HENDRIX TO RISE TO SUCH FAME IN ROCK MUSIC.
 
THE CRAY BAND RECORDED SIX CDS IN THE 90S. CRAY PRODUCED SHAME + A SIN, WHICH REFERENCED HIS BLUES ROOTS, IN 1993. IT WAS FOLLOWED BY TWO MORE SELF-PRODUCED RECORDINGS, SOME RAINY MORNING AND SWEET POTATO PIE. RECORDED IN MEMPHIS AND FEATURING THE FAMED MEMPHIS HORNS SWEET POTATO PIE WAS THE CRAY BAND’S MOST SOULFUL ALBUM TO DATE. THE NEXT RECORDING TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES DELVED EVEN DEEPER INTO MEMPHIS SOUNDS OF THE 60S. “THAT WAS DEFINITELY A SOUL RECORD,” CRAY SAYS.