New Licks and Old Riffs

. June 2, 2014.

Robert Cray’s new album In My Soul debuted at #1 on the Blues Roots Music Chart. In Cray’s ever-dynamic way, the album mixes deep reverence for the blues with hints of rock and roll, funk, and R&B as well as digging into sounds from more soulful influences, combining a slew of original music with several covers. Cray is a five-time Grammy winner and the youngest member to be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Robert Cray brings his legendary blues guitar to the Power Center this month as part of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s mainstage lineup. We caught up with Robert Cray on tour in the UK to talk about his new album, musical influence and touring.

The new album features a different Steve Jordan. How did everything come together on In My Soul?

This is the third record that we have done with Steve. The first was an album called Take Your Shoes Off that came out in 1989. I asked Steve to produce this album because we made a couple personnel changes to the band, and he is a great organizer. We added the drummer Les Falconer […] and we hired a keyboard player friend of ours who was in the band in the 70’s named Dover Weinberg.

This album really digs into your wide range of influences and styles. What music were you thinking of or listening to while making this album?

We didn’t have an idea as to what we were going to do when we went into the studio. Normally we present our songs to one another right before going into the studio, but Steve and I had been in contact and he threw a few suggestions at me. One was the Otis Redding “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” and the other was “Your Good Thing Is About to End” which Lou Rawls made famous. When we presented our songs to one another as a band, everybody just seemed to be on the same page. We had all this soul music going on. It was just by osmosis really.

How about that great cover of “Deep In My Soul?”

I came up with that idea while we were in the studio. I wanted to pay tribute to Bobby “Blue” Bland.

You are on tour in Europe right now, one place where you initially found success as a live performer. What does the band bring to live performances?

It’s hard to pin it down, but I think people that come to see us live like the style of music that we do, which is a hybrid of all the things we grew up listening to music from the 60’s and before and onward. I grew up listening to everything from The Beatles to Jimi Hendrix, Sam & Dave to Bobby Bland. It’s a mix of all those things that bring people to see.

What has it been like collaborating with musicians like Mavis Staples and Eric Clapton, not to mention blues legends like John Lee Hooker and Albert Collins?

For me it’s been like a dream come true. I’m a fan as well as a musician. We grew up listening to a lot of our favorites and suddenly we were on the same bill or sharing the same stage. Once we got past being freaked out—you know you stand there and shiver and shake—we’ve had a really good time. I think the best thing about it all is that all the people we respected and admired over the years have been really genuine and down-home people.

Looking back, how do you feel your own sound or outlook on music has developed or changed over the years?

I find that I still like a lot of the same music that I have been listening to for ages. As we are getting older, I listen to those same songs differently. I hear different things in those songs. That same process is part and parcel of what the band does these days. It’s more about the song, I’d have to say, than it was in the earlier days when it was about playing a lot of guitar and that type of thing.

What can fans look forward to when seeing you live this summer in Ann Arbor?

Well, it’s great for us because we have a new record out, so we get to add new songs to the list. So we’ll be doing some new stuff, and then we’ll go all the way back to songs on the Bad Influence album from 1983.

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