Blues Bytes


June 2020

Robert Cray
Authorized Bootleg: Austin, Texas 5/25/87
Def Jam/Island

Robert Cray

Robert Cray was one of the artists who first helped me get on board the blues train in the mid ’80s. My first entry into the genre was his collaboration with Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland on Showdown!, and the next album I found was Cray’s Bad Influence. By the time his groundbreaking Strong Persuader was released, I had been a fan for some time and actually got to see Cray and band perform at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in May of 1987, the first of many times I saw him perform over the next five years.

I’m not sure how I missed it,  but recently I stumbled onto Cray’s Authorized Bootleg: Austin, Texas 5/25/87 (Def Jam/Island), recorded about three weeks after the performance I witnessed. Cray and band (Richard Cousins – bass, Peter Boe – keyboards, David Olson – drums) recorded this set as part of the King Biscuit Flower Hour, the syndicated radio show that was regular listening for music fans from the early ’70s until 2005.

Listening to this set brings back a lot of good memories. One of the the things that I remember was that Cray didn’t waste a lot of time with chit chat. This set includes 15 songs, mostly taken from Strong Persuader (six songs) and his two Hightone releases (three from Bad Influence and three from False Accusations). The songs on those three albums, many of them written or co-written by Dennis Walker, David Amy and Cray, rank with the artist’s best work, tackling mature themes that have long been a part of the blues but Cray’s smooth vocals and piercing lead guitar give the music added oomph.

Every show I saw Cray perform began with “I Guess I Showed Her,” and this set was no exception. The Memphis Horns contributed on Strong Persuader, but it works just as well without them in this setting. The other tunes from that album, “Foul Play,” “Still Around” and “New Blood,” were solid additions to the Cray catalog. Of course, Cray saves the best two to wrap things up with the classic “Smoking Gun” and “Right Next Door (Because Of Me), the latter I think is every bit as good, maybe better than “Smoking Gun”.

The three tracks from Bad Influence, one of Cray’s most underrated albums --- the title track, “Phone Booth,” and Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Don’t Touch Me” --- are well-presented as well. It was cool to get a live version of the Watson track because Cray didn’t do that one at his Jazz Fest appearance, but “Bad Influence” and “Phone Book” were a regular part of his show for years and were covered by Eric Clapton and Albert King, respectively.

False Accusations has not aged as well as Bad Influence, but the three songs presented --- “The Last Time (I Get Burned Like This),” “Playin’ In The Dirt” and the title track --- are three of Cray’s best. His soulful vocals really carry the day on these tracks.

Cray also slips in a couple of other tunes that are first rate. “Let’s Have A Natural Ball” was the opening track on Showdown!, with Young Bob giving a spirited performance. The band also gives a good n’ greasy version of Jimmy Smith’s “Back At The Chicken Shack.”

In recent years, Cray has moved more to the soul side of the blues, especially with his recent collaborations with Steve Jordan, but there was a whole lot of soul in his blues even back in the late ’80s. This set shows just what a wide range his brand of blues covers. Modern blues artists owe a lot to Robert Cray, who’s still making mighty fine music some 33 years later. This set brings back a whole lot of happy memories of this fan’s early years discovering the blues.

--- Graham Clarke



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