Robert Cray has released some essential soul-charged
blues over the past 30 years, some of his best work came on the
Hightone label in the ’80s. When the 30-year-old Cray released
Bad Influence in 1983, he was still about four years away
from the runaway success of “Smoking Gun,” his Top 40-charting
hit for major label Mercury Records, but all the elements were
already in place: the Stax-based horns, the funky backbeat
(guided by his longtime bass player Richard Cousins), his
razor-sharp guitar work, and of course, his soul-drenched
Probably the best-known songs from the disc are the opening
cuts. The mesmerizing “Phone Booth” exudes loneliness and
desperation and was later covered by Albert King. “Bad
Influence” was also recorded by longtime friend Eric Clapton,
but Cray’s version is better. Cray later said that he wished
he’d added a guitar intro similar to the one Clapton used, but
to me, the sparseness and simplicity of Cray’s arrangement
(along with sax player David Li’s solo) is one of the selling
“The Grinder” is one of Cray’s textbook songs of a love gone
wrong. “So Many Women, So Little Time” is a rollicking romp
written by Oscar Washington that picks up the pace at the
album’s midpoint. The pensive “Where Do I Go From Here” features
Li’s saxophone again, and “Waiting For The Tide To Turn” is an
excellent song about patience and hope through hard times, as is
the optimistic “March On.”
Co-producers Bruce Bromberg (a.k.a. D. Amy) and Dennis Walker
co-authored most of the original songs on Bad Influence
with Cray and his then-keyboardist Mike Vannice, and part of the
album’s ability to endure the test of time is the maturity and
strength of their original compositions.
Cray’s taste in cover tunes is excellent, from the gorgeous take
of Eddie Floyd’s “Got To Make A Comeback” to a wicked version of
Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Don’t Touch Me,” where his guitar work
even sounds like the Gangster of Love’s. The bonus tracks
included on the CD are also covers. “I Got Loaded” is basically
filler, but “Share What You’ve Got, Keep What You Need,” another
Stax-era tune written by Steve Cropper, sounds like it could
have made the final cut on this album with little difficulty.
Cray continued to develop as a composer and performer. In 1985,
he released False Accusations, which featured all
original compositions and was an even bigger hit. He also teamed
up with Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland for the
Grammy-winning Showdown! All of this led to his signing
with Mercury and releasing Strong Persuader. The rest, as
they say, is history.
Even though Strong Persuader’s release in late 1986
propelled Cray into the mainstream spotlight, many blues fans
first became aware of his prodigious talents with Bad
Influence, which still ranks as one of his best releases.
Many consider it a vital factor in the resurgence of the blues
that began in the mid ’80s.
--- Graham Clarke
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