Blues Bytes


September 2007

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Robert Cray
Bad Influence
Hightone Records

Robert CrayWhile 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 vocals.

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 points.

“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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