Robert Cray, (seen here on the back row on the right), an American blues guitarist and singer, chats with Kevin Cooper about Chuck Berry, recording in the late Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios, his new album Robert Cray And Hi Rhythm and his current tour of the UK.

Robert Cray is an American blues guitarist and singer. A five-time Grammy Award winner, he has led his own band, as well as having an acclaimed solo career. He signed to Mercury Records in 1982 and released two albums on High Tone Records in the mid 80s, Bad Influence and False Accusations. His fourth album, Strong Persuader received a Grammy Award.

He has played alongside many of the guitar greats such as John Lee Hooker who he backed on his album, The Healer. He has also played with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughan, and Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin, performing Sweet Home Chicago.

In 1987 he was invited by Keith Richards to join the backing band for Chuck Berry in the film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll. In 2011 Cray was inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame.

Whilst currently touring the UK he took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Robert good morning, how are you today?

I’m good thanks Kevin how are you?

I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not a problem.

And just how is life treating you?

Life is good at the moment and everything is going pretty well. I really can’t complain.

We last spoke back in September 2015 ahead of your Four Nights Of Forty Years tour. How was that, did you enjoy it?

Oh yes, we had a really good time. We went to a lot of different places and got a lot of good response so yes it went really well.

You are currently touring the UK once again. What can we expect?

We have a new record out so we are happy about that. So we will be adding to that and we are also working with a new drummer Terrance Clark and we are just having a great time. It will be a lot of fun because up there on stage is where the magic happens.

You mention the new album Robert Cray And Hi Rhythm; how did the collaboration come about?

Well over the years I have had a lot of opportunities to work with drummer Howard Grimes and also producer Steve Jordan. Out of the blue Steve sent me an email which simply said ‘I’ve got it, Robert Cray and Hi Rhythm. We will record the album in Memphis at Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios’ (laughter). I thought that sounded fantastic so I agreed to do it. And so that is what we did.

What did it feel like recording in the late Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios?

It was an amazing experience because the studio is set up in exactly the same way that it was when Al Green recorded in it. They haven’t done anything to change the studio whatsoever. They have created a sound in that studio and believe me, that sound still remains. It really is fantastic.

You mention Al Green and I have to say that in my opinion there are more than a few tinges of Al Green in You Must Believe In Yourself, your cover of the O.V. Wright song. Would you agree with that?

(Laughter) oh yes. As you quite rightly point out that song was recorded by O.V. Wright back in 1973. Funnily enough O.V. Wright also recorded that song in the very same studio as I did. There is a little bit of everything in that song. I honestly believe that there are still echoes going around in the Royal Studios (laughter).

Whenever I speak to anyone who has recorded at the Royal Studios they all tell me the same thing, that there is a vibe in there that you simply can’t get rid of.

That’s right, there is most definitely a vibe in there and you can’t get rid of it. Willie’s son Boo Mitchell now works the control board and the rest of the family are in and out of the studios all day long. There are some great pictures on the wall together with records to remind you of just who has previously been in there. It is just a great place.

Speaking of who has been there before you, does that thought ever unnerve you at all?

No not really. It is more a concern to ensure that all of the effort that you are putting into making the record would come out right. That was basically it.

What was it like to be working with Steve Jordan once again?

Fantastic. Steve is in it one hundred percent in anything that he does. That shows in the way that he plays music and the way that he produces is exactly the same way. Steve is totally involved. It makes you feel a part of what is going on and he does that for everybody.

Are you happy with the album?

I am, yes.

Would you say that it is your best work to date?


Will there be a second album with Hi Rhythm?

That I don’t know as I don’t know what the future holds.

In the past you have spoken fondly of the late Chuck Berry. Just how big an influence on you was he?

Chuck Berry was a big influence because pretty much everything that most guitar players in whatever genre, do owe a great deal of gratitude to Chuck Berry. Everybody owes a debt of gratitude to Chuck Berry. I was recently speaking to someone about Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll and how much fun that was to have been a part of. There was a lot of comradely; Steve Jordan was there in fact that was the very first time that Steve and I met some thirty years ago now. What can I say, Chuck Berry was great. I was fortunate to have been a part of that and play the song Brown Eyed Handsome Man which was a song that my dad played a lot when I was growing up. That was the reason that I picked that song for the programme. That was fantastic.

Are you already having thoughts on the next studio album?

No not really. Not yet. It will be a while before we start considering the next project.

When you are not writing, recording or touring just how does Robert Cray relax?

I tend to my vegetable garden, I like to cook and I love just being at home.

Do you ever go to see other artists performing live?

No I don’t really, I remove myself from that.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

That is hard to say but I would have to say that more recently it would have to be having the opportunity to once again work with Steve Jordan and Hi Rhythm. For me that is really a cool thing. Those players have created so much of what was part of Willie Mitchell’s groove. I mean Willie Mitchell created a style in music and for me to have the opportunity to work with musicians who were a part of that has just been fantastic.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

I don’t know what the last one was that made me cry but one that shocked me that I had never heard before was Miss Otis Regrets by Ella Fitzgerald and here we are celebrating what would have been her one hundredth birthday. I only heard that song two weeks ago.

I have heard a lot of Ella’s music but I wasn’t hip to that and I was driving around and I heard it for the very first time on FM radio. I actually thought that it was a new piece of music that had been recorded by someone who was into Ella who sounded like Ella (laughter). When I got home I sat in the van and listened to it waiting for the announcer to say who it really was and it was Ella. I just felt like wow.

On that note Robert let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been a pleasure. Good luck with the tour and I will see you in Birmingham.

Thank you so much Kevin and bye for now.