Robert Cray, American blues guitarist and singer chats with Kevin Cooper about his most embarrassing moment, dealing with technology, his latest album 4 Nights Of 40 Years Live and his forthcoming 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 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. This was Stevie Ray Vaughan’s final performance before he died in a helicopter accident later that night. In 2011 Cray was inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame.

Whilst preparing for his forthcoming tour of the UK, he took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Mr Cray how are you?

I’m good Kevin, how are you?

I am very well thank you and let me just say thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

It’s no problem Kevin and thank you.

So I have to ask, how is life treating Robert Cray?

I’m good, I’m healthy, everything is good so I can’t complain.

You are currently preparing to tour over here in the UK again. Do you enjoy playing to the UK audiences?

I do, it’s a lot of fun. We always get a great response for the UK audiences.

You are playing here in Nottingham at the Royal Concert Hall on Monday 5th October. I saw you the last time that you played there and you blew me away.

Oh thanks Kevin, it’s kind of you to say that. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed the show. That’s fantastic. Thanks for that. Thank you so much.

Have you had the chance to look around Nottingham?

Yes Kevin I have. In the past I have managed to have a day off in Nottingham before and I have had the opportunity to have a walk around the city. I even managed to find some time to do some shopping. But it all depends what the tour dates are like and how they book it as to whether we get the time to have a look around. But if I get the opportunity again in Nottingham, I will have another walk round because I want to see the Castle.

I have to ask you, the new album 4 Nights Of 40 Years Live, was it something that you felt that you had to record?

Well Kevin our record company wanted a live album and so I got together with my Manager and I expressed to them that the band had been together for forty years, and so we got together and used that idea as a concept. Steve Jordan came up with the idea for the video and then my Manager and myself had to move a bunch of stuff from my former Manager’s office which included a bunch of old footage of the band. And so the whole thing started falling into place. We used the forty years thing together with some fresh footage and the whole thing was pretty cool.

You mention that you have been in the business for forty years. Could you ever envisage being in the business that long and still be as popular today?

Well Kevin you never know what is going to happen as far as popularity is concerned. Starting off forty years ago the idea of playing music was one that I wanted to pursue and I never really quit (laughter). We are very happy to be where we are and still able to go out and play so it’s great.

Is it nice having Dover (Weinberg – keyboards) back in the fold?

Oh yes Kevin, Dover is great. Having him come back is great; he is the same guy that he was years ago. He is a great player and such a fun guy to be around. We always have a good time together.

You have worked with some of the legends, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Jimmie Vaughan, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Stevie Ray Vaughan to name but a few. Has any one artist given you the greatest pleasure?

I can’t single out one person Kevin, I just can’t do that, it’s impossible to say. But just the idea of having had the opportunity to have worked either on stage or in the studio with the likes of those artists, well it has just been fantastic.

Is there any one single artist who you would like to record with today?

To be honest Kevin I never really think about things like that in any particular terms unless a certain song comes on the radio, and I have a thought about how nice it would be to record with them. It is always a question of finding the person who is right for you. In the past there have been opportunities for us to have Albert Collins sit in on a tune or two so who knows what the future will bring.

In 2011 you were inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame, how did that feel?

Well to be honest Kevin it was kind of strange in a sense. Whenever I think of The Hall Of Fame I always think of people who have been around for a long time and have maybe passed away. I was totally honoured; it was really cool.

Who would you say has influenced you along the way?

There have been lots of people Kevin, Albert Collins, B.B. King; there have been lots of people who have influenced me Kevin. I tend to get a lot of influence from a lot of different people and different things. Jimi Hendrix for example, as I saw him play a couple of times when he was around. There have been a lot of things, Jazz, Blues and not just guitar players but organ players and saxophone players. It’s all over the place because I like listening to lots of different kinds of music, that’s what it is all about. I also get influenced by the music that my friends listen to.

So casting your mind back, what was the first record that you bought?

That’s easy Kevin, it was A Little Bit Of Soap by The Jarmels. I bought that over in Munich, Germany as my dad was in the Army and we were stationed over there. I had heard the song on the radio and I was always singing along to it so that was the record that I wanted. So that is the first single that I bought.

Do you have a single ambition left to achieve?

We just take it as it comes Kevin. I always just wanted to play the guitar, sing and be in a band. Doing everything else has just been cool.

Is it true that it was The Beatles that made you want to be in a band?

That’s right Kevin, I wanted to be George Harrison (laughter).

What would you say has been your biggest achievement to date?

I think that would have to be being here now, because it is an on-going thing and I am just happy to be able to record, to play and to tour. And after all of these years we are still doing that so I think that is our biggest achievement. The awards are great because they are milestone moments but you keep going and that’s what I am really happy to have happening.

Do you have one embarrassing moment that you can tell us about?

There is one Kevin (laughter) it was at The Crossroads Festival and I messed up (laughter). My band was backing B.B. King, and Eric (Clapton) and Jimmy (Vaughan) were supposed to be coming out onto the stage to join us. I was supposed to play the first verse of one of the songs and then hand it over to B.B. King but I didn’t stop singing; I sang the whole song (laughter). B.B. King kept encouraging me and so I sang the whole song. Someone was in my ear saying that we had to get Eric out onto the stage so I invited both Eric and Jimmy to join us and Eric just shouted to me “what are we going to do now Robert” (laughter). I had just got completely carried away and forgot about them.

Is there one single event that you would say has changed your life forever?

That would have to be getting married to Sue, my wife Kevin as it totally straightened me out in the right direction. Back in the day we were all party boys and we all used to hang out together, but getting married to Sue really straightened me out. Let me just say that I am on a good footing now. We have been married for twenty-five years now; my one and only marriage so I am really proud of that.

You have been in the music industry for a long time, do you feel frightened by how quickly things are changing with technology, and how are you adapting to it?

It’s a little difficult for me Kevin because I like record albums; real vinyl albums (laughter). I am sitting in my little room right now looking at my sound system and one of the things that we do when we are out on the road is we go in search of vinyl. So that is pretty much where I am at (laughter). My Management is always telling me that I need to go on-line and post details of what I am getting up to and to be honest I really do try but I am simply not used to telling the whole world my every move at all times. The simple reason is that I don’t always have a lot to say.

Also streaming has got me all confused Kevin. I have songs on my phone that I get from iTunes but I do not listen to pre-programmed radio stations that try to suggest to you what to play simply because I think I know what I want to hear (laughter). I think that it is great for those who are so inclined to be open to listening to a bunch of stuff and then discover some of our music (laughter). I think that is cool but I’m not that tech savy at all Kevin.

On the subject of vinyl and technology, what do you think is responsible for the current demise of the music industry?

Yes you are right Kevin, the industry is certainly struggling at this moment in time. The problem is Kevin that people simply do not buy the whole album anymore, they buy songs. It’s really funny because when we make a record we always put a lot of thought into the sequencing and the way that we would like someone to drop the needle on the record and listen to it all the way through, or a CD. We really do work hard on the sequencing and the when the album is out people go through it on iTunes song by song and simply pick out the one song that they like (laughter). And that is the reason as to why there are no large album sales anymore. That has changed the dynamic in a big way Kevin. Another factor is that some people simply do not buy music, they just listen and that changes the dynamic as well.

And I suppose that U2 giving away their last album doesn’t help the situation as everyone else is now expected to give away their work.

That was not a good day for the music industry at all. Like lots of other people around the world, I too wound up with an album on my iPhone that I didn’t want (laughter). It just showed up on my iPhone Kevin and I thought to myself I don’t want this on my phone but how do I get it off (laughter). I went to Google and I tried to figure out just how to get it off my phone. I found some instructions but they didn’t work. It took me five months before I was able to get it off my phone. It’s personal Kevin, I have the music that I want to listen to on my phone which run in sequence and after Junior Parker I don’t want to listen to U2 (laughter).

Do you still get that buzz from touring?

I love it. It’s great to be on stage because that is when all of the magic happens.

On that note may I wish you all the very best for the tour.

Thanks Kevin I appreciate that. You take care and I hope to see you in Nottingham. Bye.