Grammy-winning Blues guitarist Robert Cray offers his learned guidance.
LEARN FROM FRIENDS
I was inspired to play guitar when I saw The Beatles. There was all this excitement about The Beatles and other British Invasion bands hitting the States, so a lot of the other kids I knew gravitated towards the guitar and it was like a guitar school basically: everyone had a guitar, so when one kid learned something the other would pick it up and teach each other; it was great support group
When we started The Cray Band in 1974, we were doing covers - things like James Brown, Magic Sam, Buddy Guy and all that stuff - but we were doing music that we wanted to play. We weren’t doing it for the audience. We had in our minds that we wanted to play blues and rhythm and blues, so that’s what we did. Fortunately for us, the town we had moved to, Eugene, Oregon, is a University town and so people were open - you find that mostly in University areas, that the young gravitate towards something that’s a little bit more alternative, and the blues was that in the town that we got to, so it was very welcoming.
DON’T FORGET TO WORK
Back in the days, bands saved up to make a recording and they’d submit it to some major record label because they’d get some kind of deal. Now, the record companies go online to see who’s happening, who’s got support on YouTube, and then they come and look for you. There’s good things about what’s going on now, but there was also good things about what was going on in the past because, for the bands who worked in the trenches, playing the clubs and stuff like that, those were good proving grounds for bands; for longevity, to work things out, to learn how to make music together, and to garner a fan base.
GET OVER BAD REVIEWS
You have to be real about it. Maybe some of the songs aren’t as good as the previous record, and that’s just how it is. I mean, nobody’s going to have a perfect track record and that’s to be understood. It might come as a surprise the first time that it happens, but that’s how it goes, that’s part of the game. You just hope for a better recording in the next go around.
KNOW YOUR INSTRUMENT
It’s very important to get comfortable with your instrument, and to get to a point where you can do what feels good. You’re not going to master the thing, there’s just no way, but just to be able to feel comfortable and to be able to get around on it. Everybody wants to have their own recognisable sound and I think that’s really important. Everybody’s an individual, and every band is their own band, and you do want to distinguish yourself from the others.
MAKE YOUR OWN BLUES
The blues is in constant motion. Blues needs to have an injection of current events to keep it going, and what needs is just for people just to do their own take on it. There’s only so many tales that can be told, but it has to be your own personal tale. It doesn’t make sense to try to be Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters because they’ve done that - it’s time for you to be you and to tell your stories.
Robert Cray tours the UK in March.
Interview: Simon Harper