Robert Cray: 10 guitarists I enjoy listening to
On 28 August, Robert Cray releases his Kevin Shirley-produced album Nothin But Love. MusicRadar spoke with Cray about the upcoming 10-song set, but in advance of that conversation, we spoke with the blues master about some of the guitarists he makes sure to keep on his iPod.
"These aren't necessarily the guitar players I consider to be the 'best of all time' or the 'greatest ever,'" he says, "although I'm sure you could put them on such a list. I just don't like ranking guitarists that way. These are simply players that I really enjoy listening to. They're among my favorites, they've influenced me, and I just think they're really, really great."
And so, in alphabetical order, Robert Cray runs down 10 guitarists he never tires of hearing.
“When I joined the Columbia Records Club and bought Jimi Hendrix’s first album, I got Disraeli Gears, too, and I immediately got into the Cream thing. I’ve listened to a lot of Eric’s music over the years. What can you say? He’s a fantastic guy and an incredible musician.
“He’s had a lot of phases, but I look at it all as one. It’s probably different for me because I know Eric personally – he’s a friend – but to me, it’s all one thing that forms Eric and his music. He likes a lot of music and he absorbs it and plays it. He mixes it up. The cool thing about Eric is, don’t talk about it – he’ll kick your ass!” [laughs]
“One of my main heroes. I saw him play once at an outdoor in 1969, and two years later he played my high school graduation party. I got a chance to talk to him briefly. I walked up to him and he said, ‘Young man, you play guitar?’ ‘Yep,’ I said. And he looked at me and said, ‘Keep it up.’ [laughs]
“Five years later, we were backing him up. We played our first big gig with Albert at the San Francisco Blues Festival, and of course, we recorded together and did a lot of shows. He was kind of like a dad to us.
“With Albert, there’s the power, but there’s the uniqueness, too. He had his own tuning, and he was just… he was bad! [laughs] Nobody sounds like Albert Collins.”
“I love Steve Cropper because of his discipline. That whole band, Booker T & The MGs, was so solid, and they’re a good example for any band how to play parts, play them well and work as a team. That way, the subtle things that you do can really shine. Steve was excellent at that. A great discipline player.”
“Grant Green was a fantastic jazz guitar player. He was just really pure, smooth and simplistic, but he had great tone and phrasing.
“He made a lot of albums, lots of Blue Note stuff like Matador, and they’re wonderful. People should check him out. He was a beautiful guitar player.”
“I can remember the first time I heard the chords to Purple Haze. We had an assembly at the high school I went to in Newport News, Virginia. This local band came on and they had Marshall stacks, which I had never seen before. This was in 1967, and I had been playing guitar for two years. Big Marshalls were a real new thing to me. The band played Purple Haze, and those chords just shocked me. Shocked me! Blew my mind.
“After school let out, I had to find out what it was they were playing, and a school friend told me, ‘That was Jimi Hendrix.’ I immediately joined the Columbia Records Club and ordered Are You Experienced, Disraeli Gears – anything that was psychedelic.
“We moved backed to Washington State, and I got to see Jimi Hendrix live – twice. I saw him at the Seattle Center Coliseum and one of his last gigs at the Sick’s Stadium. That last show was in July of 1970, just a couple of months before he passed away.
“Seeing Jimi play was awesome. He brought his whole personality on stage. He literally was a guitar hero. Jimi Hendrix… where did he come from? [laughs] That’s what I first thought when I heard his music. It was all this new stuff that nobody had even thought of before. But what I really liked was the soulfulness of his playing, that wonderful, sweet Curtis Mayfield stuff.
“And there was his rhythm playing. His rhythm guitar playing, to me, was so melodic. He really deserves a lot more recognition for that aspect of his artistry.”
“Probably the saddest man playing the blues. His voice had so much emotion – he couldn’t hold it back. And his guitar playing was so great, just undeniable. I discovered him through Fleetwood Mac.
“He’s known for that riff. Everybody plays that riff. But also, the times where he doesn’t play slide were the songs I really dug, because I don’t play slide. No Love In My Heart, The 12 Year Old Boy – beautiful songs. He was a big influence on a lot of people.”
“A super-powered master. Big in stature, big in tone, and with strings like nobody’s business. I love Albert King.
“All of his albums are great, so I can’t pick just one. And he recorded a song of ours called Phone Booth, so that was a big honor. There’s one song that he played, As The Years Go Passing By, when we did a tour with him in France, and he was on stage smoking his pipe. There was this red sunset behind him, and just to see him up there, tearing it up, with that glow behind him – it was incredible!”
“I first heard Pat Martino’s stuff with Don Patterson, the organ player. There’s a song on one of the albums they did called These Are Soulful Days, and it’s incredible. I love organ trios – the way the guitar works off the keyboards. Pat could work wonders in that context. Fantastic player.”
“What I liked about Otis Rush’s music, and I still do, is the minor key stuff he did. My Love Will Never Die and so many songs, there was a real mysterious quality to it.
“Adding to that was his reverb sound. It was incredibly different. There’s a sweet spot in my heart for Otis Rush.”
“Hubert Sumlin, of course, the total opposite of the power of Howlin’ Wolf. That was a great combination, those two. Hubert, bless his soul, inspired so many people, and he inspired me.
“I liked his rhythm guitar playing and the soulfulness of his lead playing – plus all those little slides and tricks that he would do. He was a maser at leading into phrases. Hopping, skipping, jumping – he always surprised you. Beautiful stuff.
“I got the chance to talk to him over the years, and he was a real character. What a wonderful human being he was.”