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Robert Cray


Robert Cray was born on August 1, 1953, in Columbus, Georgia, but his family moved often to follow his father’s military career throughout the States, to eventually settle in the Tacoma, Washington, area. They were a musical household. Cray's parents had broad tastes, thus giving him the chance to absorb everything: pop, rock ’n’ roll, jazz, blues, gospel and soul. Cray started playing the guitar in his early teens, joined his first band while attending junior high school in Newport News, Virginia, and moved to the Northwest at the age of 21 where he soon formed the Robert Cray Band in Eugene, Oregon. After several years of playing gigs all along the West Coast, he made a deal with Mercury Records in 1982. Cray’s musical career truly took off in 1986 when he released his third album, Strong Persuader, which earned him the first Grammy Award. Since then, Cray won other four Grammy Awards, fifteen nominations, and sold more than twelve million records.

Despite Cray’s style is often classified as straight-up blues, his music is a mix of many genres blended into something really special and peculiar to him: part soul, part R&B and part blues. Whatever you call it, anyway, most people would agree that his style is seminal Stratocaster at its best. “Every time somebody asks me about where my music comes from, I give them five or six different directions,” the guitarist says on Robertcray.com, “a little rock, soul, jazz, blues, a little gospel feel. Then there are some other things that maybe fall in there every once in a while, like a little Caribbean flavour or something.” Cray adds, “When I first started playing the guitar, I wanted to be George Harrison - that is until I heard Jimi Hendrix. After that, I wanted to be Albert Collins and Buddy Guy and B. B. King.”

From the very beginning, Cray played with a Stratocaster guitar and, for many experts and listeners, his music has come to define the clean-yet-rich nature of its natural voice. His spare, tasteful playing style enables a Stratocaster to be heard also in a pure setting - classy enough to work out with a few powerful, well-landed notes. Whilst less mature and talented players assault you with a blizzard of riffage, Robert Cray’s music is a virtual lesson of elegant simplicity, yet he manages to be always utterly touching. His technique is magnified by his use of the bare flesh of his right thumb rather than a pick, while running it through either a Matchless Clubman or a Fender VibroKing, with just an edge of a breakup when he picks hard. Instead of using the Strat’s vibrato (he removes the bar from his own guitars or chooses hardtail variations), Cray prefers using a classic left-hand finger vibrato to induce an emotive shake in his tone, although he is also fond of bringing in the VibroKing’s tremolo to enhance some classic retro tones. Fender released the Custom Shop Robert Cray Signature Stratocaster in 2003, a hardtail model with vintage-wind pickups and Cray’s favourite Inca Silver finish, and a more affordable standard-run Robert Cray Stratocaster.

Next player: Pee Wee Crayton