“I can hear the couple fighting right next door.
Their angry words sound clear thru these thin walls.
Around midnight I hear him shout unfaithful one…
And I knew right there the axe was gonna fall.”
By the 1980’s, the blues had become an extinct art form. Rock music had divided into multiple genres, making the blues revival of the 1960’s almost quaint in comparison. Jimi Hendrix had ushered in a new style guitar hero, resulting in players like Eddie Van Halen. The blues rose again in the form of two guitar slingers, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray. Vaughan was from Texas and played an aggressive, raw style of roadhouse blues akin to Lonnie Mack and Buddy Guy. Cray, however, was more of a soul balladeer, a guitar player understated and tasteful in delivery. His songwriting and playing owed as much to Otis Redding as to Freddie King.
Cray came from an unlikely blues source…San Francisco. The town had long lost it’s luster as a music mecca, but the blues scene was thriving. His band, aptly named The Robert Cray Band, toured colleges and were soon signed to indie lable Hightone Records. His first success came in the form of the song ‘Phone Booth’, from his debut. The song was covered by a long list of blues legends, most notably Albert King. This respect translated into the 1985 album “Showdown”, an Alligator Records release with icons Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland. His reputation was growing throughout the music industry and he was soon signed to major label Mercury Records.
Robert Cray’s Mercury debut, 1986’s “Strong Persuader”, was an instant smash. It welcomed him to the pop charts and into the rock elite, going on tour with icons like Tina Turner and Eric Clapton. The song ‘Right Next Door’ was the standout track on the album, featuring an interesting and dry lyrical bent. The song chronicles Cray’s plight as he hears his latest ‘notch on his guitar’ pleading with her main squeeze to stay with her after he discovers the tryst. For fans of the blues, this is a classic tale, but with the strong melodic hooks and stinging guitar riffs it helps to elevate the song above the fray.
Robert Cray has continued to release top notch albums on a frequent basis with great live shows to match. He was, along with Jimmy Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy, a part of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s last concert before his untimely death in 1990. In the light of that great tragedy, Cray continues to spread the word of the blues. His soul stylings have helped to bring a new audience to this musical genre and focus people’s attention to the true icons of the blues.