Robert Cray sings the blues, but he guards against living the blues

April 15, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Robert Cray doesn't put much stock in the traditional image of the traveling bluesman, a musician whose only home is the nearest club or concert hall and whose social life consists largely of loving where he shouldn't.

Take life on the road as an example. Cray and his band have been touring since October, when his current album, "Shame + a Sin," was released, and don't expect to finish until September. But Cray says he's hardly the road dog he used to be.

"As time has gone by, we've cut it down to going out for about three-and a half, four weeks at a time," he says, over the phone from his home in California. "We'll come home for about a week and a half, or a few days, something like that, and then go back out."

Why the change? Part of it has to do with the wearying nature of heavy touring ("Those three- or four-month tours, where you have no idea where you are."), but mostly it's because Cray thinks there should be more to a bluesman's life than just playing shows.

"When you're out on the road, you're too busy doing other things [to have much happen in your life]," he says. "So the more time you spend at home, the more of a life situation passes through -- as opposed to being on the road and being totally dizzied by getting up and going to the next town all the time."

As for the sneaking around aspect of the bluesman's life, Cray admits he's sung his share of songs on the subject. He just didn't do it for the reasons his listeners might suspect.

"I did a lot of that, yeah," he says. "But I've taken more of a hand in the songwriting [since then]. In the earlier days, a lot of those were songs written by [producers] Dennis [Walker] and Bruce [Bromberg]. "At that time, I thought they were great songs. And they still are. But they really didn't have that much to do with my personal life. I mean, I found some kind of a relationship between myself and those songs, but not as deep as some of the lyrics portray."

He adds, laughing, "I think that stems back from -- well, I'll put it this way: Dennis and Bruce have been married each about three times. So they've got a lot of inspiration."

Back then, Cray says, making records was a bit different than it is now. "Bruce and Dennis would call us in to record, and whatever ideas we had, we had, and whatever ideas they had, we did," he says. 'We'd spend one or two weeks off the road to record, and then back out again."

As a result, some of those older albums can be painful for Cray to hear. "Last night I went to a play that my wife was in, and then after that we went to a bar and had a drink," he says. "They were playing things from the 'Bad Influence' record, and all I hear was where the mistakes were on the songs, things like that.

"So for me nowadays, I think the things that are my favorites are the things that were most recently recorded. I have a lot of fun playing a lot of the new things off the record."

The Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust assists families with applications to independent schools, and supplies financial assistance to those families based on need. There are 20 schools in the Baltimore metropolitan area involved in B.E.S.T.

Opening for Cray will be The Five Chinese Brothers.

Cray's B.E.S.T.

What: B.E.S.T. FEST 94, concert to benefit the Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust

When: Saturday, April 16, 8 p.m.

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall

Tickets: $25 and $35

Call: (410) 481-7328

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