Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bobby Murray opens for old friend Robert Cray

High school graduation can often provide memories that last a lifetime
For Ferndale blues guitarist Bobby Murray, it was a day that changed his life forever.
“It was June 9, 1971,” Murray said. “I remember the date, because it was my birthday and Albert Collins performed at our high school graduation. I turned 18, saw Albert Collins and graduated from high school. It just blew me away.”
Bobby Murray (Photo by Joe Ballor)
Also watching Collins at the ceremony at Lakes High School in Lakewood, Wash., was Murray’s classmate, singer-guitarist Robert Cray.
“I was sitting right next to Robert and our jaws just dropped,” Murray recalled. “I knew right then and there that was what I wanted to do. It changed Robert too. It was great because we were both able to continue a relationship with Albert until he passed away (in 1993).”
At the time, Murray, who opens for the Robert Cray Band at the Royal Oak Music Theatre Sunday, was in a blues-rock band with Cray called Steakface.
 “We were best pals and hung out every day after school,” Murray said. “We had band practice five days a week. Robert had Hendrix, Beck, Clapton, and those guys down pat by the time he was 15 or so. He was really a prodigy. But, you could almost sort of tell that there was a part of him that he was still searching for that he hadn’t found.
Bobby Murray and Robert Cray, circa 1970.
“Then, when he got the blues, you could see that it all just made sense. You could just tell. When he really got involved in the blues, the deep gospel-soul blues stuff, that was really his voice. … Seeing Albert Collins crystallized everything.”
After Steakface, Murray and Cray each played in other bands for a year or so before joining forces again in the blues/soul band Robert Cray and the Crayolas. The band enjoyed regional success in the Northwest, but Murray eventually left to travel to Los Angeles and pursue his own career.
“The position I play is kind of like a quarterback, and there was already a Hall of Famer (Cray) right here in the making. … He always encouraged me, and God knows I learned my share of licks from him. He really opened me up to some things about playing. ”
Murray worked with numerous blues artists including Frankie Lee, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Percy Mayfield, Pee Wee Crayton, Otis Rush, and Lowell Fulson. He joined Collins’ band and, in 1988, was invited to be a member of Etta James’ backup group, the Roots Band. He performed with the legendary singer until her death earlier this year.
Murray played on two of James’ Grammy winning recordings and on B.B. King’s Grammy award winning album “Blues Summit,” where he again teamed up with Cray on the track “Playing With My Friends.”
He’s appeared on numerous television programs, including “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night with David Letterman,” and also performed live at the 1992 Summer Olympics and President Bill Clinton’s inaugural celebration. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Detroit Blues Society in 2011.
Murray and Cray, circa 2009. (Photo by Tim McBride)
Murray has recorded three solo albums and has another release planned in early 2013. At Sunday’s concert, he will release the album’s first single, “Finders Keepers.”
Cray, meanwhile, became a top recording artist, with a career that includes five Grammy awards. In 2011, Cray was inducted to the Blues Hall of Fame.
“I felt years before that that he was going to be a star,” Murray said. “He was just that talented and that gifted. The whole package was there.”
On Sunday, Murray and Cray will also be joined in the reunion by another former member of the Crayolas (and former Roots Band member), bassist Richard Cousins, who recently rejoined the Robert Cray Band. His tenure with the band began with its barnstorming regional origins in Oregon in 1974 and continued until 1991. Cray’s longtime keyboardist, Jim Pugh, is another longtime buddy. It was Pugh who put a good word in for Murray when he was being considered as guitarist for the Roots Band.
Murray and Cray still see each other occasionally.
“Not as often as I did when I toured with Etta, because we would bump into each other on the road a bit,” Murray said. “But, we’ve remained friends and keep in contact.”
He’s not sure if he will be invited to jam with Cray on Sunday.
“I know we will be hanging out … that’s for sure. I’ll get a chance to see him and get caught up a little bit. It will be a big treat.”

Talent plus hard work equals success
Cray not only sings and plays guitar (he’s the only axeman in his band), but writes music too.
He wrote all the songs on his new release, “Nothin But Love” (Mascot Records).
“He’s really musical,” Murray said. “I’ve seen him pick up a violin for the first time and get music out of it. He got behind a set of drums and could play it.”
Cray played bass in an uncredited role in the house party band Otis Day and the Knights in the movie “Animal House.”
“He has such a great ear and a wonderful touch. He was the guy in the band who would figure out the songs and we would learn them from Robert. He has such a great ear.”
Murray remembers how Cray worked hard to utilize his considerable talent.
“I remember the work ethic even in high school. We rehearsed five days a week, and if we needed to do an extra one, we would. It was just a given. That was pretty good learning point for me too.
“Of course, it rains a lot up in Washington state too.”

Bobby Murray and Friends
Backing Murray up on Sunday will be a revue of talented Motor City musicians: vocalists Lenny Watkins and Tom Hogarth, guitarist Mark “Pazman” Pasman, bassist/vocalist Dave Uricek, keyboardist/vocalist Mark Thibodeau, and drummer Renell Gonsalves.

The Robert Cray Band and special guest Bobby Murray and Friends perform an all-ages show at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, at Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak. Tickets are $35-$45.  Call 248-399-2980 or visit

To send info to JB Blues, please email

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Callahan's celebrates fifth anniversary

Things have come full circle for Callahan’s Music Hall as the Auburn Hills venue celebrates its fifth anniversary.

On Wednesday night, Nov. 21, The Reefermen will perform at a release party for their new vinyl album "Sunday Morning Smoke." It was five years ago, on Thanksgiving Eve 2007, when James Wailin, Bobby East and the boys performed on Callahan’s opening night.
“We weren’t even sure if we could do music, because music was not done on that side of town,” owner Mike Callahan said. “We hired The Reefermen, and they were a logical choice because they were the best band in the area, and still are. It just morphed from that night.”
When Mike and his partner Dan Callahan opened the club in what had been a Ponderosa restaurant in the 1970s, they decided to make music the focal point of the venue.  With a huge stage, excellent sightlines, great sound by engineer Peter Jay, and a small-club feel, the 200-seat venue has developed into the best place to hear live blues in Detroit.
“We decided if we were going to do music, we were going to do it right,” Callahan said. “The only thing we’re really about is the music. That’s where the magic is.”
They started by booking top-tier local acts. After a month or so, they took a risk and booked their first national performer, Chris Duarte. A long string of top-notch talent -- including Johnny Winter. Jimmy Thackery, Coco Montoya, and many, many more -- have performed at Callahan’s over the last five years.
“We grew up going to Sully’s, the Soup Kitchen, George and Harry’s, and Sisko’s,” Callahan said. “Blues was the music we knew and understood. Blues fell in and became our niche.”
The venue has hosted somewhere in the range of 800 shows.
“We’re very thankful,” Callahan said. “Hopefully, we’ve become one of the better rooms in Detroit for music, and regionally too. People fly hundreds of miles to come to a show. It’s weird, we are better known outside of Detroit than in Detroit.”
Tommy Castro and the Painkillers are at Callahan's, 2105 South Blvd., on Friday, Nov. 23. On Saturday, Nov. 24, it is a "De-troit Holiday Bash" with the Howling Diablos, Infatuations and Names Unlisted.
For information and advance tickets, click

To send info to JB Blues, please email

Friday, November 2, 2012

Chris Leigh Fundraiser

Another Detroit bluesman has been ailing and needs help with medical expenses. As usual, the local music community is banding together to help out.
A fundraiser for guitarist/vocalist Chris “Boogiechile” Leigh will be held from 1 p.m.-midnight on Sunday, Nov. 4 at Scooter’s Bar and Grill, 6004 Torrey Road, in Flint.
Leigh has been recuperating from intestine surgery after losing nearly 100 pounds in four months. He is back up to 164 pounds now, after weighing only 129 two months ago.
Chris "Boogiechile" Leigh jams at Heatstock in 2008.
“The last thing we want is a musician who can’t work and whose income stops because of an illness,” said Gary “Shadowhawk” Ellis, drummer with the Broken Arrow Blues Band, who has been playing with Leigh for 27 years in different band configurations.  “They have to worry about rent, food, medical supplies and medications.
“They come home after a big operation and have to worry about the landlord knocking on the door, or if they can’t fill their prescriptions that week. That’s why the music community comes together.”
The lengthy list of talented performers starts off at 1 p.m. Sunday with acoustic blues by Carl Henry -- who was himself the beneficiary of benefit jams recently, but who is now back on the performing circuit --  and Sweet Willie Tea, recent winner of the Detroit Blues Challenge solo-duo division, who follow at 2 p.m.
Other bands slated to perform include Greg Nagy (3 p.m.), Pat Zelenka Project (4 p.m.), Covenant Witch Doctors  (5 p.m.), Jupiter Thunderbird (6 p.m.), Jones’n (7 p.m.), Eddie Blues Barney/Tim Freeman & Friends (8 p.m.), and Leigh’s own Broken Arrow Blues Band (9 p.m.). A mega jam closes the night.
Admission is a $10 donation at the door.
Rounding up help for the popular musician was not difficult. Shadowhawk booked two benefit shows in 10 hours and many bands volunteered to perform. The second Chris Leigh benefit will be at Cooley Lake Inn in Commerce Township from 1 p.m.-midnight on Nov. 18.
“The Flint community always has great outpouring for any musician in need,” Shadowhawk  said. “We had the Carl Henry benefit up there, as well as one at Cooley Lake Inn, in concert with the Detroit Blues Society. We figured we would do the same thing for Chris.”
Leigh feels a bit uneasy about the focus on him and his illness, and guilty about his friends putting forth the effort on his behalf.
“I think it’s gonna be a really fun day despite my slight uncomfortableness over it,” said Leigh, who still faces one more operation in the future. “We’ll get the music on and have a good time.”

St. Cecelia release party
 St. Cecelia celebrates the release of its eponymous CD on Sunday at the Elizabeth Theater above the Park Bar, 2040 Park Ave. Detroit.
St. Cecelia includes three of Detroit’s most talented musicians: guitarist-singer Brett Lucas (Bettye LaVette), bassists James Simonson (The Brothers Groove) and drummer Todd Glass (The Muggs).
Doors open at 5 p.m. and the show starts with Alison Lewis at 5:30 p.m. The John Rhoades Band (also celebrating a CD release) goes on at 6:30 p.m. and Saint Cecilia hits the stage at 8 p.m.
Admission is $15 and includes catering by Chef Chris' Boogie Woogie BBQ from 6-8 p.m.
You can buy tickets at the door or purchase tickets online at to reserve your dinner plate.

‘Happy to Have the Blues’
Big City Rhythm & Blues Magazine presents the "Happy to Have the Blues Awards" from 4-11 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11 at UDetroit Media Cafe, 1427 Randolph, in Detroit.
The event will feature NYC's Dave Fields, Motor City's Bob Monteleone and one-man blues band Deak Harp, as well as other guests.
Detroit’s Queen of the Blues, Alberta Adams, and the late Johnnie Bassett will be honored.
For more information, click

To contact JB Blues, please email