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 www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
To send info to JB Blues, please email Joe.Ballor@dailytribune.com