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October 23, 1986 - Image 16

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1986-10-23
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This is a tabloid page

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aying for the Big Time
After 14 years on the road and thousands of
club dates, Robert Cray's effort is paying off
R obert Cray had thought that Portland perspective to the traditional
would be the end of the road for now. blues treatment of love and its
But after two weeks of traveling, per- frequent demise. "Right Next
forming his smooth blend of blues and R&B Door (Because of Me)" takes
in small clubs up and down the West Coast, the point of view of a regretful
the singer-guitarist finds himself forced to "other man," overhearing the
forgo his anticipated 28 days of vacation. finalthroesofthe marriage he's
The sacrifice, however, is for a very good broken up: "She was just an-
cause. Fourteen years and thousands of othernotchonmyguitar / She's
club dates after becoming a full-time musi- gonna lose the man that really
cian, Cray, 33, seems on the verge of some- loves her/ In the silence I can
thing big. His fourth album, "Strong Per- hear their breakinghearts." Charging:
suader" (Hightone/Mercury), is ready to Musically, Cray seems to
come out, and it's his first to be distributed bridge the blues and R&B. "To
by a major label. His record company will me, blues and rhythm and blues are nearly
soon fly him to London and New York for thesame thing,"says theSeattle-based mu-
promotional purposes. And he's been asked sician. "The blues has a real basic chord
to play at the gala 60th birthday party for progression and R&B is a little funkier."
Chuck Berry. So what if he loses some time For the most part, Cray's influences show
off? "I'm smiling," says Cray. "This is the most clearly in little touches: in his singing,
price ofsuccess. I'm charging, man." he may squeeze out a high note just like
Not that he hasn't always. In a normal B.B.King,growlalinejustlike Bobby(Blue)
year, Cray and his band play more than 200 Bland or glide through a phrase like Sam
days-244 last year, to be exact, and 255 in Cooke. As a major guitar inspiration, Cray
1984. "It's good, really good for the band," cites Hubert Sumlin, longtime lead guitar-
he says. "You get to the point where a lot of ist for Howlin' Wolf, as well as a host of
good things happen musically that are un- others. Perhaps the secret to Cray's success
planned." It's no wonder, then, that Cray's is the way he remains true to blues tradi-
music is incredibly tight and focused-both tions while sounding entirely modern.
onstage and on disc. If "Strong Persuad- Oddly enough, the Beatles inspired Cray
er" seems like a major step forward, it's be- to begin playing guitar. "I was in fifth
cause the songs he's chosen bring a fresh grade," he says, "and the whole world was

0

ROCKY W. WIDNER
A smooth blend of the blues and R&B
watching them. Ijust got caught up in it."In
high school, Cray played with a group that
did cover versions of everything from Jimi
Hendrix to the Young Rascals. Over time,
Cray worked his musical way back to the
'kind of music he heard in his home growing
up. "We had Ray Charles and Miles Davis
and Sam Cooke and Bobby Bland-a nice
assortment of all sorts of stuff," he re-
members. "But when I started playing, I
decided I didn't like what my parents lis-
tened to." Life with his parents also pre-
pared him to be a traveling man. Dad was
career Army, so Cray lived for various
lengths of time all around the country and
also in West Germany. "I learned very well
how to pack and unpack a suitcase."
RON GIVENS

No Compromise:
The Hearifixers
T he cover of the Heartfixers' fourth al-
bum, "Cool On It" (Loodslide), shows
a snake-handling, wizened Southern
preacher, apparently experiencing a reli-
gious rapture. What does fondling venom-
ous reptiles have to do with the blues? "It
portrays the way we feel about our music,
the fervor about it," begins guitarist and
vocalist Tinsley Ellis, 29. Then he bursts
the bubble: "Some people say it looks like
me at the end of a two-week road trip."
That's the Heartfixers: serious about their
music and almost nothing else.
Unlike such blues popularizers as
George Thorogood, the Heartfixers (their
OCTOBER 1986

name comes from an Albert King song) do
notdilutetheirraw, insistentsoundtoget a
broader audience; when they play blues or
R&B, they concentrate on the basics. Ellis
does wonders with hard-edged guitar work
that recalls Freddie King, while Dave Cot-
ton's masterful sax and smoky-sweet vo-

cals give the music an uncanny depth.
Blues piety doesn't mean they are a one-
sound band: "We're sort of broadening the
base," Ellis says, relishing "American-
roots rock" in sources from country to what
he calls "surf-abilly." "Cool On It" is down-
right eclectic, mixing songs like the com-
pelling R&B title track and Leo Kottke's
meditative "Sailor's Grave on the Prairie."
The diversity lets the band shift the play
list to please a crowd, dishing out more of
the blues for a South Carolina all-night
roadhouse than for a rock-hungry college
crowd. "You don't serve pork at a bar mitz-
vah," Ellis says.
Hankering after national prominence,
the Heartfixers play 50 weeks a year-
most of it on the road. Ellis, who dropped
out of law school a few years back to pursue
the blues muse, explains, "If you have op-
tions to fall back on, you tend to fall back."
JOHN SCH WARTZ
NEWSWEEK ON CAMPUS 61

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