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2012 Madison Ribberfest Blues Bash

Legendary bluesman
Cray a ‘showstopper’

The Blues Hall of Famer is 2012 headliner

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

(August 2012) – When he burst upon the blues scene three decades ago, Robert Cray’s indefinable sound brought new life to blues music. It revved up the old definition of blues and turned the music genera around.

Ribberfest Logo

Weekend Schedule

Friday, Aug. 17
(Festival Gates Open at 5 p.m.)
• 6 p.m.: Jimmy Davis Band
(7 p.m.: Backyard BBQ Blast
Judging begins in the Brown Gym)
• 8 p.m.: Trampled Under Foot
(9:30 p.m.: Backyard BBQ Blast amateur cooking winners announced on stage)
• 10 p.m.: Nick Moss

Saturday, Aug. 19
(9-11 a.m.: Kidz “Q” amateur cooking
competition and judging)
(11 a.m.: KCBS’ first cooking entries
turned in for judging at the Brown Gym)Saturday, Aug. 18
(Festival Gates Open at 11 a.m.)
• 11:30 a.m.: Jimmy G & the Sidewinders
• 1:30 p.m.: Tyler Mac
• 3:30 p.m.: “Good to the Bone”
rib-eating contest in front of stage)
• 3:30 p.m.: Eden Brent
• 5:30 p.m.: Tad Robinson
• 7:30 p.m.: Johnny Hoy & the Bluefish
• 9:30 p.m.: Robert Cray
(Schedule subject to change.)

Admission Wristbands:
Two-day pass $20 through Aug. 17 and only available at the Lanier-Madison Visitors Center, 601 W. First St., Madison.
No two-day passes sold at gate!
Friday only = $20; Saturday only = $20.
Children ages 12 & under = Free.
Bring lawn chairs or blankets.
No pets, coolers, skateboards, bikes, rollerblades, umbrellas, canopies, food, beverages,
video or audio recording devices.

On Sale at the Souvenir Tent:
Ribberfest T-Shirts = $15
Ribberfest Pins = $5
Ribberfest Chairs = $10

At 57, Cray recently became the youngest living legend to become inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011. This feat proves that persistence pays off.
“Blues is one of the foundations of our music, but it’s not all that we play,” Cray has been quoted as saying. “Every time somebody asks me about where my music comes from, I give them five or six different directions – a little rock, soul, jazz, blues and a little gospel feel.”
He said there are other things that may fall into the mix, “like a little Caribbean flavor or something. You just never know.” He attributes his wide ranging sound to the music he grew up listening to and radio tunes of the 1960s.
Cray is scheduled to perform as the Saturday night headliner for the Madison Ribberfest Blues Bash. He will take the stage at 9:30 p.m. and finish out what organizers hope will even top last year’s show, which featured blues legend Buddy Guy.
“Each year we seem to top the year before,” said Rocky Harrell, a member of the Ribberfest band committee. “With the talent we’ve got, we’re going to be as good as or better than last year.”
Cray did not experience the typical upbringing of a blues musician. In contrast to the impoverished beginnings of many blues greats, Cray grew up in a middle-class lifestyle, born in 1953 in Columbus, Ga. His father was an Army quartermaster and the family moved around a lot from location to location.
This constant uprooting made him a shy, introverted child. He convinced his mother to buy him a guitar, and he found solace in music. He had some training as a classical pianist when young, but his first serious attempt at music was a mix of rock-and-roll and rhythm and blues.
In his 20s Cray played college towns on the West Coast before moving to Eugene, Ore. This is where he formed the Robert Cray Band in 1974. This was a four-piece touring band that featured Cray on lead vocals and guitar.
His big break came in 1986 with the release of his fifth album, “Strong Persuader.” It was his third album and won him his first Grammy Award. Throughout his career, Cray has been nominated for 15 Grammys and sold more than 12 million albums worldwide.
As a testament to his influence, Rolling Stone Magazine credits “Strong Persuader” with reinventing the blues with Cray’s “distinct razor sharp guitar playing” that “introduced a new generation of mainstream rock fans to the language and form of the blues.”
Cray said of the album that went platinum, “I guess “Strong Persuader” just captured a good spirit and energy. People are still calling out for some of those songs at shows.”
Harrell said Cray is “very popular. He’s won five Grammy’s. In the ’70s and ’80s, a lot of FM radio stations played his music.” Cray has had a strong crossover appeal, his music being a combination of blues, soul and rock.
Scoping a wide range of emotions, his songs have been characterized as modernized twists on such age-old themes as love found, love lost and every facet of relationships in between-lyrics that told fundament blues stories. “All the blues greats took chances and developed their own style,” Cray said in an interview with People magazine. “They didn’t copy. They dared to be different, which is what we want to do.”

Robert Cray

Photos provided

This year’s Madison Ribberfest Blues Bash lineup includes Trampled Under Foot (consisting of siblings Kris, Danielle and Nick Schnebelen); Johnny Hoy; Eden Brent and Tad Robinson. Friday night headliner Nick Moss and Saturday night headliner Robert Cray (pictured).

Not content with interpreting his music the same way twice, “Cray’s daring innovations have placed him at the top of the business,” wrote Blues Rock Review earlier this year. “His distinct guitar style that has become a signature blend of rhythm and blues, pop, rock, soul and traditional blues helping introduce old and new fans to a more contemporary blues sound.”
Many in the industry feel Cray was obviously influenced by guitarist Albert Collins. He saw Collins perform up close when Collins played a set at one of Cray’s high school dances. This proved to be instrumental to Cray’s career, since he was even passionate in high school about the blues.
Collins later recruited the Robert Cray Band to play with him on his Pacific Northwest tour. This gave them more exposure to much larger audiences. The veteran musician also taught Cray and his band members’ invaluable information about the financial side of a career in the music industry.
Cray said other major influences included Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison. His father owned a voluminous record collection, which included gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz and traditional blues. The latter had an effect on his music as well.
During his illustrious career, Cray has recorded 15 Billboard charting studio albums and performed thousands of sold-out shows. He has played or written music with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker and Eric Clapton. Cray has been an opening act for Clapton and supported him on Clapton’s 2006-2007 world tour.
The New York Times has said that Cray’s “voice, alternately smooth and craggy, is often richer and more emotive than Mr. Clapton’s, and he knows the best ways to use it.”
Cray puts that voice to the test on his latest effort, “Nothin But Love.” Produced by famed rocker Kevin Shirley (Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin), Cray’s much anticipated 16th studio album includes material from all four Robert Cray Band members. Cray, Jim Pugh, Richard Cousins and Tony Braunagel make a communal effort to blend blues, rock, soul and jazz into a distinct and indefinable sound all their own.
Cray said that “Kevin did an amazing job producing this album, and I’m really happy with the outcome. He captured the real essence of the Robert Cray Band, that live energy we deliver on the road that is usually so difficult to nail down in the studio. I think it’s one of the strongest records that we’ve had in some time.”
“Nothin But Love” will be released by Mascot Label Group’s Provogue Records on Aug. 28. Recorded live over a two week period at Revolver Studios in Los Angeles, the CD contains 10 songs full of Cray’s trademark sound and distinct playing style.
“We have been very luck,” Cray said of his band, “with music becoming mostly digital in recent years and artists not selling the same number of physical records; we’re afforded the luxury of having a great loyal and amazing fan base around the world, allowing a band like ours to continue to work.”

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