Editor’s note: The quotes from sources in this story came from their interviews with author Tim Parsons over the past several years when he worked for Blues Music Magazine, Lake Tahoe Action and Tahoe Onstage. The Robert Cray Band appears at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, in Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s South Shore Room.
Robert Cray says live music is like basketball: Teamwork is the key to success and individual personalities are revealed in their performances.
The latest Robert Cray Band lineup includes bassist Richard Cousins, a lifelong friend who was a founding band member, Les Falconer, who joined as drummer in 2013, and Dover Weinberg, who played with the band from 1974-1979 and is now back on keyboards.
The bandleader has released quality albums since the 1980 debut “Who’s Been Talkin’?’ though 2015’s “4 Nights of 40 Years.” Just as Magic Johnson won five NBA championships, Cray has five Grammy Awards, and while Magic’s outgoing personality was witnessed on the basketball court, Cray’s comes out on the stage. Cray is considered by many to be shy, but that’s not true, according to many of those who know him.
Look who’s been talkin.’:
Richard Cousins: We gave ourselves basketball names. Robert was Night Train Clemons coming down the lane in a streak; you couldn’t see him. I was Ozel Washington, the spotty point guard. We thought we could play basketball.
Keyboardist Jim Pugh: It’s kind of hard to talk about his personality because he’s a little bit of an enigma to a lot of people, even people who know him. He’s definitely somebody who likes his privacy but I think he’s very revealing when he reveals himself on stage. He gives that both lyrically and emotionally in the way that he sings and he plays.
Tinsley Ellis: Robert Cray is a personal hero of mine. He’s a great guy. Kinda shy at times.
Keb’ Mo’: I used to think he was evasive but, when I really got to know him, he’s just really protective because he’s a really nice guy.
Drummer Tony Braunagel: You can’t small talk with Robert; you won’t get anywhere. That’s a great thing because when he talks or plays, it means something. He’s not going to just throw something out there and hope it sticks. When he says something, he means it. He thinks about it. He does the same thing in playing. I see some shyness in his personality but not in his playing.
Ana Popovic: He’s a true gentleman and he plays like a true gentleman. His licks are very well thought out. They are subtle and superb. What is unique for him is his phrasing. That’s where the guitar players in blues make their own mark.
Roy Rogers: I produced a track he did with John Lee Hooker, “Baby Lee.” Robert’s a pocket player, not just a lead player. He’s one of those guitar players who establishes his own groove. It’s soulful but it’s bluesy. He wasn’t going for that soul bracket but he’s got such a great voice. Oh my God, Robert has a golden voice. But as far as a guitar player, he can just put it in the pocket. He’s a tasteful player.
Robert Cray: I hate people who shout all the time. You know, you’ve got to make a point. I like certain guitar players for the way they converse when they play. Then there are times for the other stuff for the ones who really brag. There’s a lot of personality that comes out in people’s guitar playing.
Richard Cousins: Robert actually isn’t even shy. He’s not boastful. He’s not your typical lead guitar player, lead singer, in this regard. He doesn’t have shit to fuckin’ prove. If you can’t figure out what’s up with him, he doesn’t feel he has to shout it at you. He’s not threatened by any suggestion you make. He’s not worried about you trying to upstage him because he knows you really fucking can’t. He’s not shy. It’s just sort of like, he can’t be bothered with some silly shit.
Curtis Salgado: That is one bad motherfucker. He’s brilliant I’m not saying he’s genius but I’ll tell you he’s ingenious. He’s brilliant. He’s a natural. He’s just a walking musical fucking note with arms and legs. I think it comes to him rather easily. Me, I was a chunk of coal. Robert was already a diamond. I was honored and lucky and blessed to have stood next to him.
Robert Cray: I just like playing. Once you get on the bandstand, everything changes. The adrenalin goes up and there’s a new audience to perform to. There’s a thing that just happens. You go to work as a team to see what’s going to happen.
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