So, thinking about it more, these Robert Cray albums may have been my first real blues albums. It would still be another few years, and a geographic shift, before I would really start to get into some blues.
In 1988, Robert Cray’s clean blues style is kinda ubiquitous. This album was characterized as more experimental at the time, and Cray is definitely stretching his legs a bit here, but it’s also, again, a very ’80s sounding blues record. Like, if Miami Vice had a blues soundtrack, this would have been it. I bought it when it came out in the summer of 1988, I’m sure, probably at Syracuse’s Record Theater. I don’t think I ever played it as much as I played “Strong Persuader,” and like that one, playing it now hasn’t produced a revelation for me that will put this back into rotation. No denying Robert Cray’s skill, but this just doesn’t do it for me.
But looking at my collection, and what I owned when, would seem to indicate that these Robert Cray records were among my first actual blues, a genre in which I had long been interested, but which I found daunting. Of course as a British Invasion fan I was well aware of the importance of the blues and rhythm ’n’ blues in rock ’n’ roll. I had one wonderful album of the Yardbirds backing Sonny Boy Williamson II that was pure blues. I had one Leadbelly record that was kinda disappointingly more folk than blues. I had The Blues Brothers albums, which are mostly white interpretations of the blues. But I’m not sure, at the time Robert Cray came around, that I had any black blues, and I knew that I wasn’t getting that real blues experience through these white interpretations. But I also didn’t know how to get into the real blues — I’d listen to the hour-a-week-late-Sunday-night blues show on the college station, and try to figure out what of it resonated with me. Still being very concerned with getting value for my money, it wasn’t easy to listen to a single song on the radio and say, “Yes, an entire album of this would be what I would want.” In the case of Robert Cray, I did say that.
And then it still took me a couple more years before I really took a dive into the blues. Looking back, I think that must have had at least something to do with supply. My used records purveyors in Syracuse were weak on the blues, and so was Record Theater. When we moved to Albany, there was Records N Such, a local chain whose flagship store in Stuyvesant Plaza was, for a chain, remarkably good. That all ended when it sold out to RecordTown (omigod, it’s just like “Empire Records”!), which became FYE. (That company is also Albany-based and therefore we should love it. We do not.)
Records N Such had quite a good blues CD section (and quite a good classical section, as well). Taking a dive through some CD samplers and getting on board the Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker waves that were going on in the early ’90s, blues led to more blues and I could finally say I had some decent blues in my collection, and looking back I guess it would be fair to say that Robert Cray started that all.
But still . . . I just listened to this again, and it just doesn’t speak to me anymore.