His First … What?

Though music has taken a digital turn, Robert Cray didn’t recently get his first computer to keep up with industry trends. The Grammy-winning blues singer is just making sure he can see his young son and wife while he’s on tour.

“The band just bought me a computer, like three weeks ago,” the 56-year-old said in a recent interview. “I just turned it on a few days ago, and I’m getting set up basically so I can see our 2-year-old son when I’m on the road. So I can have video conversations with him.”

Photo: Scott Legato / RockStarProPhotography.com
DTE Energy Center, Clarkston, Mich.

His family isn’t the only thing he’s smiling about these days. Cray and his band – including guitarist Richard Cousins, drummer Tony Braunagel and keyboardist Jim Pugh – recently released their eighteenth CD, This Time. Cray says the disc – which fuses blues, soul and contemporary R&B – is filled with “new life and new energy.”

AP: So you really just got your first computer?

Cray: They did it because they wanted to me to see my son. And I was making plans to do that, because I had watched the other guys with their computers and watched them having conversations with their families and said, “Well I’m going to do this.” But they beat me to the punch.

AP: Speaking of technology, how has the band been affected by the digital turn the music industry’s taken?

Cray: Not too many people get the million-selling plaques anymore and all that stuff like that. And a lot of bands survived just on selling records and didn’t think about touring so much. And a lot of bands based their whole careers on just getting that one hit. But it has affected a band such as ours, but only in a different way. I mean, it would nice to have had the same kind of sales more recently as we had in the past, but we started playing in bars and as long as it’s fun, we’ll continue to do so.

AP: Talk about the different sounds on “This Time.”

Cray: Well there’s one song in particular that was a lot of fun to record. That’s called “Love 2009” and … it’s got a little shan-a-lang guitar in it. Then there’s the first track, it’s called “Chicken In the Kitchen,” and that’s like pretty much a straight-up blues, modern-blues thing, but with an old style double-entendre lyric. And then there’s some good ballads. The title track is called “This Time” and it’s one of those, I think one of those probably related to Memphis and the 60’s kind of R&B ballads. And so with those three, those are the different kinds of direction the band goes.

AP: What else is different about the band now?

Cray: This time I think there’s a little bit more confidence in that fact that we can do all these different styles of music and make them sound real. … as you get a little bit older and you start writing these songs you know from what you’re talking about because you’ve lived a little bit more. And so I think that every time we do a record, I think that our songwriting reflects the fact that we feel it a little bit more.

AP: Since you career has stretched since 1980, have you thought about how life could be if you weren’t a musician?

Cray: When I first started playing guitar when I was 12, I just never stopped. And you never know where things are going to go. You can’t really plan it out. But I just kept playing and never stopped.