KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Thirty Year Thursday – ROBERT CRAY “STRONG PERSUADER”

[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]

Artist: ROBERT CRAY
Album: STRONG PERSUADER

Robert Cray - Strong PersuaderBy the mid-‘80s my exposure to the blues came mostly via British invasion bands like The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Cream & Led Zeppelin and more contemporary American artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top & George Thorogood…all of whom were white and at least one generation removed from the genre’s founding fathers & innovators. It’s not that I avoided African-American blues artists but I simply didn’t get enough exposure to them, a situation I would remedy just a couple of years later. In many ways the Georgia-born, West Coast-bred Robert Cray was my gateway into the world of true blues (as well as soul/R&B), and it was all thanks to his fifth album, 1986’s multi-platinum Top 20 smash, Strong Persuader. Little did I know at the time that I had already seen Mr. Cray on screen, as the bass player for Otis Day & The Knights in the 1978 comedy classic, National Lampoon’s Animal House. Blues purists who were already enamored of his more traditional prior albums, released on independent labels, likely bristled at the commercial production of his major label debut. I quickly picked up those earlier releases and loved them all, but there’s absolutely nothing disappointing about Strong Persuader. The combination of his clean-yet-stinging Fender Stratocaster guitar work, his clear-as-a-bell Sam Cooke-indebted vocals and a collection of instantly memorable songs made it the ideal album to bring blues back to pop radio and created the first African American blues star since the ‘60s.

Cheating plays a big part in several songs, including the immensely catchy album opener “Smoking Gun” (his biggest hit), “Foul Play” and “Right Next Door (Because Of Me).” The latter’s lyrics provided the album’s title, and also Robert Cray Band (1986)turned the tables to make Cray the cheater. He was a strong persuader indeed. The Memphis Horns, by that point a duo of Andrew Love on sax and Wayne Jackson on trumpet & trombone, contribute some memorable brass arrangements to uptempo blues tunes like “I Guess I Showed Her,” “More Than I Can Stand” and the hilarious “Nothin’ But A Woman.” It’s hard not to smile at lyrics like this:

“You can buy me a house, turn over the deed,
Bring six pounds of California weed
But my weakness ain’t drugs, whiskey, or greed
Only one thing that young Bob needs…”

One of the things that made Strong Persuader such a standout at the time, and still does, is its musical diversity. In addition to the radio-friendly singles and upbeat, horn-infused tracks, Cray proves himself adept at slow & gritty blues on “Still Around,” “I Wonder” and “New Blood.” Although some purists might consider his sound a little too clean for this genre, his voice & guitar prowess shine throughout the album and every song is a winner. This is a brighter shade of blues than most artists could pull off, and even though he’s got a number of fine albums in his discography, Strong Persuader is the ideal entry point into the musical world of Robert Cray, still sounding as fresh as it did the first time I heard it 30 years ago.

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21 comments on “Thirty Year Thursday – ROBERT CRAY “STRONG PERSUADER”

  1. Jeff Kempin
    May 26, 2016

    Big thumbs up for this one. I was actually hoping to see you mention this album in this series. It was my intro to Robert Cray as well and I agree, this album still sounds great 30 years later. Bought the LP when it was new and still own it to this day. Been a fan of Robery Cray ever since. Good job Rich!

    Like

    • Thanks, Jeff. Glad we’re in agreement on this one. Pretty much all of my friends back in ’86 liked this album but few of them continued listening to Cray’s subsequent releases. What a great catalog, and I might never have become aware of him if not for the pop success of this album.

      Like

  2. mikeladano
    May 26, 2016

    I’ve heard this! Cray was one of the first blues guys I got interested in when I was starting to “play” guitar. Thanks to guitar magazines I quickly became aware of the blues and all the greats.

    Like

    • Alright, finally something in this series you know…and like. I could see you enjoying last week’s artist, Zebra, especially the album I featured, but I don’t know if they made it in Canada.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        May 27, 2016

        I have heard the name Zebra many times. But I don’t know why I have never heard the band.

        Like

      • Please let me know what you think if you ever check out Zebra. I really think you would like them a lot, and the album I talked about last week (3.V) seems to be right up your alley.

        Like

  3. 80smetalman
    May 26, 2016

    I don’t think he ever made it to the UK which is why I never heard of him but what you feature here, well, I’m duly impressed. Will have to check him out more. Funny thing, you mentioned the artist featured in my next post.

    Like

    • I’m really surprised that Cray wasn’t at least somewhat successful in the UK, which probably had a larger blues audience than the U.S. at the time. At the very least this album should have been a minor hit there. As for your next post, since you’re working your way through ’83 I have to imagine you’ll be writing about some floodin’ down in Texas.

      Like

  4. keepsmealive
    May 26, 2016

    Had to comment, I love this record. Actually, hard to go wrong with any Cray. Yes yes yes!!

    Like

    • Alright, another one we have in common. That always makes me happy. Just like Robert Cray’s music. It’s impossible not to smile when you listen to him.

      Like

  5. Vinyl Connection
    May 27, 2016

    I wonder whether that diversity of sound that you mention may have been off-putting to die-hard blues aficionados who like it simple and dark?

    Enjoyable review Rich, thanks.

    Like

    • That’s a good point, Bruce. Cray may have turned off the die-hards but he brought blues to the masses, maybe even more so than Stevie Ray Vaughan, who never managed Cray’s Pop radio success.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Murphy's Law
    May 27, 2016

    I worked in a kitchen in college (several actually) and this album is one of the few that the rock fans and the hippies could actually agree on. We listened to this a lot.

    Like

  7. Neil
    May 28, 2016

    I remember this album in the UK in the 80s I seem to remember him peering with Clapton

    Like

    • I figured that Cray must have done well in the UK since they were way ahead of us in the U.S. as far as the blues is concerned. I believe both Clapton & Cray were on the same bill the night Stevie Ray Vaughan died. What a lineup that must have been.

      Like

  8. J.
    June 1, 2016

    Y’know, I’ve never paid much attention to Mr Cray here. Actually didn’t even consider the fact that he played proper good music. D’oh!

    Like

    • Never paid much attention to him? Are you Cray-zee? Haha, I couldn’t resist.

      Liked by 1 person

      • J.
        June 2, 2016

        Haha! Quite possibly …

        … also a title for a collaboration with Jay-Z.

        Like

      • Not sure I’ll ever condone a Jay-Z collaboration, but in keeping with that theme, perhaps they could do a blues/soul/hip-hop hybrid version of the old Nat King Cole standard, “Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days Of Summer.”

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Thirty Year Thursday – ERIC CLAPTON “AUGUST” | KamerTunesBlog

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