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Concert preview: Making music ‘that way’ with Robert Cray
Concert preview » Renowned bluesman, who will co-headline with Mavis Staples, says there’s no substitute for old-fashioned collaboration.
First Published Jun 19 2014 04:56 pm • Last Updated Jun 19 2014 05:04 pm

The Internet is turning out a new generation of musicians that has people like five-time Grammy winner and Blues Hall of Fame inductee Robert Cray taking notice.

"It’s funny, because I was just having this discussion with somebody recently about the whole thing with the Internet," said Cray, who is co-headlining a show with soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples at Red Butte Garden on Friday, June 20. "We were talking about the fact that you can learn everything on the Internet."

At a glance

The Robert Cray Band and Mavis Staples

When » Friday, June 20, 7 p.m.

Where » Red Butte Garden, 300 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City

Tickets » $40, $35 for garden members, $25 for children (ages 3-12); www.redbuttegarden.org/concerts

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The discussion swirled around being able to mimic a musician on screen from a repeatable YouTube video or using software that slows down a song while keeping the same key.

"It’s a great way to cheat," Cray said. "In the days for us, we would just totally destroy vinyl records, trying to repeat a phrase we just heard to try to copy it. It’s a whole different thing."

But there are a few key things the Internet can’t teach.

"Will it make a difference in how a person feels the music?" he asked. "That will be the big question, so to speak. The whole thing is, there’s all these great schools for everybody to learn, but what’s going to prove everything is going to be people getting the opportunity to play with one another and create music that way."

Cray has been making music "that way" with The Robert Cray Band since the mid-1970s, with influences that cross musical genres.

"My parents had a great record collection that included Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, B.B. King and John Lee Hooker," he said. "And me, I got inspired to play guitar when The Beatles came out."

Growing up in the ’60s, Cray and bandmates who have come and gone — and come back again — were influenced by musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters and Thelonious Monk.

"When we sit down to write something, we don’t tell ourselves what we’re going to write," Cray said. "We just write something, and if it sounds good, then we’ll do it."

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The "we" aspect of having a band is something that has been central to making music over the course of 17 studio albums, the most recent being "In My Soul," which was released in April.

"That’s why we call it a band," he said. "It’s all about the band making the music."

Even on the band’s website, its sound is labeled "stubbornly beyond category," which has frustrated critics over the years. The band, however, embraces the idea.

"The critics do what critics are supposed to do — they’re supposed to do their jobs," Cray said. "But you can’t base what you do around what a critic is going to do. We’ve heard the critiques over the years, about how ‘you guys’ are not a blues band. Yeah, right, that’s part of what we do."

These days the band includes drummer Les Falconer, longtime "buddy" and original band member Richard Cousins on bass and Dover Wineberg, who rejoined Cray in November 2013 on keyboards in time to record "In My Soul." Wineberg was last with the band in the late ’70s.

"Dover is a great keyboard player," Cray said. "I brought Dover back because he’s got a great feel."

It’s a group that he says works well in the studio, where you hear what it means to be in a band.

"You hear everybody having an input as to how the song goes," he said. "I’m not the only songwriter in the organization. We listen to all ideas that come in. We work as a team. It’s better when everybody works together."

The band recently completed a six-week European leg of its 2014 tour, and it begins its domestic run in Salt Lake City, where the band has been playing gigs since the late 1970s.

"We’ve always had a good turnout and good fans in Salt Lake," Cray said.

The pairing with Staples, he added, makes it a "pretty decent package" for an audience to see.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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