Inspired critics praise his soulful vocal and instrumental artistry, earned respect from his peers, and sent young guitarists running back to the woodshed.
From classic titles 'Phone Booth', to highlights from his more recent releases 'Poor Johnny', whether addressing timeless themes of heartache and romance 'The Things You Do To Me' or this morning's headlines 'Twenty', Cray delivers on a promise he's been making since his first trip into the studio.
Cray's virtuosity has led to collaborations with luminaries such as Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, B. B. King, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry and Bonnie Raitt.
Aside from their musicianship, the key to Cray and his band is their history. Through more than a thousand gigs played around the world, they've locked in a sound that's elegant and direct, searing and smooth.
Cray's band rocks and wails and plunges way down to the bottom of the blues well on track after track.
He laughs at his own surprise after all, knowing each player as long as he has, "What I mean is, so much stuff goes on that I can't really catch it all. I'm singing and feeling their support, but when I take myself out of the playing picture and just listen, that's when I really hear how magical the ensemble can be."
"When I'm playing up there, I don't really catch everything that's going on. But when I sat back and listen, it’s like, 'Wow, these guys are great!'"
Cray was raised on the gospel and soul records in his parents' collection while growing up in Georgia and Washington State. By the time he formed his first band in 1974, the components of his sound were in place: a vocal delivery rooted in the Stax/soul tradition and a Stratocaster guitar style that even then stood him out among the greatest of his peers in the blues.
Cray credits England in helping launch his career. His second album, Bad Influence (1984), shot to number one on the U.K. indie charts while Eric Clapton paid tribute to his colleague by covering the title song. From that point he rose quickly to worldwide prominence, earning his first Grammy for Strong Persuader (1986), releasing one double-platinum and two gold albums.