Howlin’ Wolf or Jimi Hendrix? Ask Robert Cray who he’d choose to see of any band or artist, living or dead, and he has a hard time deciding. “I’d like to see Jimi Hendrix again,” Cray says, chatting on the phone in exactly the soft, soulful speaking voice you’d expect having heard his work. He did see Hendrix twice, the first time in a small crowd in Dacoma, Washington, and then later in Sicks’ Stadium in Seattle on July 26, 1967 , just a few months before Hendrix’s death. Like Hendrix, Cray did some growing up in Seattle and took up guitar at age twelve. Cray started with a Harmony acoustic and shortly thereafter, inspired by the Beatles’ arrival in Washington State, he switched to an electric guitar of the same make.
Going forward, this 5x Grammy winner thinks his biggest challenge will be finding food. I mean, an old time musician today can’t live on the royalties from music sharing. They have to keep the band name out there, and keep traveling for the live shows. “It’s not really that hard. It’s just that your whole day becomes about foraging,” he says of finding healthy food to eat during the travel time. After more than a thousand performances as a unit, Cray says the shows that really stand out are the ones where you get to meet your heroes.
Speaking of heroes, Cray emphatically regrets how he missed the chance to see the Howling Wolf in November 1975 at the Chicago Amphitheatre, on a bill with BB King, OV Wright and many other great blues men. At the time, Cray and a few buddies who were trying to get a band started were shacked up with the harmonica player’s girlfriend in Eugene, Oregon. Cray had a commitment elsewhere and declined when the bunch of them hopped in car and took off to take in the ailing Wolf’s heroic performance, recreating old songs and performing his old antics like crawling across the stage during the song “Crawling King Snake.” The crowd went wild and gave him a five-minute standing ovation. When he got offstage a team of paramedics were able to revive [Wolf], but this concert was the last from such a legendary performer.