Blues legend Cray returns to Belly Up Aspen

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Bluesman Robert Cray will perform Wednesday night at Belly Up Aspen.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

Who: The Robert Cray Band

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Wednesday, July 20, 9 p.m.

How much: $42-$75

Tickets: Belly Up box office;

Legendary guitarist and bluesman Robert Cray didn’t set out to carry on the American blues tradition when he first picked up a guitar as a teenager in Tacoma, Washington. He wanted to be in the Beatles.

“Then I saw Jimi Hendrix and I wanted to be Jimi Hendrix,” Cray told the Aspen Times last year. “And then when I saw Albert Collins, I wanted to be Albert Collins. And none of that stuff has ever left.”

Cray left Tacoma for Eugene, Oregon in 1973 to start the Robert Cray Band and hasn’t looked back. The five-time Grammy winner and Blues Hall of Famer, who returns to Aspen to play Belly Up on Wednesday with his band, has proved he can shape his masterful guitar skills into most any genre. He said he doesn’t feel obligated to hew to blues tradition.

“I don’t feel bound by it,” he said. “We’re playing music that we grew up listening to. … We’re categorized as a blues band and that’s what we do, but it’s not all that we do.”

Cray’s most recent studio album – his seventeenth – is 2014’s “In My Soul,” which mixes blues, funk and rock with the album’s titular soul sound. The soul-inflected sound comes across in originals as well as covers of songs like Otis Redding’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The album – and the show in Aspen – showcases Cray with a fresh configuration behind him, featuring his career-long collaborator Richard Cousins on bass, newcomer Les Falconer on drums and Dover Weinberg, who previously played with Cray in the 1970s and ‘80s, on keyboards. They didn’t set out necessarily to make a soul record, Cray said, it just shook out that way.

“That’s always been part of our thing, because we’ve had the opportunity to work with The Memphis Horns over the years and other horn sections,” he said. “But we didn’t have a concept when we did the record. We just went into the studio.

Last year, Cray released “4 Nights of 40 Years,” a live album and DVD looking back on his four decades on the road.

He and his band have stopped writing set lists, opting instead to call out songs based on the band’s mood and the crowd’s energy. “We got rid of the set list because it keeps people in the moment,” he said. “Myself as well.”