“This one’s called ‘Two Steps from the End,’” Robert Cray said into the microphone at the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center (PAC) before ripping into a guitar solo, “and it’s not lookin’ too good.”
Two score and several years ago, Cray began his career of blending blues, soul, and R & B into a musical smoothie so sweet your ears wouldn’t know what hit them.
Cray played a collection of his tunes at the PAC Tuesday night as part of the Martha’s Vineyard Summer Concert Series, breaking into the set with a twangy guitar solo backed by his band, consisting of Richard Cousins on bass, Terence Clark on drums, and Dover Weinberg on keys.
Cray shouted out some of his classic songs in his signature bluesy vocals, such as “Where Do I Go From Here,” “Poor Johnny,” “I Don’t Care,” and “Sadder Days.”
Decades of playing music had Cray casually talking to the audience like they were old friends. While jamming out to the instrumental “Hip Tight Onions,” Cray stopped mid song to say, “In case you didn’t get the title of this, it’s Hip … Tight … Onions.”
In a telephone interview last week, Cray told The Times it had been a long time since his last visit to the Island, but he was excited to have the opportunity to play for his fans as part of a massive tour that started in Memphis, and has him trekking across the country from Massachusetts to California and every which way in-between. Starting Sept. 25, Cray and his band head to the Netherlands to kick off the European leg of their tour.
Cray’s journey with music began with the piano before quickly switching to the guitar in the early ’60s, when the Beatles hit the scene. Cray got into blues music when he was in high school, crediting his parents’ “great” record collection. Oh — and seeing Jimi Hendrix live in Seattle twice influenced him too. “Hendrix was amazing,” he said.
Cray started a band in his early 20s, and said he’s been “going ever since” — recording his first album, “Who’s Been Talkin’,” in 1980, and going on to play with artists like Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker, and many more.
Toward the end of the set, Cray torched through a guitar solo reminiscent of his heroes Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King, by adding a touch that can only be described as vintage Robert Cray.
As Cray and his bandmates walked offstage waving their hands, the crowd at the PAC stood tall, hooting and shouting for more. Cray, with a big smile on his face, came back out to an ecstatic crowd to play an encore. Unlike his song “Two Steps from the End” suggested, though, things were lookin’ pretty good all night long.
For more information on upcoming shows with the Martha’s Vineyard Summer Concert Series, visit mvconcertseries.com.