An Army brat who grew up on bases in West Germany and the Pacific Northwest, Robert Cray was introduced to popular black music at home, but he discovered blues artists as a teenager.
In February 1986 Cray’s fourth album, Strong Persuader, hit #13 on the Billboard pop album chart, making it the highest charting blues album since Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland‘s Call On Me/That’s The Way Love Is, which reached #11 some 23 years earlier.
Strong Persuader in effect introduced a new generation of mainstream rock and pop fans to the language and form of the blues.
Signed to the small High Tone label when work began on Strong Persuader, Cray was hoping to hook up with a larger company.
He eventually cut a deal with Polygram but continued to work with producers Bruce Bromberg and Dennis Walker, who had produced his previous High Tone albums.
As a result, the LP was released with a combined High Tone/Mercury imprint. In addition to co-producing the album, Walker contributed Right Next Door (Because Of Me), a tale of infidelity played out in a motel room.
The song, which became the album’s centrepiece, also includes the lyrics from which Strong Persuader derived its title.
The song that really drove the album up the charts was Smoking Gun, a smouldering tale of jealousy and murder.
Although released two months after the album hit the streets – late for a single – it became a Top 40 hit, and the video became a staple on MTV.