An Army brat who was born in Georgia and 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.
Though he first picked up a guitar in 1965, it wasn’t until 1974 that Cray – with bassist friend Richard Cousins – formed his first serious band. His first LP, Who’s Been Talking? was recorded in 1978 but didn’t make it to the record stores until 1980.
Cray didn’t get another chance to record until 1983’s Bad Influence – an album which opened up a market outside the West Coast and saw the Cray band play England three times over the course of the next year. The album hit the #1 spot on the English indie charts.
False Accusatons (1985) charted in Billboard and brought a number of heavy-breathing phone calls from major labels, with PolyGram ultimately winning the bidding war.
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.