Robert Cray celebrated his 1000th performance with his current band earlier this year. Twenty, his latest album, is the latest in a 20-plus- year string that have earned him five Grammys and 11 Grammy nominations. He first gained recognition as John Lee Hooker’s guitarist, and his 1986 album Strong Persuader with its neosoul song stories is credited with starting the ’80s roots music revival. Today, he is ubiquitous in both the rock and blues worlds. In April he was inducted into the Hollywood Rock Walk with Etta James, Solomon Burke, Ike Turner and Muddy Waters.
Popa Chubby‘s new Big Man Big Guitar Popa Chubby Live contains his 1995 hit and signature song “Sweet Goddess of Love and Beer”. Today, he’s 300-plus pounds of bald tattooed guitar bravado who loves music — all music — and folds those influences into a style that encompasses an attitude he learned playing with Richard Hell & The Voidoids, and a love for raw blues of artists like Magic Slim with whom he produced the CD Blue Magic.
Elmore: What are you listening to now?
Robert Cray: Howlin’ Wolf Sings The Blues.
Popa Chubby: I’m listening to outlaw country music: Shooter Jennings, Willie Nelson,Waylon, Merle Haggard, J. J. Cale, Graham Parsons. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still listening to Freddie King, Z. Z. Top, Muddy, Jimmy Smith, and Johnny Hyland. This kid has to be 25 years old. He’s from Maine, and he’s legally blind. He is the new guitar God.
Elmore: What’s the first record you ever bought?
Robert Cray: “A Little Bit of Soap” by the Jar-Mels. My dad took me to the PX when we were living in Munich, Germany at the time. I had heard that song on the Armed Forces Network.
Popa Chubby: I didn’t buy records. My parents owned a candy store with a juke box. Every week, the guy would come and upgrade the top 10. Just take the records out and give me the old ones.
Elmore: What’s the first instrument you ever played?
Robert Cray: I played piano a couple of years when we were living in Germany.
Popa Chubby: Drums. The drums are still in a way one of my huge passions in life, and I still play drums every day. I play drums on my own records. I used to see Buddy Rich on the Tonight Show, and it just rocked my world.
Elmore: Who would you like to write with who you haven’t?
Robert Cray: Writing for me gets really personal. I like to do it by myself.
Popa Chubby: I’m a hard person to write with. So, I’m gonna pass on that question.
Elmore: What brought you to the instrument that you now play?
Robert Cray: The Beatles. Everybody got a guitar, and I wanted one, too.
Popa Chubby: Three things, Chuck Berry, Keith Richards and Freddie King.
Elmore: Who would you like in your Rock & Roll heaven band?
Robert Cray: I like Jimi Hendrix. Stevie Ray was fantastic.
The singer O.V.Wright, Howlin’Wolf, Willie Dixon, Al Jackson (Booker T. & The M.G.s) on drums.
Popa Chubby: Willie Dixon on bass; Fred Below, John Bonham, Jim Keltner and Jim Gordon on drums; and on guitar Keith (Richards), Jimi (Hendrix) and Jimmy Smith.
Elmore: What’s your favorite album of all time?
Robert Cray: Nucleus of Soul by O.V.Wright.
Popa Chubby: Getting Ready by Freddy King, that’s the Holy Grail between rock and blues.
Elmore: Where do you buy your music?
Robert Cray: I buy records at a shop called Amoeba right down the hill from me.
Popa Chubby: i-Tunes.
Elmore: What was the song that made you realize you wanted to be in music?
Robert Cray: I don’t know what song it was ’cause I got excited when The Beatles came out.
Popa Chubby: “Johnny B. Goode.”
Elmore: What musicians influenced you most?
Robert Cray: Albert Collins, Jimi Hendrix.
Popa Chubby: (Whistle) Gotta couple hours? Charlie Christian, Willie Jordan, Chuck Berry, T-Bone Walker, Benny Goodman, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, B. B. King, Freddie King, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Cream, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ray Charles and Bob Marley.
Elmore: What’s your desert island CD?
Robert Cray: O. V. Wright’s Nucleus of Soul.
Popa Chubby: The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street.