Growing up in southern Arkansas, Larry McCray has been steeped in music since day one. His grandparents were musicians, as were his parents — eventually, he and his nine siblings followed in their elders’ melodic footsteps.
But even with this early exposure to music, the blues guitarist/singer said there definitely was not any rabble-rousing rock ‘n’ roll vibes emanating throughout the McCray household. The music he cut his teeth on was traditional, raw blues and powerful sacred gospel music.
“I grew up in a very pro-religious home, so access to (rock ‘n’ roll) wasn’t really allowed,” said McCray, 54. “Being raised in a conservative environment like that, that kind of music was thought to be a bad influence.”
It wasn’t until his family uprooted to Michigan that McCray got a real taste of the more rocking side of blues. His oldest sister Clara exposed him to renowned artists like the three Kings (Albert, B.B. and Freddie) and Albert Collins. His taste began to broaden as he soaked in the new, edgier sounds. McCray recalls playing catch up in the realm of rock.
“My favorite story I like to tell, and that most people don’t believe, is that I didn’t know Jimi Hendrix was black until I was like 19 or 20,” he said. “When I was 15 or 16 and I was good enough to play in front of people, people would always say, ‘Play some Hendrix!’ But I didn’t know who he was.”
Today, McCray is an award-winning bluesman, a staple in the genre. He’s had the opportunity to play with some of the very artists that helped shape his sound, and most recently, even collaborated with some of them on his latest album, The Gibson Sessions. Unlike his early years down south, this record is stacked with rock ‘n’ roll flavor.
The disc was released in December and features cover tunes of some of his favorite rockers. McCray revamped Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Needle and the Spoon,” Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” and Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.” The star-studded LP features Dickey Betts, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and Derek Trucks and Jimmy Herring of The Allman Brothers Band.
“It was time,” McCray said of the lineup. “I had never called in any favors before, but I had known those guys for a long time, and I thought this was the perfect project to work with them on.”
Larry McCray wsg Crime Funk
Bell’s Eccentric Café, Kalamazoo
April 17, 9 p.m.
bellsbeer.com, (269) 382-2332