"Reunited, and it feels so good."
You probably won't hear that lyric from Peaches & Herb from the Robert Cray Band on their current tour, but it's at least a proper sentiment for the group.
For the 2009 album "This Time," Cray wanted to switch up the lineup of his band. Keeping longtime keyboardist Jim Pugh aboard, the Grammy-winning blues guitarist simply reached out to an old friend to finish the group - bassist Richard Cousins, who played with Cray from 1974 to 1991.
Robert Cray has won five Grammy Awards while leading the Robert Cray Band.
"I really looked forward to it - to how Richard and I were to gel together after having not played together for a long time, and bringing Richard back to work with Jim," Cray said in press material for the album. "We did all get a chance to work together for two years, before Richard left."
Through Cousins, the band got its new drummer, Toby Braunagel, who had played with Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King and Taj Mahal. He completed a quartet who will bring the Grammy-nominated "This Time" to the stage of The State Theatre in State College at 8 p.m. March 29.
Like much of Cray's work, "This Time" is hard to place in any one genre, though he is primarily known as a blues musician.
If you go
Who: The Robert Cray Band, with special guest Shemekia Copeland
When: 8 p.m. March 29
Where: The State Theatre, State College
Tickets: $45, available at the theater box office, online at www.thestatetheatre.org or by calling 272-0606
"The record is all over the place," Cray, 56, said in a phone interview from his home in Santa Barbara, Calif. "We've got some good blues on there and some R&B and a little rock. (We're) trying to touch all borders and have a lot of fun."
The diverse nature of "This Time" is a testament to the band's own eclectic taste in music.
"That's just the ways the guys and myself are," Cray said. "We've never been a strict blues band. When I listen to my music, I listen to James Brown and then I can turn around and listen to Howling Wolf."
Cray's influences show up throughout his career. In fact, asking him about his influences sets him off on a long list of artists who have meant something to him.
"I'm inspired by lots of different music," he says. "I like people like Bobby Bland, I mentioned James Brown. I saw Jimi Hendrix twice. .... I think on guitar, I'd say Albert Collins. I like B.B.'s approach to the guitar. I like a lot of gospel-influenced singers ..."
In the end, though, Cray says he has learned a lot from King, known for his simple approach to the guitar.
"I like B.B.'s approach to his playing, which is to keep it very plain and to the point," he says. "Also, what I'm starting to understand as I'm getting older is that the story is the important part. I've tried to step back and let the song do the work. If there's a place for the guitar, that's fine. If there isn't, that's fine too.
"You start to understand the simplicity of music - that can sometimes get away from you."
For The State Theatre show, the Robert Cray Band will be supported by blues singer Shemekia Copeland, daughter of the late, Grammy-winning blues guitarist Johnny Copeland.
"Shemekia is a fantastic person and a terrific singer," Cray said. "She comes from a great heritage. I worked with her father, too."
This will be Copeland's second appearance at The State Theatre, but Cray's first. That has caused tickets to sell briskly, according to the theater's marketing director, Kristy Cyone.
"We have a lot of people excited about it," she said. "Sometimes it's chancy getting these more popular artists in here because the tickets are more expensive. But it seems like the community is recognizing the quality of performers we've had here."
Cray continues the theater's efforts to get larger acts to perform in State College. Upcoming shows include blues great John Hiatt and country star Dierks Bentley.
"Robert Cray is probably one of the bigger acts we've had," Cyone says. "We have some pretty big artists coming through here pretty soon.
"It's nice to get these larger acts (to help) support all the local programming we have."
Cray and his band will tour the U.S. on and off through March, then will play a string of shows in Japan, before embarking on a European tour this summer.
The European tours are fun, he says, because the fans there don't notice as much if you haven't had a hit in a while.
"They have this great respect for American artists," Cray said. "Here in the states, you're hot one moment, then you're gone. Over there, they kind of keep better track of you.
"I tell people that you can go over there and turn on the BBC and hear a John Lee Hooker song, followed by a Madonna song."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.