Larry McCray at Bronte Blues Club,
September 2012 © Copyright 2012 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.
is one of a handful of talented young blues performers leading the genre
across boundaries and into the new century. McCrayís savage blues-rock
guitar and warm, soulful vocals have drawn attention worldwide".
- LM biography / website
blues has a long-term future in the 21st century, it's very likely that
guitarist Larry McCray
will continue to play a recurring role in its ongoing development".
I had the pleasure of meeting
The Bronte Blues Club, Keighley.
Alan: What were your
first musical memories growing up in Magnolia, Arkansas?
Larry: I was born in a
town called Stephens but we moved when I was about 5 years old to the
Magnolia/McNeil area which was about 40 miles away. My first musical
memories are my father playing and entertaining at home on the back
porch, just getting down to it, and when we started listening to
recorded music, in the early to middle 60s, I remember some of the
records we had at home were Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Guitar Gabriel,
Guitar Slim, Slim Harpo, you know, it was all blues music but then it
transcended into what was then R&B. I was a big fan of Junior Walter,
he was one of my all time favourite instrumentalists, the way he played
his saxophone with a lot of that intensity that I like to try to bring
to the guitar Ė not that Iím trying to do Junior's thing, but you know
what I mean, that was inspirational for me!
sister played guitar as well, her and Michael Burks' father had a band
together and she played and sang in a couple of gospel groups on Sundays
and they always rehearsed at our place, for whatever reason. So it was
straight-up blues music, then it moved R&B / Soul music, at that time it
was Junior Walker, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin. My first recorded
guitar experience was BB King so I learned all the BB King chops I could
learn and when Iíd learned to play them then I started stretching for
other things to expand my knowledge. So BB King, Freddie King, Albert
King, and Albert Collins Ė that was the electric guitar bible for me
growing up, and when I became a teenager I found out that I liked jazz
music too. I really liked Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Kenny Burrell and
it went from that to George Benson then I learned about Eric Carlton,
Larry Coryell, so I was just a kid that loved music and I was hungry to
learn anything I could. I never missed the Hee Haw Show [American
television variety show], I never missed the Porter Wagner show
[American musical variety show that launched the career of Dolly
Parton], and I drew inspiration from all of that, from country
music, to blues, to jazz, and then in my 20s I started getting
interested in rock. I just loved getting anything interested in
anything good, anything that took skills to play and sounded like they
knew what they was doing. I was a big Roy Clarke and Glen Campbell fan,
they were some of my favourites growing up, I loved the way they played.
Alan: As a teenager
you moved from Arkansas to Michigan and you got a job at General
Motors. Did you always want to become a musician?
Larry: I loved music, but
I never in a million years thought that Iíd ever get to make a
recording. I didnít aspire or try to become a musician, it just kinda
fell into my life. I was playing for myself and thatís kinda the way my
family was, where we grew up there was nothing else to do for
entertainment. I remember when we got electric lights, honestly,
running water, that kind of thing. We grew up in a very rural rustic
place that didnít even have running water or electric lights when I was
coming up in the 60s in Arkansas. No holds barred!
Alan: How did you then
get started in a full time music career?
Larry: After I started
playing guitar my older brother picked up bass guitar about a year and a
half later, and then about 5 years after that my younger brother took up
the drums, so when I got bass and drums we had a trio, so we would
practice at home, right above my motherís and fatherís bedroom, rattling
the building, and we started learning popular music and got enough music
together to be able to play. Our first gig together with this friend of
ours who decided to get married and he hired us for his wedding band.
Alan: What would you
say first attracted you to the blues and what does the blues mean to
Larry: I was singing
before I learned how to play. I donít know man, the blues just ate me
up from a small age, from when I was a little kid in school my musical
preferences were always different to other kids who were my age. They
were like, ďWhat are you listening to?Ē, ďWhatís that?Ē but I moved to
Michigan so they didnít understand it but from the south that was a way
of life and everybody spoke that language and I never strayed far away
from it; I was hooked on the emotional side of the music. Mahalia
Jackson was a big influence, anything that stirred emotion it hit me to
the heart and thatís why I held on to the blues. I couldnít feel
nothing from a lot of the other music, I mean I learned to accept and
embrace other music as I got older and mature but prior to that I was a
You mentioned Mahalia Jackson, so what other gospel influences did
Larry: It wasn't that I
played a lot of it when I was younger. Religion was always a very
serious thing in my household and my mother always said that if you
werenít trying to live a pure life or if you not doing the right things
then donít go hypocriting, you know, donít go just to sing and have
fun. So I never felt worthy of getting totally involved in that kind of
situation so after I got grown here in the last 15 years Iíve had some
experiences where Iíve been invited to big musical churches. Thereís
one down in Charlotte, North Carolina, called Lake Forest where they
have 2,000 members and they have state of the art everything in terms of
video and audio production and they have different themes every so
often, maybe three or four times a year they will have a musical theme,
and they will invite contemporary or secular audience in to perform
their music but you also perform with the church band which is gospel
music. So that was one of the greatest experiences that I have had
musically because it is so fulfilling to see the sincerity of people and
the power of music, what the music does for them, and the appreciation
and the love that you get back for giving a little bit.
Alan: Whoís influenced
you most in your music writing and playing?
Larry: I had a lot of
musical influences growing up and when funk music became king. With Sly
and The Family Stone I got turned on to slide right about í68 or í69
when the album 'Stand!' came out. I learned about Larry Graham,
Sly Stone and funk music was real popular until the late 70s when disco
came in. So I always saw funk music as being 'souped-up' blues music
anyway, the rhythm was different but the vocal lines, the guitar, the
keyboards was playing blues with a beat that was just unbelievable so my
vision was to take this music, fuse it with this, fuse it with that, and
youíve got something different. When Robert Cray came out with his
style I noticed that Robert played a lot of open chords which was not
really very prevalent in blues music, we called it white chords or
country chords, but the way he rounded things you know. I already had
the Funk, but I took his example in terms of using open chords and used
colour chords too. It was always a disrespectful thing that most of the
blacks, my friends, they laughing, so it was an insult to me that they
tortured that music, so I wanted to find a way to bring it to the
forefront, to keep the same heart and soul for the music but also to
find a way that people of the modern times could relate to it and the
only way you could do that was to give them something they are familiar
with, something they could get hold of.
Alan: In the year 2000
you co-established your own record label, Magnolia Records, with your
manager Paul Koch. How did that come about?
Larry: Because I had such
bad luck with the labels. I signed with Point Blank Records originally
in 1990, then it was House of Blues, then it was Platinum, then it was
Atomic Theory and so I ran through a few labels early on, but the
problem was they would always find criticisms of the music and they
would always find excuses why not to promote your music and bring it to
the forefront, and there were bad experiences money-wise and
royalty-wise. I thought when I got involved that if you got a major
label behind you then you were in business together and that they would
look after you and make sure everything was done fairly. When I found
out the real deal, you know there was nothing fair about it. I had
signed away all my publishing rights, all of everything I own, so when I
found out I was being screwed I had to break away. I had to find a way
to get out of my contract, so the only alternative I had was do it on my
own. Itís still like that but I donít miss the controlling aspect of
the larger labels, but itís very hard to promote yourself properly if
you donít have huge dollars. But they werenít giving us any promotion
anyway so you might as well take it on your own. In terms of records
sales, selling 20,000 independently is probably like selling 200,000 on
a major label.
Alan: Also in 2000 you were honoured as the
'Orville Gibson Male Blues Guitarist of The Year'
- quite an honour I should think.
Larry: Quite an honour!
I didnít believe it, and didnít know whether to take it serious but you
know it never came for a couple of years!! And to see some of the people
who have got it since and how they are regarded, itís a serious thing.
It was a great thing but I never believed anything good could happen for
me in my career so it was always overwhelming. Is this for real? Is
this really the deal ... you know. It was quite amazing, yeah.
Alan: Are there any
songs that youíve written that have special meaning for you?
Larry: On this last
record, I almost resolved a long term relationship with my lady and we
got it back together. We took a separation and it was very good for me
because it inspired a lot of songs, 'Broken Promises', 'Big Black
Hole', 'You Are the One'. When I write I try to write in
conversation and I try to write about a scenario that is not so direct
and could apply to anyone but anyone who knows you would know what you
were talking about. That is the only CD where I have tried to write
about my own life.
Youíve been collecting guitars for many years, Gibson, Les Paul,
Fender Ė which is your favourite?
Larry: Well, my absolute
favourite guitar for many many years was the Gibson Flying V and one day
a bell went off in my head saying, ďHey, are you in control of this
instrument or is it in control of you?Ē I used to be to the point where
I thought I couldnít play at all if I didnít have my Flying V and I
thought what if something happens to it will I be able to continue? So
I started to wean myself away from that and look on it, not as a
favourite instrument, but as a tool in an arsenal, so my favourites are
the Gibson Flying V and Les Paul. Iím a strict Gibson player because
Gibson Guitars I think are the greatest guitar company in the world.
They have helped communities and artists who are less fortunate than the
big pop audiences and I think thatís a straight-up move on their part.
I want to be associated with Gibson because I do believe in their
Alan: Living in the
Detroit/Chicago area you grew up within a great music scene; how would
you describe the blues scene there now?
Larry: It's evolving
because many of the older masters are falling off. We lost Johnny
Bassett from Detroit about a month ago and Johnny taught so many people
in that area how to play the blues and so we have a lot of young artists
who are coming along now, second generation artists that are trying to
carry the torch, but itís changed a lot. I donít consider myself a
traditional artist but I hope that within my style they can see or feel
the tradition in the soul of the music that we portray. We try to do
something different because we want to grow as a band but by the same
token I hope that people hear and feel that we havn't left the blues,
and I think thatís true of a lot of artists there.
Alan: On your 2nd album Delta Hurricane you
did a great rendition of Warren Haynes' beautiful 'Soul Shine', which I
first heard sung by Earl Thomas when he appeared at the Carlisle Blues
Festival. Now you're back here in November at the Carlisle Blues
Festival, will you be singing it there as it goes down so well with the
Larry: Yes, Sir. It means
a lot to me because I was lucky enough to be the first one to publish
the song. It has a theme and a meaning that is soulful to everybody.
It's sad to say I have performed it at many funerals of family and good
friends. If I'm home and something bad happens you get asked by friends
to sing it, so how can you refuse? It can be kinda hard sometimes in
situations like that. But also, when everything is happy it can also be
Alan: Your cousin, the late lamented Michael
'Iron Man' Burks came to the UK in 2010 playing just two gigs, one was
the Carlisle Blues Festival where I was lucky enough to do a rare
interview with him [Click
here for Michael Burks Interview]. You've travelled a
parallel path, from Magnolia/Camden area of Arkansas to the north
Detroit/Chicago area and now Carlisle, UK!!
Larry: His father and my
sister had a band, and we had so many similarities, it's as if we were
just cut from the same cloth. I would get a chance to stay with him
sometimes, but every time we got a chance to play together and be
together it was always something special and I think that in my home
area there are some of the best guitarists and sometimes I forget he's
gone until I think about it. The week that Michael passed I was in
Memphis waiting on him to return and I got a telephone call from my
brother to say he had passed. So the lesson learned is you have to take
advantage of what's before you right now. We're not guaranteed tomorrow.
Alan: Larry, thank you
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