Larry McCray - Born to Play the Blues

Larry McCray
Born to Play the Blues

(House of Blues)

First Appeared at The Music Box, October 1998, Volume 5, #10

Written by John Metzger


After a lengthy hiatus, Larry McCray is back and better than ever. After contributing a rendition of Midnight Rambler to the House of Blues label's Paint It Blue: Songs of the Rolling Stones, as well as a pair of guest appearances on that record, he recently released his third major label album Born to Play the Blues.

McCray, the second youngest of nine children, was raised in his family's one-room shack on a small farm in southern Arkansas. His father played the blues on harmonica and guitar, and his older sister Clara is a guitarist and disciple of Freddie King. It was Clara who gave him his first guitar when he was twelve years old. He played guitar at home with his brothers Carl and Steve on bass and drums.

As a teenager, he and his family moved to Saginaw, Michigan where he took a job at a General Motors plant. Over the next decade, he worked on the GM assembly line during the day, and performed with local blues, rock, country, and jazz-fusion groups at night.

"It was hard as hell," said McCray. "But the challenging conditions [in Arkansas] taught me a lot of things about how to survive and succeed. If you have the will to change your situation, you can overcome just about anything."

McCray's hard work began to pay off. He became the first artist signed by Virgin Records' blues division Pointblank Records, and in 1990, he released his debut recording Ambition. Despite the fact that the album actually consisted of 16-track demos recorded in a friend's basement studio, it was well-received and gave him the momentum to quit his job at GM and concentrate solely on his music career.

For his second album, Delta Hurricane, McCray took his band to Memphis where they were accompanied by the Uptown Horns. While his first release was more rock-oriented, Delta Hurricane was steeped with traditional Memphis blues while allowing McCray to pay homage to the guitarists who have influenced him.

After several years of wrestling with record producers, McCray has released his latest disc Born to Play the Blues. On this disc, McCray has created a wonderful collection of music that bridges the gap between traditional blues and contemporary rock, funk, gospel, and soul.

The title track kicks-off the disc with a sparse guitar riff, allowing McCray's soulful vocals to shine before a drum beat propels the tune into high gear. Jon Cleary's I Feel So Damn Good (I'll Be Glad When I Got the Blues) fuses a funky rhythmic groove with McCray's blistering blues-based lead. On Sunny Monday, McCray reinvents T-Bone Walker's classic Stormy Monday as an upbeat blues shuffle, and he makes Warren Haynes and Allen Woody's Worried Down with the Blues his own.

In recording Born to Play the Blues, McCray took the advice of House of Blues producers and attempted to make the disc more accessible to his predominately white fan base. McCray told Michael Nowlin at the Bay City Times, "Instead of bucking the system, you've got to learn how to beat it. It's a discredit to the preservation of [black] culture and customs, but sometimes you have to face certain things."

"I'm happy to have a new project [because] I think it's decent," continued McCray. "But I'm tired of being under the thumb and discrepancy of someone else. I want creative freedom. I still believe it's just a matter of time until I get into position to control my own creative talent."

In the meantime, McCray should be proud of Born to Play the Blues. His heartfelt and confident vocals and his searing guitar licks help to make this disc stand out above most of the blues releases available today. starstarstarstar

Born to Play the Blues is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright 1998 The Music Box