Robert Cray is one of those musicians who can sound only like himself.
In guitar terms, he sticks pretty rigidly to his tried and tested format: a Fender Strat plugged straight into the amp, no effects apart from a very occasional tremolo pedal, and very, very hard picking.
But, in the process, on Bad Influence (inexplicably missing from streaming platforms at the time of writing…) he plays three or four of the most electrifying guitar solos of the ’80s, proving himself a worthy heir to Albert King and Albert Collins. And his tough guitar style is a contrast to a fairly sweet, soulful vocals and songwriting which reflect the influence of Al Green and BB King more than Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker.
Bad Influence was Cray’s second official release, and it was pretty much the one that alerted the wider world outside of blues aficionados to his potential. The Robert Cray Band had built up a formidable live following in the early ’80s, touring relentlessly on the West Coast and in Europe.
With the help of producers Bruce Bromberg and Dennis Walker, they were ready to take that consistency into the studio. And it certainly helps that there are no trinkets of ’80s production present on the album, no synths or dated drum sounds – Bad Influence mostly just sounds like a great band playing live in the studio, with the occasional addition of horns and Hammond organ.
Bad Influence is mainly known for its superb cover versions: Johnny Guitar Watson’s ‘Don’t Touch Me’ and Eddie Floyd’s ‘Got To Make A Comeback’, both slow 6/8 jams, the former angry and biting, the latter sweet and soulful. ‘The Grinder‘ is another slowish 6/8 with a killer Cray solo. The CD version also comes with a great cover of the New Orleans R’n’B classic ‘I Got Loaded’.
Then there are the minor-key blues/funk standard ‘Phone Booth’ (featuring not one but two classic guitar solos), later covered by Albert King, and the title track which was subsequently covered by Eric Clapton on August (the two have collaborated many times since).
Also essential are the super-funky ‘So Many Women So Little Time’ and Bo Diddley-esque ‘No Big Deal’. Lyrically, my personal favourite is probably ‘Waiting For The Tide To Turn’, a kind of ‘ironic’ blues about procrastination.
To date, Bad Influence has reportedly shifted over a million copies. Cray’s two follow-ups False Accusations and Strong Persuader sold even more. And he’s very much still going strong at the time of writing.