Robert Cray says the soul sounds of Stax Records were a major influence on his new music. (Larry Busacca / Getty Images)
Guitarist and singer Robert Cray is known primarily as a blues musician, but this year, he and his band made a Memphis soul album.
“We must have all eaten the same cereal or something, because we came in with all this soul music,” says Cray, who will perform some of the songs from “In My Soul” on Saturday at the Power Center in Ann Arbor.
Cray will co-headline with Mavis Staples as part of the city’s Summer Festival Mainstage series. The festival, a mix of musical and comedy performances, activities, exhibits and screenings, wraps up July 6.
“In My Soul” includes original compositions along with covers of classic cuts by Otis Redding, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Isaac Hayes. The record also incorporates a sly homage to Booker T. and the MGs titled “Hip Tight Onions,” a mashup of classic MGs titles “Hip Hug-Her,” “Time Is Tight” and “Green Onions.”
The legendary sound of ’60s and ’70s soul giant Stax Records, home to Redding and Booker T., is a major influence on the new material, Cray says.
“It’s Stax — that whole feel of the music that came out of Stax recording studios, and also the Hi Records sound that came out of Memphis, as well,” he says. “Then there’s the blues thing that came out of Memphis, and the rock and roll that came out of Memphis. Everything that came out of Memphis is what I dig a lot.”
Cray was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011, but he and his band bring a broad palette of musical influences to the stage. The Beatles were Cray’s original inspiration to pick up a guitar as a youngster, and he saw Jimi Hendrix live on multiple occasions. The varying members of Cray’s band have contributed musical interests ranging from bebop to gospel to South American music.
“People call us a blues band, but we’ve always had the R&B influence in the music,” Cray says.
Audiences for the “In My Soul” tour are getting even more variety because most tour dates feature a co-headlining act. Renowned singer-songwriter John Hiatt shares the bill on most dates, but Saturday’s gig will be one of three costarring gospel stalwart Staples. Cray says teaming with Hiatt and Staples was a natural choice, describing Staples and her sister Yvonne (of the famous Staple Singers) as “great, beautiful people.”
“I think that it’s good for us to pair together. It gives the audience a good show,” Cray says.
Cray says there’s still an audience for blues and soul. Staples has experienced a recent career resurgence, with two successful albums produced by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. Cray suggests that for acts who persevere, there’s strength in staying power.
“When I was starting off in this band, we had to search out people like Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker and Mavis Staples because their popularity had waned,” he says. “But they were all still around.”
Robert Cray and Mavis Staples
8 p.m. Saturday
Power Center, 121 S. Fletcher, Ann Arbor
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.