By the latter period of 1986, Georgia-born bluesman Robert Cray and his band had been causing quite a stir for a number of years. But 15 November was the date that year on which he entered the UK chart with the excellent Strong Persuader, which was not only his major label debut, for Mercury, but would become his first top 40 LP there.
Cray had been making his name as a brilliant guitarist and soulful lead vocalist – one he has maintained ever since – with a series of albums on the independent Hightone label. The last of those, 1985’s False Accusations, was followed by the new deal, but happily he didn’t break up a winning team. With Cray becoming ever more the cool new sound of the blues, Strong Persuader was produced by the band’s regular studio helmsmen, Dennis Walker and Bruce Bromberg.
The record also boasted the soulful contributions of Memphis Horns mainstays Andrew Love and Wayne Jackson, and as a writer, Walker also contributed four of the ten songs on Strong Persuader. One of these, the stylish story song “Right Next Door (Because Of Me),” became a single, as did “Smoking Gun” and “I Guess I Showed Her,” and Cray and the band raised their profile further with US and international touring.
Strong Persuader charted in the UK ahead of America, with an initial showing at No.49. Early in 1987, Cray won a Grammy for his album with Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland, Showdown! Then, as word spread that his band were the hot new name in blues, Persuader continued to sell, making its Top 40 debut in Britain the following June and eventually amassing more than six months in the Top 100.
The message was getting through even louder at home. Cray was back at the Grammys in 1988, as Strong Persuader won Best Contemporary Blues Recording, and the album went all the way into the mainstream top 20 there, peaking at No. 13. It went gold in its year of release, platinum in 1987 and, remarkably, double platinum in 1996.
Listen to uDiscover Music’s Robert Cray Best Of playlist.
Samuel G. Freedman’s review for the New York Times sang Cray’s praises to the rafters. He wrote that Strong Persuader “seizes the spirit of the blues in a collection of sometimes brooding, sometimes sizzling songs. What makes the achievement especially heartening – and surprising – is that it happened on Mr. Cray’s first major-label release, too often the occasion when record conglomerates dilute a unique artist’s talent in hopes of cracking the mass market.”
Buy or stream Strong Persuader.