Ever dream of having the opportunity to witness a musical showcase so unique that its melodic notes would anchor themselves to the depths of your memory—permanent fragments incapable of being forgotten? Pleasure Island’s Chamber of Commerce hopes to make this dream a reality by welcoming legendary musicians to the area this weekend.
Pleasure Island’s 21st annual Seafood Blues and Jazz Festival, a two-day event held at the Fort Fisher Military Recreation area in Kure Beach, features both Robert Cray and Delbert McClinton on its lineup. Held on Saturday, October 11 and Sunday, October 12, the festival will feature a total of 14 artists performing across a blues and jazz stage.
Queen of Blues herself, Shemekia Copeland—on tour for her newest album “33 1/3”—will be playing alongside festival headliners, Delbert McClinton and Robert Cray. The two-time Grammy nominee was influenced by her father Johnny Clyde Copeland—a renowned blue’s guitarist. She began her career as a teenager when she debuted her recording of “Turn the Heat Up” (1998). Throughout her career, she has grown and found her purpose in life: “to uplift folks, especially women,” Copeland says. “That’s become very important to me: doing songs that put women in a position of power, but of course not alienating men, because we love men.”
Copeland performs right before Cray’s 8 p.m. set on Saturday, October 11. She’s performed with Cray previously and admires his platform not only in blues but across the music scene altogether.
“First of all, I adore Robert Cray for a bunch of reasons,” Copeland clarifies. “He’s anointed in his talent. To say he’s just great isn’t enough. He was blessed with a really special gift.”
Cray played with Copeland’s father on the 1985 album “Showdown,” which won a Grammy—one of five he would score during his career. As a musician, Cray started his career quite young. “I started playing in the ‘60s when The Beatles came out and everyone in my neighborhood all got guitars,” Cray says. “I started with lessons, and the lessons were short-lived, so yeah I’m self-taught.”
Throughout childhood, Cray and his family moved around a lot, which influenced his interest in music. He spent a couple of years in Germany during the ‘60s before he even started playing guitar. Rather than listening to or watching German media, his family bought records in all genres, from gospel to R&B to jazz.
In the late ‘60s, his family moved to Newport News, Virginia, where Cray became influenced by Motown and artists from Stax Records. He loved hearing Allen Collins, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, and B.B. King. He formed a band of his own in college and toured up and down the West Coast. It wasn’t until the ‘70s that he founded The Robert Cray Band—made up of Cray (vocals/guitar), Richard Cousins (bassist), Dover Weinberg (piano/keyboardist), and Les Falconer (drums). Since, he’s toured with some of his favorite musicians, like Eric Clapton, secured a Grammy, played as the backup band in the 1987 Chuck Berry film, and today celebrates 40 years by touring for a new release, “In My Soul” (Mascot, 2014).
“We’ve all been friends for a long time and that’s important,” Cray says of his bandmates. “To be friends and to be able to communicate with one another to make music, well it’s been good.”
The band’s latest studio album, produced by Steve Jordan, debuted at No. 1 on the blues album chart for both Billboard and iTunes. The last time Jordan worked with the band was in 1999 on “Take Your Shoes Off.”
“Steve’s a great organizer,” Cray says. “He makes everybody feel good in the studio, and he sets a really good vibe for each song. It’s a lot of fun working with Steve; he’s like the fifth member of the band.”
“Deep in My Soul,” off the new album, was a rendition of blue’s musician Bobby “Blue” Bland’s original recording. Bland passed away last year (2013) at the age of 83 and was one of Cray’s heroes. Paying tribute to him only seemed natural. “I wanted to pick a ballad of Bobby’s because I thought that’s where he really shined,” Cray says.
Before kicking off their US tour on June 20, the band had a run of sold-out performances in Europe. According to Cray, the audience appreciation overseas differs from American audiences. “[It’s] because of the fact that Europeans have a different way of looking at music than Americans do,” Cray says. “Because it’s not their music they really do their research as to where all this stuff comes from. They want to know about jazz, country, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, which is all our music.”
Over the years, Cray has witnessed his audience evolve into a younger generation. His older followers are turning their children onto the blues. “It’s great to see,” Cray admits. “Although I go, ‘Wow, am I that old now?’ I think just the fact that we’re still here, being able to do what we’re doing, that’s the highest point. It’s not the awards, it’s not who we’ve played with, it’s just being able to do what we set out to do 40 odd years ago. . . . Bands like Delbert’s and bands like ours, we played in clubs for years first and we played because we loved it.”
Like Copeland and Cray, Delbert McClinton embarked on his career in music at a young age. “I couldn’t help it, as a little kid I was all the time singin’ and when I got to be a teenager, I met with like-minded teenagers and we put a band together when I was about 15 years old,” McClinton says. “And I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Currently, McClinton is on tour in support of “Blind, Crippled, and Crazy” (New West, 2013). He collaborated with singer/songwriter Glen Clark, and despite not having worked together since the ‘70s, the two were able to cut all the tracks for the album in just three days.
“It was like we’d never stopped,” McClinton says. “We love to sing together—it’s fun. It was a very welcome situation because we hadn’t sung together in so long, and when we did, it was easy.”
McClinton, always striving to reach new heights with his music, doesn’t believe in following a formula. The harmonica player, pianist and guitarist has had multiple singles hit the Billboard 100 charts, including the 1980’s Top 40 hit, “Givin’ It Up for Your Love,” as well as country and mainstream rock. Plus, he recorded four albums that hit No. 1 on the U.S. Blues chart. In his opinion, following a formula is what makes music mediocre. “If I like a song and feel like I can sing it, I do it,” McClinton says. “You can call it whatever style you want.”
He’s scored a few Grammy wins, including a duet with Bonnie Rait, and was inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame in March 2011. The accolades come from McClinton’s natural inclination to try and improve on music rather than adapting to the changes in the industry around him. He has even judged the Independent Music Awards—an international program to help out indie artists. He sympathizes with new artists trying to break into the business.
“People are always going to want to see women with no clothes on dancing around; that’s been the biggest story of all time,” McClinton quips. “So as a 74-year-old guy with a new record, without any bells and whistles, you gotta have a fan base in order to have anyone support you—and I do. I have a great fan base.”
This January McClinton will embark on the Sandy Beaches Cruise 21 tour. The lineup includes Lyle Lovett, The Mavericks, Glen Clark, Brian Dunne, and the AJ Ghent Band. First he will return to Wilmington alongside the Robert Cray Band and Shemekia Copeland as part of the 21st annual Seafood, Blues and Jazz Festival. The festival will offer wine tastings, local crafts, an art and wine garden, and plenty activities to keep the children entertained—magicians, face painting, inflatables, and more.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Cray adds. “A festival—in October? Bring it on.”
Pleasure Island Seafood, Blues and Jazz Festival
Oct. 11-12, gates at 11 a.m.
Two-day tickets: $50 adv
Saturday only: $60 at gate
Sunday only: $25
Children 12 and under, free