Rust belt blues guitarist and singer Larry McCray was born in 1960 in Magnolia, Arkansas, one of 10 children. Early on, his sister, Clara, introduced him to the guitar and the transformative music of the Kings of the Blues: Albert King and B.B. King, as well as the powerhouse sound of Albert Collins. These great masters of the blues would have a tremendous influence on the musician McCray would become.
When he was 12, McCray followed his sister to Saginaw, Michigan, where he honed his guitar skills, adding rock riffs to the traditional blues style he loved. After high school, he began playing the local circuit, and by the late ‘80s, he had attracted the notice of Virgin Records blues label. McCray was signed as Point-Blank Records inaugural artist, and his debut album, Ambition, was released to critical acclaim.
Throughout the 1990s, McCray continued to help define blues rock, releasing several albums. In 2000, he started his own label, Magnolia Records. He played with blues greats like B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Keb’ Mo, and Joe Bonamassa, as well as with rock legends like the Allman Brothers, Levon Helm, Chris Robinson and Dickie Betts. McCray was not only known as a guitarist but also as an impassioned singer who could knock out audiences with his soulful, barrel-chested vocals. Somewhere along the way, though, his path to the top of the blues world was derailed. McCray is philosophical about the detours his career took. “Albert King, Albert Collins and B.B. King really had the most influence on me because, in my mind, they were the greatest of their generation at playing the blues,” he said. “It took them their whole careers to achieve minor milestones in the business. So, if it took the greatest players their entire careers to make it, who am I to complain about having to walk in their footsteps?”
In 2022, McCray released his first recording of original material in nearly 15 years with Blues Without You. Produced by Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith on Bonamassa’s Keeping the Blues Alive Records label, the album has reminded the world and McCray of his power as an instrumentalist and vocalist. “I feel totally reborn, with a whole new career and I’m optimistic about what the future holds,” he said. “Truthfully speaking, I do wish it would have happened 30 years ago. I would have been much more qualified for the job at that age than at 62,” he laughed.
The album features performances by Bonamassa, Warren Haynes, Joanna Connor and Reese Wynans and has garnered McCray more critical acclaim. Blues Rock Reviews called it “the record of a lifetime and the best project of his career.”
For Joe Bonamassa, signing McCray and producing the album was an easy decision. “Larry McCray is a legend,” he said. “We have known that for 30 years. He is the last of the great blues shouters from the Rust Belt. It is now up to the rest of the world to rediscover him. He has been here all along.”
Come and hear the greatness that’s been hiding in plain sight.