Henry Gray (musician)

Henry Gray (born January 19, 1925, Kenner, Louisiana) is an African-American blues piano player and singer. He has been playing for more than seven decades, and has played with a multitude of artists including Robert Lockwood Jr., Billy Boy Arnold, Morris Pejoe, the Rolling Stones and Muddy Waters among many others. He has more than 58 albums to his credit, including recordings for the legendary Chess Records label. He is credited as helping to create the distinctive sound of the Chicago blues piano. [ [http://www.nea.gov/about/NEARTS/15-2007vol1/15p6gray.html 2006 National Endowment for the Arts Journal Article] ]

Early life and education

Shortly after he was born Gray, an only child, moved with his parents to a farm in Alsen, LA, a few miles north of Baton Rouge, where he would spend his childhood years. Gray began studying piano at the age of eight with a neighborhood woman, Mrs. White. Gray also credits the radio and music records in his home for inspiring his love for music at a young age. A few years later, Gray began playing piano and organ at his local Baptist church, and his family eventually got a piano for the house. While blues playing was not encouraged within his family's home, Henry did play blues at Mrs. White's house, and by the time he was 16 he was playing blues music at a club in Alsen. His father initially disapproved of Gray's "club gig" but, after seeing how much money he was making, Gray's father became supportive. In 1943, Grey joined the United States Army and was sent to the South Pacific during World War II. While in the Army, Gray would frequently entertain his fellow soldiers with his piano playing and singing. Shortly before the war was over, Gray was given a medical discharge from the army. He returned to the U.S. in 1946 where he spent a brief time in Alsen before relocating to Chicago where he had relatives. [ [http://www.cmt.com/artists/az/gray_henry/bio.jhtml Profile at Country Music Television.Com] ]

Career

Chicago:1946-1968

After arriving in Chicago, Gray began spending a great deal of his time in the growing postwar jazz and blues club scene. He would spend hours listening to and trying to learn from the Windy City's best piano players and would occasionally get hired for smaller gigs. One day while he was sitting in at a club, he caught the attention of Big Maceo Merriweather, an important jazz and blues piano player in Chicago (from Detroit). Merriweather befriended Gray and had an important impact on influencing Gray's "two-fisted playing" and introducing him to several notable bands and club owners. As a result, Grey was able to obtain steady gigs with groups like Little Hudson's Red Devil Trio (Hudson Showers) and guitarist Morris Pejoe before moving into extensive work as a session musician in the recording studio behind Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Billy Boy Arnold, Pejoe, and others. [ [http://music.yahoo.com/ar-250972-bio--Henry-Gray Yahoo music profile] ] His first recording session was in 1952 with Jimmy Rogers. Gray also worked occasionally with Little Walter, who nick-named the young pianist "Bird Breast." [ [http://www.bobcorritore.com/gray.html Bio and CD review at bobcorritore.com] ]

In 1956, Gray joined Howlin' Wolf's band and was Wolf's main piano player for twelve years in performance and on recordings. Also during this time, Gray became a session player for numerous artists on recordings made by Chess Records. He recorded with many icons of the blues including: Abb Lock, Sonny Boy Williamson, Homesick James, Robert Lockwood Jr., Billy Boy Arnold, Muddy Waters, Johnny Shines, Hubert Sumlin, Lazy Lester, Little Walter Jacobs, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Little Milton Campbell, Jimmy Rogers, Jimmy Reed, and Koko Taylor among others. [ [http://www.cmt.com/artists/az/gray_henry/bio.jhtml Profile at Country Music Television.Com] ] Gray also made some recordings on other labels including several recording with J. D. Miller's Louisiana Excello blues band during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1963, Gray played with Elmore James on the night that James died of a heart attack. [ [http://www.batonrougeblues.org/Musicians%20biographies/henry_gray.htm Baton Rouge Blues.ORG] ]

Louisiana:1968-today

Gray left Wolf's band and Chicago in 1968 to return to Alsen, Louisiana due to the death of his father and to assist his mother with the family fish market business. Gray became an important part of Louisiana's music scene where his big, rollicking sound became part of the region's "swamp blues" style. In addition to performing, Gray worked with the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board as a roofer from 1968-1983. [ [http://www.batonrougeblues.org/Musicians%20biographies/henry_gray.htm Profile at Baton Rouge Blues.ORG] ]

During the last thirty years, Gray has performed at virtually all New Orleans Jazz Festivals, two Chicago Blues festivals (1987 & (1989), the Montreal Jazz Festival (1988), nearly every Baton Rouge Blues Festival since its inception, the San Francisco Blues Festival, Memphis's W.C. Handy Blues Festival, several Festival Internationals (Lafayette, Louisiana), the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, the King Biscuit festival (Helena, Arkansas), and many other festivals around the United States.

Gray has also travelled to Europe frequently to play in festivals and concerts and can be heard on several European releases. In 1988, Blind Pig Records released Gray's first stateside feature LP entitled "Lucky Man". The album was produced by guitarist Steve Freund who also joined Gray on the album for a combination of both Windy City blues and bayou boogie. In 1990, he recorded "Louisiana Swamp Blues" on the Wolf Records label. In 1998, Gray received a Grammy Award nomination for his album "A Tribute to Howlin' Wolf" released on TelArc Records. He has also received four W.C. Handy nominations. That same year he played for Mick Jagger's 55th birthday celebration in Paris. In the summer of 1999, Gray toured Europe with Marva Wright and her band giving concerts of "Louisiana music" under the sponsorship of Blue House Records. In 2001, Gray recorded two albums: "Watch Yourself" on the Lucky Cat label and "Henry Gray Plays Chicago Blues" for Hightone Records. In 2006, he was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment for the Arts. [ [http://www.nea.gov/about/NEARTS/15-2007vol1/15p6gray.html 2006 National Endowment for the Arts Journal Article] ] That same year, Gray starred in the independent film "The Glass Chord" as Saul Solomon, an aging musician suffering from Alzheimers. [http://www.lafilm.org/media/index.cfm?id=841]

Gray continues to tour as a soloist and with his band Henry Gray and the Cats. In 2004, the band released a self titled CD and live DVD performance, "Henry Gray and the Cats" on the Lucky Cat label. Gray often performs at Blind Willies in Atlanta, Georgia, the Rhythm Room in Phoenix, Arizona, Tabby's Thomas' Blues Box and Abe's Barbecue in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. [ [http://www.cmt.com/artists/az/gray_henry/bio.jhtml Profile at Country Music Television.Com ] ] He has also recently played as a guest artist on recordings with Tab Benoit, Clarence Edwards, and Lafayette Leake. [ [http://www.ponderosastomp.com/music_more.php/22/Henry+Gray Ponderosastomp Bio] ]

Personal life

At one point in his life Gray suffered from alcoholism but has now obtained sobriety for many years. In 1989, his home in the Baton Rouge area was destroyed by a tornado. [ [http://www.bobcorritore.com/gray.html Bio and CD review at bobcorritore.com] ] Gray is married to Rivers Gray and they have three children and eight grandchildren together. [ [http://blueslim.m78.com/henryinterview.html Blues Market Magazine 1998 interview] ]

elected Discography

*"Louisiana Swamp Blues, Vol. 2" (1990 Wolf Records)
*"Don't Start That Stuff" (2000 Last Call Records)
*"Henry Gray Plays Chicago Blues" (2001 Hightone Record)
*"Henry Gray and the Cats: Live in Paris" (2003 Lucky Cat Records)
*"The Blues of Henry Gray & Cousin Joe" (2004 Storyville Records)

External links

* [http://www.henrygray.com/ Official website of Henry Gray]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qi4T9uhCkGI Henry Gray - Boogie Woogie at You Tube]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5ni7m1uKUQ Henry Gray plays Cold Chills at You Tube]
*allmusic|id=11:diftxq95ldke|label=Henry Gray

References


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