Robert Cray had yet to take the masses by storm with the smoldering blues of “Smoking Gun,” the breakthrough single from his “Strong Persuader” album, when he found himself in Keith Richards’ St. Louis hotel room, having been invited by the Rolling Stone to lend his talents to the filming of “Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

“We all met and went to Keith’s room, just to get acquainted,” Cray recalls in an interview with the Arizona Republic, part of The USA TODAY Network.

“And there’s a boombox on the fireplace mantel in his room. So I went over and checked it out and there was this cassette tape. It said, ‘Strong Persuader.’”

The young guitarist’s album hadn’t even been released at that point.

“I said, ‘How’d you get this?’” Cray recalls. “He says, ‘I’m a Rolling Stone. I have everything.’”

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When Eric Clapton turned Keith Richards on to Robert Cray

Not only did director Taylor Hackford’s Berry documentary, which also featured Linda Ronstadt, Etta James and Eric Clapton, elevate Cray’s profile, it introduced him to the great Steve Jordan, who played in Richards’ band X-Pensive Winos and went on to produce several albums for Cray, including his most recent effort, 2020’s award-winning “That’s What I Heard.”

As Cray recalls, “Steve tells the story that Keith heard our ‘Bad Influence’ album. Eric Clapton turned him onto it, and he became a fan. That’s how I was invited.”

Robert Cray reflects on life in music, from jamming with Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Chuck Berry, through "Smoking Gun" to "That's What I Heard."

Robert Cray reflects on life in music, from jamming with Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Chuck Berry, through “Smoking Gun” to “That’s What I Heard.”

Cray had a “fantastic” time working with Richards on that 1987 documentary.

“The whole thing was really funny because here it is Keith

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