Larry McCray has made plenty of his own music during the past 25 years.
This year he's showing what he can do with other people's tunes.
"The Gibson Sessions," McCray's ninth album, finds the Saginaw-based guitar hero him taking his -- what else -- Gibson Les Paul, 335 and Flying V to favorite songs by Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doobie Brothers and more. It also shows those who know McCray as a veteran bluesman how much rock 'n' roll is part of his musical makeup.
"The blues is my favorite, for sure. I get more out of it, feeling-wise, but I've always been a rock 'n' roll fan and I've always tried to write music that was rock 'n' roll friendly," explains McCray, 54, who was born in Arkansas but moved with his family to Michigan when he was young. The onetime General Motors line worker made music his full-time pursuit in 1990, and he went on to win the Orville H. Gibson Male Blues Guitarist of the Year award as well as the Top Guitarist prize in International Blues Matters' 2014 writer's poll.
"I always try to move forward and remember where I came from," McCray says of opening the door more to his rock influences. "This album is a way to do these songs I love and maybe get them heard by people who like that music already, but do it in my own way so I can have some of my personality and self-identity within the music."
McCray acknowledges that he was "a little nervous" taking on these songs. "You open up the door to, 'Who the hell does this guy think he is?' " he notes. And nowhere was that more true than taking on "Night Moves," a classic from his Michigan state mate and rock icon Bob Seger.
"That was one of the most challenging ones, vocally," McCray says. "He had that great melody and the whole thing fit together so well, and I knew people knew it so well, so yeah, that was a little intimidating.
"But I'll tell ya, any of the alterations I've done feel natural to me. They're things I've always heard in my head when I listened to these songs. I think when you hear them they fit. It feels like they could have done that way in the first place, maybe."
Larry McCray, "The Gibson Sessions" CD release party, with Johnny Rhoades.
Saturday, Feb. 28. Doors open at 8 p.m.
The Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave.
Tickets are $12.
Call 248-544-3030 or visit www.themagicbag.com.
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