With seven decades of boozy riffing, troubled loving, and tough living behind him, Henry Gray is a complete and unabridged human history book of the American blues.
Born on the outskirts of New Orleans, this piano player first pounded the black-and-white keys in church as a boy, playing gospel spirituals and hymns. But at home, Gray's father had forbidden the blues. And it was only when he started playing barrooms at the age of 16 -- and getting paid for it -- that pops dropped the ban.
By 1946, Gray had joined the Army, served in World War II, received a medical discharge, and moved north to Chicago. Straight away, he hit the blues clubs and struck up a friendship with legendary barrelhouse piano man Big Maceo Merriweather. He landed gigs. He earned cred. And he spent the next half-century helping to pioneer Chicago blues piano, playing alongside guitar gods such as Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King.
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Now 85 years old, Gray is writing his next chapter. Hear the first few bars at the Colony next Friday.
Henry Gray & the Cats. Friday, March 11. Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. The concert begins at 8:30 p.m. and tickets cost $35 for general admission or $50 for VIP via tigertail.org. Call 305-674-1026 or visit colonyandbyrontheaters.com.