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Henry Gray & the Cats at the Colony Theatre March 11

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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.

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.

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