For more than 30 years, rust belt blues shouter and guitar slinger Larry McCray’s greatness has been hiding in plain sight. A native of Magnolia Arkansas, Larry McCray discovered his love of music at a young age through his sister Clara, who introduced him to the guitar and the transformative music of Blues legends like B.B. King. After moving to Michigan at 12, he spent his teen years harnessing his guitar skills, adding rock riffs to the traditional blues style he loved. After high school, he began playing the local circuit, and by the late 80’s he attracted the notice of Virgin Records and was signed as the inaugural artist to their blues label Point Blank Records.
In 1990, McCray released his critically acclaimed debut album, aptly named — Ambition. A stunning debut, the record was a convincing hybrid of blues, rock, and soul, with McCray combining the interrelated idioms in sizzling fashion. Throughout the 1990’s, he continued to help define blues rock, releasing several albums including 1993’s Delta Hurricane, and 1998’s Born to Play the Blues. After starting his own record label, Magnolia Records, the bluesman remained active throughout the 2000’s, releasing 2001’s Believe It and Blues Is My Business, 2006’s Live on Interstate 75, and his self-titled album “Larry McCray” in 2007. He toured extensively, playing with blues greats like B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Keb’ Mo and Joe Bonamassa, and worked with rock legends like the Allman Brothers, Levon Helm, Chris Robinson, Dickie Betts and countless others. Somewhere along the way, though, his path to the top of the blues world was derailed. During the recording process of his latest release, McCray felt “reborn” as he developed a newfound drive and passions for his career. In 2021, McCray released his first original material in nearly 15 years, “Blues Without You,” an album that showcases his power as an instrumentalist and a vocalist. The 12-track record, produced by Joe Bonamassa’s Keeping the Blues Alive label, garnered McCray even more critical acclaim with Blues Rock Reviews calling it “the record of a lifetime and the best project of his career.”
Born and raised on the shores of Lake Superior, Phil Anich served as Big Top Chautauqua’s Operations Manager for nearly 30 years. A performer for most of his life, in the 1980’s along with other local artists he began singing in shows written by Warren Nelson & Betty Ferris about the history of the local Lake Superior region. This group would go on to become Big Top’s famed house band the Blue Canvas Orchestra. Every summer since Big Top’s founding in 1986, the Blue Canvas Orchestra have continued to write and perform in original shows that have often celebrated the history, environment, and cultures of the local region. Since then, Phil Anich has continued to perform in shows at Big Top including Riding The Wind, Big Top Does The Beatles, Wild Woods & Waters, and most recently In Spite of Ourselves: The Music of John Prine & Nanci Griffith. During the 2022 summer season, Phil Anich performed under the tent with Dale Engquist, Brian Russ, and Mason Pavel, as Phil Anich & Friends opened for legendary country swing band Asleep At The Wheel.
This episode features recordings from each artists’ August 2022 performances at Big Top Chautauqua.
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