Born: January 19, 1925 Primary Instrument: Piano
Henry Gray - Blues Pianist, vocalist
Henry Gray built a Hall Of Fame Chicago blues pedigree during the 40-plus years between his 1946 arrival in the Windy City after military service and his 1969 move to Baton Rouge. In Chicago he became best known for his extended stay with the Howlin' Wolf band. Henry is still at the top of his game as a standard-setting pianist, a singer and songwriter of conviction and a consummate, inspiring ensemble player.
Soon after arriving in Chicago in 1946, Henry began frequenting the clubs and joints checking out the piano players and measuring his skills and talents with theirs. While doing this, Henry caught the eyes and ears of Big Maceo Merriwether, who is considered one of the best blues and barrel house piano players in history. Merriwether mentored Henry and showed him the ropes in the blues scene in Chicago.
It wasn't long before Henry was being sought after for his abilities. For the next twenty-two years, Henry played and/or recorded with many notable players and innovators of the blues.
In 1956, Howlin' Wolf asked Henry to join his band. Henry remained Wolf's main piano player until 1968. This is evidenced on many of Wolf's recording during this time. During the fifties and sixties, Chess records employed Henry many times as side man on their recordings. Also, he can be heard on many of J. D. Miller's Louisiana Excello blues recordings in the fifties and sixties. He lent his rousing piano to studio outings by Wolf, Little Walter, Billy Boy Arnold, Jr. Wells, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Morris Pejoe, Dusty Brown and Harold Burrage. His Chicago sessions as a leader for a handful of hallowed labels all remained un-issued for too many years.
Leaving Chicago in 1969, he went back to Louisiana and worked with the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board as roofer for nearly fifteen years before retiring, helped raise a family with his wife Rivers Gray for the last thirty years, and remained active as a musician in a number of ways.
Since his relocation to Baton Rouge, he has become a revered elder statesman, persevered through the loss of his house to a 1989 tornado, restored sobriety to his life, and recorded for labels around the world, mostly on anthologies. His handful of albums began with a 1977 European debut and his 1988 U.S. outing for Blind Pig, “Lucky Man,” waxed in Chicago. Henry received a Grammy nomination for his work on Telarc Records' 1998 release A Tribute to Howlin' Wolf. He released “Don’t Start That Stuff’” in 2000, “Watch Yourself,” and “Henry Gray Plays Chicago Blues,” both in 2001, and a live album recorded in Paris in 2004 “Henry and the Cats.” Pretty impressive!!
During the last thirty years, Henry has performed at virtually all New Orleans Jazz Festivals, two Chicago Blues festivals, (1987 & (1989) the Montreal Jazz Fest, (1988) nearly every Baton Rouge Blues Festival since its inception, the San Francisco Blues Festival, Memphis's W.C. Handy Blues Festival Blues Festival, several Festival Internationals (Lafayette, Louisiana), the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, the King Biscuit festival (Helena, Arkansas), and many other festivals around the United States.
Henry Gray is a living testament to the blues that came up from the South through Chicago and played around the world. He is one of the last of the original bluesmen still on the scene. Play On Henry!