Blues Hall of Fame pianist Henry Gray turns 94 today. He is seen here in 2004 at Centennial Park in Nashville, TN where he was performing. Born January 19, 1925 in Kenner, LA, Gray is best known for his work in Howlin’ Wolf’s blues band, whom he joined up with in 1956, continuing as Wolf’s primary piano player for 12 years through Wolf’s classic period on Chess Records. Gray was also a main session pianist for Chess, and has performed with a dizzying array of top artists, including the Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Billy Boy Arnold, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, Koko Taylor, Homesick James, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Little Milton, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Hubert Sumlin, Johnny Shines, Morris Pejoe and countless others. Gray was performing with Elmore James on the night the legendary slide guitarist died of a heart attack. Henry Gray is currently one of the last surviving artists who were instrumental in developing the classic post-war Chicago blues sound that is so widely copied today. After arriving in Chicago just after WWII, Gray’s playing caught the attention of Big Maceo Merriweather, a pioneer of boogie-woogie, barrel-house blues piano who was already a popular recording artist. After a more than 20 year career based in Chicago, Gray left Howlin’ Wolf’s band in 1968 and returned to his home in Alsen Louisiana, where he became part of the burgeoning “swamp blues” style. Had he stopped performing in 1968, his legendary status would have been secure, but he has continued to be a strong presence on the international blues scene for an additional 50 years (and counting), performing at every major blues festival and traveling to Europe on numerous occasions and appeared in the 2015 documentary film “I Am The Blues.” Gray continues to be booked into 2019 and is scheduled to play the New Orleans Jazz Fest, a festival he has almost never missed playing.
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