We chat with Gary Clark Jr.
Gary Clark Jr is the blues guitarist of the moment.
The hype machine has been suitably greased up and primed and modest, laidback dude from Austin’s star is swiftly is climbing into the heavens.
Texas is well known for producing numerous amazing artists, from Doug Sahm to Janis Joplin and that other master of the Stratocaster, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Though Clark may be heralded as the ‘saviour of the blues’ and the next Hendrix, the public will be suitably astounded when his major label release Blak and Blu (for Warner Music) hits the shelves on October 19th.
“Everything was pretty much done when we got into the studio. I had some of the songs around for some time,” begins Clark Jr. “I was eager to go and the guys were too. I had been out in California for a couple of months, not just in the studio there, but running around doing some gigs here and there and some festivals.”
Clark Jr continues, “basically what happened is JJ Johnson came in and played drums and we wanted to capture the live element as much as possible and maybe just add things if we wanted, take things away, mess with the arrangements, whatever. So we got into the studio with JJ and Mike Elizondo and we cut 17 songs in four days.”
As for the rest of their time? “We just sort of experimented to see if we could come up with something new and listening back to see how we felt about what we had done. It was so much fun and we just played around like mad scientists,” says the guitarist while slipping into his horror movie/creepy scientist voice, “what can we do with this, what’s next….mmm, how can we make this bigger,” Clark Jr laughs.
After having the opportunity to hear Blak and Blu there is no need or reason to make it anything but what it is. Gary Clark Jr has pushed every button imaginable within the blues guitar format (and more) within its grooves.
The soul and RnB elements are startling, while the entire package is reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s early 70s records at times.The album was produced by Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre, Mastodon, Fiona Apple), Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance) and Gary Clark Jr. himself. The alchemy in the studio was totally successful.
Having floated around Austin since he was a kid with a guitar in his hand, his native city and its inhabitants have been a blessing for Clark Jr. The record company flimflam may be pushing him out to the world but he has had some luck, and worked hard at his craft.
“I think it was a little bit of both,” he concurs. “Staying focused and not ever losing the love that I had for the guitar from when I first picked it up helps.”
“It is still very exciting for me to play. Also, a little bit of luck, too. I have been hanging out with good folks and people who have my back and are willing to support me and help me get to where I want to be and I have been fortunate enough to have all of that”, says Clark Jr.
“In Austin I hung around folks like Appa Perry. He had a Blues jam on Tuesday and Thursday nights and he called me and pulled it together. He really supported me and brought me out there and let me do my thing. I learned how to really play there.”
Asked for others, he adds: “Clifford Antone was instrumental in introducing me to James Cotton, Hubert Sumlin and Jimmy Vaughan. Those people were very influential and played a big part in the blues and the culture of the music. Muddy Water’s had James Cotton and Hubert Sumlin played with Howlin’ Wolf and these guys were around and bringing me up on stage with them. That was a major inspiration for me”, Clark reminisced.
For the uninitiated, Appa Perry has played with Jeff Healey, Tom Jones and Merle Haggard – to name just a few. The late Clifford Antone, who had his namesake club Antone’s in Austin, nurtured and developed not only the live music scene in that great Texan city but had been a mentor to many of the musicians he met, including those infamous Vaughan Brothers.
These experiences, along with having a ‘Gary Clark Jr Day’ in Austin when he was 17, helped shape that teen into the centred and laidback person he appears to be today.
His ability, his presence and his connections had him invited to play at the White House for the Red, White, and Blues concert honouring Chicago electric blues pioneers like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and the artists from Mississippi that inspired them like Charlie Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, and Big Bill Broonzy.
“That was one of the most surreal experiences of my life,” says the guitarist of his visit to the capital. “I would have never thought that I would get called to play a gig like that. It was great and crazy. For me personally I got to be part of that event and it was a tribute to the blues and the history and that culture.”
“It was very beautiful to see the music be shown some light. BB King, Booker T. Jones, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, and all these guys who made a huge impact and they called ME to do it and I was the new guy,” he says with exasperation.
“It was special to me getting the nod from the President and the guys who laid the foundation for me to even be doing this. It was very meaningful to me on so many levels.”
Having already wowed Australian audiences across three intimate shows with his backing band (consisting of Eric Zapata on guitar, John Bradley on bass and John Radelat on drums), the next chance to catch Gary Clark Jr. in all his glory will be The Big Day Out next January; and a handful of sideshows.
Better get in with your tickets now for the next big thang.