Blues Guitarist Gary Clark Jr.
Gary Clark Jr. is the new blues guy on the scene. Well, new in the sense that he is just now getting the attention he deserves with the release of his major label debut Blak And Blu, but Clark has been releasing music for the past decade.
Hailing from Austin, TX, Clark has naturally been inspired by some of its famous guitar players, as he tells Guitar World: “Through Stevie Ray Vaughan I learned about Jimmie Vaughan and other Austin guitarists, like Denny Freeman and Derek O’Brien. When Clifford Antone brought Hubert Sumlin and Buddy Guy to his club [Austin’s famed nightclub, Antone’s], I’d go see them. I soaked it all up. That was my foundation.”
What sets Gary Clark Jr. apart from other blues guitarists, is his versatility. Just listen to Blak and Blu; it has everything from delta blues (“Next Door Neighbor Blues”) to R&B (the title track), via some dirty swamp rock (the excellent “Numb”). Clark has talked about in interviews how he has been influenced by everyone from Guns N' Roses to Wu-Tang Clan. Part of this musical mash up is no doubt thanks to Clark's two co-producers on the album Mike Elizondo, and Rob Cavallo. Elizondo comes from a hip hop background having worked with the likes of Dr. Dre and Eminem, while Cavallo brings a rock perspective having co-produced almost all of Green Day's albums. Here are some quotes from Gary Clark Jr. about his influences, equipment, and playing with the Rolling Stones.
Gary Clark Jr. spoke to the Telegraph about the first time he picked up a guitar at age 12:
“I loved the way it looked. My dad had these records at the house – Brothers Johnson, Johnny Guitar Watson and B.B. King Live At The Regal, and I was fascinated by the image and then the sound. The electric guitar can scream and cry and wail or it can be as mellow as you want it to be. Being kind of reserved, it became my way of letting go.”
Here's what Gary had to say to GQ about what inspired him to become a guitarist:
“The thing that drew me into blues was hearing artists like Jimmy Reed, Albert King, Freddie King; a lot of guys from Texas, like Alan Haynes, Derek O'Brien, Mike Keller. I was maybe 14 when I realized what the Austin music scene was about and before that I was just running around as a kid.“
Clark likes hollowbody guitars. He used to play a Gibson ES-125. These days he plays a Gibson ES-335, and an Epiphone Casino. Here's what Gary had to say about the Epiphone Casino in an interview with Guitar World:
“I love everything about the Casino,” Clark says. “I love its P-90 pickups, its shape, how hollow and light it is, and even the way it sounds unplugged when I’m playing it around the house. I feel like it was made for me. I was into Otis Rush, Freddie King and B.B. King’s sound, with their big semihollow Gibson guitars, and I wanted one too, but when I saw and played the Casino I said this is what I need in my life. It’s a beautiful instrument.”
Although Gary Clark Jr. is a guitarist first and foremost, he does play a bunch of other instruments, as told to Complex.com: “I play some keys a little bit. Drums, bass, guitar, trying to play trumpet. […] The trumpet came along in the last five or six years. That was just an impulse buy in a music store. Knew nothing about how to approach it. Everything else, my grandmother has a piano in her house, so I'd go do my thing on it. I had a keyboard in her house. My sister got drums the same year I got guitar—she lost interest. My cousin got a bass like a year after and he lost interest. They were just around. So when I was learning to play guitar, which was my main focus, I was also playing these instruments as well.”
In an interview with Premier Guitar, Clark talked about some of the pedals he use on stage:
“I’ve got a Fulltone Octafuzz and a Real McCoy wah-wah, and I’ve got a couple of Analog Man pedals—an Astro Tone Fuzz and their new [ARDX20] delay. [...] I think those options can help express certain feelings and certain attitudes, and I’m always looking for new ways to do that. It’s exciting because there’s so much out there that I don’t even know about—the whole thing’s an adventure.”
Gary recently spoke to MusicRadar about his dream guitar, and it turns out it's Gibson made:
“I think I got my dream guitar. It's a '67 Gibson 330. I'm way into that instrument. I got it at Rivington Guitars in New York, just shopping around. It's a fairly new purchase, so I didn't get a chance to use it on the album. I still haven't decided if I'm going to play it live. It might be one of those things I keep to myself.”
In that same interview, Gary Clark Jr. also talked about what guitars he used while recording Blak and Blue, a cherry red Epiphone Casino and a Gibson ES-335 that he borrowed from producer Mike Elizondo:
“I used the cherry red one on a good portion of the record, and I also used a 335. It was in the studio, and I couldn't resist. [Laughs] But those were the main ones, really. I didn't go crazy with playing all these different guitars. I wanted to concentrate on the songs and the performances.”
Gary recently got to jam with the Rolling Stones during their 50th anniversary tour. Here's what he had to say about the experience to USA Today:
“I had a couple friends say they'd never seen me smile like that on stage,” said Clark. “I usually keep it pretty cool, but I lost all cool points on that gig.”