Gary Clark Jr. is the musical equivalent of Midwestern weather; if you don’t like something, stick around for a minute and it will surely change. Though he was born and bred and cut his teeth in Austin, TX, and developed a reputation as a blues-steeped guitar gunslinger, the 28-year-old musician and songwriter is the product of a varied batch of influences––including rock, R&B, funk, jazz, country and hip-hop in addition to blues––that all surface on Blak And Blu, his major label debut.
A church and high school choir veteran, Clark picked up guitar as an adolescent and was mentored by the late Austin promoter and club owner Clifford Antone. The rising artist became a fixture on the Sixth Street scene and, by 2001 was feted with a Gary Clark Jr. Day in Austin and, by 2010, made enough of an impact to be booked at Eric Clapton’s third Crossroads Guitar Festival as well as the following year’s Bonnaroo Music Festival. Clark was also part of this year’s Red, White And Blues show at the White House and Metallica’s Orion Festival, and he’s been tapped by Sheryl Crow and Alicia Keys to guest on their albums. He may be a little bruised from his hard-fought trip into the spotlight, but Blak And Blu sounds like it was well worth the effort.
Music Connection: Blak And Blu has felt like a long time coming, with a lot of “preamble” in the form of EPs and a lot of advance press. You must be chomping at the bit for it to come out.
Gary Clark Jr.: Yeah, I’m really ready. I’m very excited. I mean, this is kind of a big deal for me, my first (album) with a major label. I suppose there’s a little bit more pressure––and a lot of excitement. I’m ready to go, man. I’m ready.
MC: You’ve been called “the next Hendrix” and a lot of other good stuff. How do you cope with those kind of plaudits, and with the expectations they bring?
Clark: (laughs) I’m just...I’m aware and I’m soaking it up, but mostly I’m just grateful. I’m blessed. I’m very lucky. And I’m humbled by it. I just know I love playing music. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I’m doing it.
That puts me on the spot, though, the pressure thing. Like I said, I’m aware of that every day, but I still feel fortunate.
MC: Do you feel like a lot of people are looking at you now and saying, in effect, “Prove it!”
Clark: Yeah, probably. All I know is that this is what I’ve got. I am what I am, and all I can do is what I’m capable of and basically be me and try to be the best I can be at it and try not to get too overwhelmed. Getting myself all worked up doesn’t make anything easier, you know? I kind of go with it. It is what it is and it will be what it will be, and I hang on the best I can.
MC: Blak And Blu covers a lot of stylistic ground, probably more than most people expect from a guitar hero from Austin. Where does that variety and diversity come from?
Clark: Y’know, I’ve been associated with the blues thing, being the guitar guy, and that is a major part of what I do. But I was influenced by and love all sorts of music, so I write like that and record like that and experiment with all kinds of sounds. And for my first major label album, I just want to put it all out there rather than just playing straightahead blues or just stick to one genre and then bring the weird stuff out later. I thought I might as well introduce myself as a weirdo first and get it out of the way and see what happens.