This Is The Life
By Tom MacIntosh
Texan born Gary Clark Jr., at 33 is one of a few rising stars on the blues scene with his trademark howling guitar and velvet voice. His influences range from soul, blues, rock, country, and hip-hop, but mainly he’s a Texan guitar player; he wants it to be “bangin”. Throughout his short career, he has powerfully reminded us how blues has seeped into all genres over the decades, from country to hip-hop. He was a great fan of Magic Sam and Otis Rush for instance. Clark Jr. has performed alongside the likes of B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Jeff Beck, Sheryl Crow, Richards... and the list goes on. Rolling Stone Magazine called him ‘Best Young Gun’ six years ago in their Best of Rock issue.
Here at Guitars Exchange we want to get more into his music, his styles, and the hardware he wields to make it so.
In 2004, at 20, he released 110, (live) a tasty combination of Texas blues, folk, and indie rock. Just check out the 46 second Intro which starts the album, to get a load of his deft abilities on his vaunted 1966 Epiphone Cherry Casino. He says he’s in love with it because “When you put on the middle the pickup selector switch, it has a cool nasally kind of BB King, T-Bone Walker type of tone. I’ve never found it on any other Casino. It’s special.” On acoustic pieces like Streetwalker, he has used an Epiphone Masterbilt EF-500RCCE but also carries a Dobro Hound Dog Deluxe Roundneck, a wildly beautiful instrument just to look at, let alone hear him play on it.
In 2012 his first studio record Blak and Blu made it to #6 in the U.S, and went global. Here he clearly tips his cap to more of his generation, with a horn section and background vocals on the opener Ain’t Messin Round that smacks of the hip-hop and R&B that he grew up with. On track 5, Travis County, a throwback to old-time rock n roll, (think Chuck Berry) is the classic Austin approach. Epiphone gave him a custom-made guitar for the album: a Blueburst Casino, and it’s, you-guessed-it, blak and blu. On The Life, a be-bop number, he sheds any hint of Austin, the blues, and rock, which shows how far this young Texas ‘blues titan’ is willing to go reach a bigger public. The vocals, both his, and the background lend a 70s Motown hue on Please Come Home. It’s a gem of an album you don’t want to miss.
In September of 2015 he releases The Story of Sonny Boy Slim. It reached #1 on Billboard, Top Blues Albums charts in October, with the underlying theme in these ‘troubled times’, of faith and hope. The young man says that he will play the same song with different guitars, depending on his mood, the room’s mood. On Church and Grinder, he has gone between the semi-acoustic 1959 Gibson ES-175, and the electric Fano JM6, with its mahogany neck and body, with a pair of Lindy Fralin P-90s in it. Heralded as the next ‘thing’ in blues, Gary C. J. has gone beyond that to broader horizons.
Gary Clark Jr. is certainly riding high on the new wave of ‘blues’ guitarists, and pushing it further into a tasty mix of freshly-peeled soulful fruit that is simply delightful to listen to.
We think you will feel the same way.