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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Burning up the blues


    It seems to happen every 15 years. Blues legends arise with a white-hot ferocity and stake their claim in the storied history of guitar players. A short list of these archetypes consists of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jonny Lang. Armed with a hollow body guitar and a Fender Vibro-King amp, Gary Clark Jr. is the next in line to claim the throne with a mix of pure blues ideals infused with R&B inflections. Clark’s forthcoming album is highly anticipated by the guitar community for the blazing virtuosity that he displayed at the 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival, yet he should be just as equally sought after by the public. His style is infectious, brilliant and driven by feeling rather than traditional discipline. In rebranding the past, Gary Clark Jr. is ahead of his time. Check him out, get hooked and get ahead of the curve.

    *Daily Wildcat: It’s been said by more than one outlet that you’re being branded as this “new guitar god.” What kind of pressure does that put on your songwriting, and is it subsequently shaping the album’s direction? *

    Gary Clark Jr.: I don’t really pay much attention to all of that. A lot of it is flattering, no doubt, but I just do what I do. I don’t know that it really influences anything on the album because I’m just working on putting some stuff that’s cool out there, regardless of who is or is not paying attention. It’s just what I’m feeling and I’m grateful to anyone who’s feeling it too.

    You seem to have an affinity for the Epiphone Casino, particularly the red one from Crossroads and the “Bright Lights” video. Where does that relationship with that guitar come from?

    That hollow body just does something for me. The moment I picked it up I knew it was for me. I love swimming in all of that feedback and in between frequencies. It takes on a whole life of its own.

    The Crossroads Guitar Festival seems like that defining moment where a guitarist has really made it. You’ve got these guys like Eric Clapton, Robert Cray and Derek Trucks just sitting offstage watching you — not to mention the 20,000 fans. How did that change your outlook on your musical career?

    Again, I just continue to do what I’m feeling whether people are listening or not. I’m grateful for the opportunity to play in front of such a huge crowd as well as with cats I’ve been looking up to in one way or another most of my life. The experience was truly a blessing.

    I know some of your influences are really seminal — Lightnin’ Hopkins, the Alberts (King and Collins), etc. We’re likely going to see this new, young crop of blues artists here soon who are going to be influenced by artists like you and The Black Keys. Do you feel that it’s necessary for a blues musician to start with the roots of the genre in order to be well-rounded, instead of just taking in this modern take on the blues?

    It’s not really for me to say, because I don’t really understand these categories to begin with. I listen to everything from Outkast to Nirvana to Joni Mitchell. Any outside stimulus influences us all in any capacity. What we’re exposed to will undoubtedly influence what we do or don’t do in some way.

    But to answer your question directly, I don’t see how any of it is necessary. If you’re a musician or a listener, you should go with what you’re feeling, the vibe of it all, not because you’re supposed to do one thing or another. Everyone is different, and likes different things, so I would just encourage people in general to just explore until you find what you like.

    How do you achieve that really saturated tone that you get? It’s really heavy on the bass but your highs still cut through well. It almost seems that you’re starting to define a sound that is your own, much in the vein of Santana and John Mayer.

    It kind of goes back to your question about the Casino. I just love that thick, full-bodied feel to it all. It moves in waves that you can almost see, and definitely feel if you’re paying close enough attention. I don’t know where it comes from, it just does its own thing: living, breathing. It doesn’t belong to me, I don’t own it, it’s its own thing.

    I think it’s quite the opposite too. It’s really not something that can be defined. A lot of folks really try to put things in these categories but it doesn’t make sense when it’s something that’s so free by nature.

    East Texas is a hotbed for brilliant blues musicians and the venues that they play — Austin having the Vaughan brothers, Fort Worth for guys like James Hinkle and Freddie Cisernos, places like the Bluebird. It’s an almost palpable sensation when you’re hearing a Texas bluesman play. Would you agree that there’s a Texan blues sound?

    I don’t know, it’s sort of like water in a river. It’s all part of this bigger thing. There’s definitely certain similarities that can emerge but I think it has more to do with folks vibin’ off each other. Things can run together at times, and Texas does have a lot of history that takes sound in different directions whether it’s Jimmie, Willie, Stevie, Bun-B, or Waylon. I guess when I think about Texas music, I just think about diversity all around.

    There’s this mainstream idea that the blues is this concrete genre, driven by distortion and thundering rhythm sections. However, you still retain the emotion of your songs on acoustic takes like “When My Train Pulls In.” Given the context of the blues, do you feel that simplicity, both melodically and lyrically, is the best way to convey emotion?

    It’s not as though I sit there and consciously think that it needs to be this way or that way when it comes to melodies or lyrics. There is that saying that less is more at times. I just try to convey what I’m feeling at the time and just go from there.

    Your songwriting incorporates a lot of these big major sounds such as inverted major fifths, dominant 7/9ths and other Hendrix-esque choices. Were these the result of utilizing music theory or just Hendrix-by-osmosis?

    My sister studied music theory, so she understood all of that major/minor stuff. I just picked up a guitar and started playing riffs that I liked to hear. That’s where it has come from more than anything.

    What’s your goal with the new album, for both your message to listeners and musically? Can we expect as much R&B influence as classic blues styling?

    Right now, my goal is to finish the album. I hope there’s going to be something in there for everyone, whether folks are into rock, soul, R&B, pop, electronic or even country.

    What would you ultimately like to achieve with your musical career in terms of your effect on your fans?

    I just want to continue doing what I do, and I hope that people out there can relate to it even if it’s just for a moment. If people feel it at all in any capacity, that’s good enough for me.

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