Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Gary Clark Jr: Rebirth Of The Blues

Gary Clark Jr
Gary Clark Jr Gary Clark Jr Gary Clark Jr Gary Clark Jr

“I was in Los Angeles, my wife was about to have my daughter so I was kind of out of my element as far as not having my band around, not having the studio that I like and my engineer so I was basically just (trying) to keep myself busy and creative. I was messing around on a drum machine and a sampling machine and I started to make these pieces of music that way”. Gary Clarke Jr begins explaining the creative process behind his latest album, “This Land”. With his new project, the guitar aficionado fuses a diverse mix of blues, punk, rock and soul to create an album that is both challenging and soulful. Since the release of his 2012 major label debut “Blak and Blu” and later “The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim”, Clark has solidified a stellar reputation as a musician, songwriter and live performer. Dubbed “the chosen one” by Rolling Stone Magazine, the Grammy Award-winning multi-instrumentalist, who has performed at the White House for then-president Barak Obama, has already had a career only imagined by most artists.

Clark continues “I started to come up with “I've Got My Eyes On You” - between that and having a skeleton track for “This Land” - I thought well, maybe I'll just do it this way, instead of breaking it down and bringing the band in...let's just do it like this. So I created a bunch of music like that and then I brought it back to Texas. I put some guitars on it, I got the guys to come in to play some live instrumentation so we just made it happen like that…not play by any rules. I'm really happy with the whole thing. It makes me really proud when I play “When I'm Gone”. I was playing it for my son, he's four and I was explaining to him that I wrote that song for him and his sister. It's about how, when I'm gone, I love you and I miss you. And when I'm home, I hug you so much because I'm trying to get this time in with you - I want to know who are you turning into. Now he wants to hear it all the time. He'll say “can I hear the song about us? “Pearl Cadilac”, which is for my mother. “Guitar Man” is for my wife. The songs that are dedicated to family (mean the most to me)”.

The album's lead single “This Land”, inspired by Clark's personal experience with racism is as aggressive as it is heart-wrenching. Recalling those early memories of discrimination Gary reveals “These things happen but it wasn't every day of my was that whole thing of sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt you. I grew up in a diverse group of people so it didn't spoil anything. It was like, well, some people don't feel the same way as the majority of us do. My friends went to different churches and were different races and backgrounds. It didn't affect me. I'm 35 years old, I've got a thick skin. The only thing that bothered me about the whole incident that made me make the song was my son, who was three years old at the time, was there. He had never seen me upset and I didn't want to have to explain to him why I felt insulted or made to feel less than or not equal to somebody else. I didn't want to repeat the cycle (expose) my child to this mentality that was so old school and so tired. It affected me because I had never experienced anything like that. As much as you want to protect your kids from the negative and have them think your the best and the greatest… It's weird because he's starting to ask questions about “why is this guy brown and this guy is white...” and I don't want him to have to deal with it. I want to wipe the slate clean and have people be human beings”.

“I wouldn't say it was natural to me” Gary admits, recalling his early attempts at playing guitar. “I was already singing in school and playing around with piano a little so I understood how the instruments worked…I didn't really know how to play. I took me about a year and a half to really figure out what I was doing. My sister would tell you it didn't come naturally, she got tired of me missing notes! But I loved it so much, I didn't care about the pain and the fingers bleeding... I just wanted to play so I willing to do whatever it takes”.

“It was just intimidating because I didn't know who else was going to be there”, Gary confesses of his experience working on “Miles Ahead”, the 2015 Miles Davis biopic starring Don Cheadle. “I go into a room and I see Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, Herbie Hancock and I'm just like whoa! Their knowledge of music and how it works together, as a non-jazz guy, there were things I just don't quite comprehend and I'm not going to pretend like I do, I'm just not on that level when it comes to musicianship. I didn't really study music theory so I kind of just feel my way around things so when they hand me a chart of music it's like looking at Mandarin…and I don't speak Chinese! I was basically just guessing so I was a little bit out of my element. I was excited to be there but I was a nervous, sweaty mess the whole time. These are musical greats and gods along with young legends and I wasn't ready. I was not prepared to be in a session with these guys. As uncomfortable as I felt, everyone was super cool and it was the most fun I've ever had in a studio and on set”.

Earning the approval and respect of his peers through his undeniable talent and musicianship, Clark explains how meeting his heroes B.B. King and Buddy Guy surpassed his wildest dreams. “As a kid, I always wanted a brother so that was these guys for me, a mentor... They kind of guided me without even knowing me. So when I played the Crossroads Festival in 2010 and everybody's there: Keb Mo, B.B King, Hubert Sumlin... When we played the finale I walked out on stage and B.B. King grabbed my hand and he had a look in his eyes that said “welcome, young man”. When I think about it, I kind of get a little bit choked up. That's the king so for him to welcome me and nod his head, it felt like all the work and the blood, sweat and tears of playing gigs six or seven nights a week for four or five hours…it made it all worth it. People would say “you need to go and get a real job!” so for the head guy to say “you're alright with me”, it kind of took away all of that doubt that I had. When my mom saw me up there she was like “maybe skipping school wasn't so bad”. It felt like I could breathe a little bit”.

“The chosen one”, a title that would send most artists either on a narcissistic ego trip on or a downward spiral of overwhelming self-doubt was seemingly taken in stride by Clarke. Reflecting on the grandiose label he says frankly “I thought it was a bit much. But I was also so busy at the time. Everything was so exciting, playing festivals and travelling all over the country and opening for Grace Potter and playing Coachella (Festival)… I was so busy that didn't really pay that much attention. I wasn't into social media at the time and I didn't really understand how the press works so I was kind of naive to all that. When I look back, I think, “man, If I had've been aware, I'd probably had a nervous breakdown”.

You can read more from our exclusive interview with blues hero/latest B&S cover superstar Gary Clark Jr, including his thoughts on playing to huge audiences at some of the world's biggest festivals, how he started in the music business and his greatest career achievements to date... all in the current issue of Blues & Soul magazine - click the 'BUY NOW' link below to order straight from the B&S shop or read on for high street retailer details...

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Words Karen Lawler

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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