Gary Clark Jr discusses transcending the blues
It’s been at least four years since Gary Clark Jr. was widely hailed as “the future of the blues.” But his fans and collaborators - from Beyoncé, Eric Clapton and Foo Fighters to Bonnie Raitt, Chris Stapleton and rapper Talib Kweli - represent a broad musical spectrum. And that suits this acclaimed Texas guitar dynamo, singer, songwriter and band leader just fine.
“When I was really young, I thought I’d be a major pop star, like Michael Jackson. That’s what I thought I wanted,” said Clark, 32, who performs next Tuesday and Wednesday at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay.
Gary Clark Jr.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2 (sold out) and Wednesday, Aug. 3
Where: Humphreys Concerts by the Bay, 2241 Shelter Island Drive, Shelter Island
Tickets: $40 (plus service charge); all tickets are unreserved, standing-room-only
Phone: (800) 745-3000
“But when I started to play guitar and hang around blues clubs, I started to change. The people I was surrounded by, and influenced by, were from all genres of music. So I was like, ‘I want to play music, and fit in everywhere, with different people - just be that guy.’
“So I kind of set my sights on that. Without that mentality, I couldn’t share the stage with Willie Nelson, Citizen Cope, Alicia Keys, the Rolling Stones, Ed Sheeran, John Mayer and all the rest. It’s been this crazy spectrum of artists I’ve worked with. But I always want to be part of it and it’s a little surreal that I have. ... I’m very fortunate to be in this position.”
A native of Austin, Clark was 12 when he started his love affair with the guitar. He was soon being mentored by Clifford Antone, Austin’s leading blues promoter, and Jimmie Vaughan, whose guitar-playing brother Stevie was one of Clark’s early inspirations.
Now, much like his heroes, the Grammy Award-winning Clark is serving as a gateway for young fans to learn more about the blues. The vibrant style is the foundation for many styles of American music, from rock to hip-hop, and he is perhaps its most visible young champion.
“I definitely feel a sense of responsibility,” Clark said. “I was a kid when Clifford Antone took me under his wing. He introduced me to all the greats - Hubert Sumlin, James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins - man, the list goes on and on! Clifford would always say, ‘You’re the kid who needs to help this music keep going, and influence people.’
“Other people have said that to me. Blues is something I always wanted to be a part of and incorporate my own thing into. At the end of the day, there’s no way I could re-create what these great guys did. I just do my thing, tip my hat to them, and play my music.”
Clark played at Petco Park last year when he opened for the Rolling Stones and joined the fabled English band for a rousing version of the Stones classic “Bitch.” He and his band are now touring in support of his fifth album, 2015’s superb “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim.”
It’s his third release for Warner Bros. Records and his most fully realized work to date. While blues remains the cornerstone of his work, he expertly draws from hip-hop, funk, pop, rockabilly and more.
“I don’t want to be boxed in,” said Clark, speaking from a recent tour stop in Detroit. “But it’s not even about that. ... I listen to all sorts of things that I am influenced by, so I automatically to go in different zones. ...
“I love to experiment. I’ve always been a ‘why not?’ person. I always reach to the limit. ‘What’s next?’ ‘How far can I go?’ I think I have a long way to go. So not being boxed in is my calling, you know?”
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