I hope you enjoyed the eighth week issue (December 20-26) of SOUND PROJECTIONS, the new online quarterly music magazine which featured the multitalented musician, composer singer, songwriter, arranger, dancer, and ensemble leader JANELLE MONAE. Week #9 began on Saturday, December 27, 2014 @10AM PST which is @1PM EST.
The featured artist for this week (December 27-January 2) is the outstanding and versatile guitarist, composer, singer, songwriter, and ensemble leader GARY CLARK, JR.
So enjoy this week’s musical entry in SOUND PROJECTIONS, the online quarterly music magazine and please pass the word to your friends, colleagues, comrades, and associates that the magazine is now up and running at the following site. Please click on the link below:
Thanks. For further important details please read below…
A sonic exploration and tonal analysis of contemporary creative music in a myriad of improvisational/composed settings, textures, and expressions.
Welcome to Sound Projections
I'm your host Kofi Natambu. This online magazine features the very best in contemporary creative music in this creative timezone NOW (the one we're living in) as well as that of the historical past. The purpose is to openly explore, examine, investigate, reflect on, studiously critique, and take opulent pleasure in the sonic and aural dimensions of human experience known and identified to us as MUSIC. I'm also interested in critically examining the wide range of ideas and opinions that govern our commodified notions of the production, consumption, marketing, and commercial exchange of organized sound(s) which largely define and thereby (over)determine our present relationships to music in the general political economy and culture.
Thus this magazine will strive to critically question and go beyond the conventional imposed notions and categories of what constitutes the generic and stylistic definitions of 'Jazz', 'classical music', 'Blues', 'Rhythm and Blues', 'Rock 'n Roll', 'Pop', 'Funk', 'Hip Hop' etc. in order to search for what individual artists and ensembles do creatively to challenge and transform our ingrained ideas and attitudes of what music is and could be.
So please join me in this ongoing visceral, investigative, and cerebral quest to explore, enjoy, and pay homage to the endlessly creative and uniquely magisterial dimensions of MUSIC in all of its guises and expressive identities.
Saturday, December 27, 2014
Gary Clark, Jr. (b. February 15, 1984):
Outstanding guitarist, composer, singer, songwriter, and ensemble leader
Featuring the Musics and Aesthetic Visions of:
November 29-December 5
GARY CLARK, JR.
December 27-January 2
January 3-January 9
January 10-January 16
*[Special bonus feature: A celebration of the centennial year of musician, composer, orchestra leader, and philosopher SUN RA, 1914-1993]
WHAT IS SOUND PROJECTIONS?:
This is a quarterly magazine which means that each individual issue will appear every three months following the first issue on November 1, 2014 and that four issues will constitute the completion of one volume (Volume 1, Numbers 1-4). Twelve (12) artists will be featured during each quarter. In this design template this means that one artist will be featured per week for 12 weeks beginning with the first issue on November 1 and thus continuing for three months until the second issue appears on February 1, 2015. Thus each subsequent issue will repeat the cycle with 12 new artists featured for each quarter. The photo in the middle of the page (in the first issue it is Miles Davis) constitutes the cover image for the magazine for that quarter and this image changes every three months with each subsequent issue. What follows is the weekly schedule for each artist in volume one, number one that runs from November 1, 2014 to January 23, 2015 with the second round of new artists appearing in the February 1, 2015 issue (volume one, number two):
ANTHONY BRAXTON November 1-7
CECIL TAYLOR November 8-14
STEVIE WONDER November 15-21
JIMI HENDRIX November 22-28
GERI ALLEN November 29-December 5
HERBIE HANCOCK December 6-12
SONNY ROLLINS December 13-19
JANELLE MONAE December 20-26
GARY CLARK, JR. December 27-January 2
NINA SIMONE January 3-January 9
ORNETTE COLEMAN January 10-January 16
WAYNE SHORTER January 17-23
SUN RA 2014 Centennial January 24-30
Gary Clark Jr.: The Chosen One
He made Eric Clapton want to play again, and Buddy Guy thinks he might save the blues. But Gary Clark Jr. isn't so sure he wants to be the next great guitar hero
By Patrick Doyle
December 24, 2013
Gary Clark Jr.
A bone-rattling fuzz roars off the back walls of Madison Square Garden on a recent spring Saturday afternoon. Gary Clark Jr. stands onstage before 19,500 empty seats with his blue Epiphone hollow-body, playing the solo to "Numb" – a brooding blues song with ringing feedback, hazy harmonics and manic, octave-jumping squeals. He paces the stage, listening at all angles, before abruptly taking his guitar off to huddle with his manager. "See how Gary's twisting his hair?" Clark's road manager Blayne Tucker says from the side of the stage. "That means he's nervous."
Clark is preparing for a late-night slot at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival, a gathering of three dozen of the world's biggest guitar heroes, including Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, the Allman Brothers Band, B.B. King, John Mayer and Buddy Guy. Clark, 29, is the only artist under 30 to score a full-band set. "There is pressure," he says quietly as the crew loads risers of amps onto the rotating stage. "Coming from Austin, there are so many guitar players there. And here I am playing the Garden. It still doesn't feel fair."
Clark has other things to worry about at the moment. His entire family traveled from Austin for the show, and their 10 VIP tickets went missing from the dressing room last night. "I had them in my bag, right here," Clark says, fumbling through his personal stuff on a backstage table. He thinks it might have been someone from the cleaning crew.
It's also not lost on Clark that he owes his career to Crossroads. His short set at the 2010 fest in Chicago propelled him from four-night-a-week residencies at Texas clubs to a deal with Warner Bros.; last October he released his major-label debut, Blak and Blu, and played packed gigs from Coachella to the Royal Albert Hall with Clapton; and his first major theater tour, which starts in September, is selling out. He's played with the Rolling Stones more than any other guest on their current tour. "He's billed as a kind of blues singer, but sometimes he sounds like early Bruce Springsteen," says Mick Jagger. "And I'm not putting it down!"
"He's as good as it gets," says Guy. "Gary reminds me of T-Bone Walker more than anybody I've ever seen. We're all trying to do this to keep this music alive, because the blues is not being played."
Just a year and a half ago, well before he started dating an Australian Victoria's Secret model, Clark lived in a one-story home in South Austin. But he was still full of raw nerves. On an overcast November afternoon in 2011, when we first meet, he paces, chain-smoking Parliaments outside Antone's Nightclub in Austin. Antone's can lay claim to producing Austin's last guitar hero: It was here in the late Seventies that owner Clifford Antone persuaded Albert King to let a teenager named Stevie Ray Vaughan onstage.
This night, a crowd heavy on gray ponytails mingles inside, listening to Jimmie Vaughan play a twangy instrumental take on Little Richard's "Lucille," part of a memorial concert for Doyle Bramhall Sr., the late drummer for Jimmie and Stevie Ray. Clark had been asked to perform but begged off, spending most of the event outside, leaning against the plate-glass windows. "I'm just trying to lie low," he says. "It's cool they would ask me to do it. But it would be like, 'This motherfucker again, sitting in on that show?' I knew [Bramhall] as kind of a fan. All these guys played with him and know him. I just came to pay my respects. Stay out of the way."
Clark knows Antone's as well as anybody – he's been playing here since he was 15. He grew up in Austin's suburban Oak Hill neighborhood in a churchgoing Baptist family with three sisters, his mother an accountant, his dad a car salesman. He picked up the guitar in sixth grade to play with neighborhood girl Eve Monsees, spending afternoons learning Ramones songs in her garage. ("We just vibed," says Clark.) The duo played Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Pride and Joy" at the eighth-grade talent show and started performing as Gary and Eve at local Sixth Street dives. Then Antone invited them to one of the club's famous blues jams, bringing them onstage to play Walker's "T-Bone Shuffle," and they nailed the tricky twin-guitar harmony. "It caught my ear right away," says blues-harp great James Cotton. "He wasn't just playing that wah-wah guitar. He was really playing the blues. You don't hear much of that."
Clark spent nights in his bedroom emulating heroes like Lightnin' Hopkins, Elmore James and six-fingered Chicago slide master Hound Dog Taylor. Taylor's frenetic style – gritty solos that can stray miles from the rhythm section – can still be heard in Clark's. "He played this wild, raw, nasty shit – as lowdown as you can get," Clark says in a greasy Mexican joint after the memorial. His dad would drive him after school to gigs, where Gary would get another education. "They would lay it all out for us," he says of the musicians at Antone's. "Hubert Sumlin would tell me about playing with Howlin' Wolf, and it's like, 'Oh, I gotta go home, and I got some algebra homework to do.'"
"Even being as good friends as we were, it was always sort of hard to read Gary," says Monsees, who now co-owns Antone's Record Shop. But he had little trouble fitting in: "I'd get wound up [before shows], just kind of nervous. He just seemed kind of laid-back."
By 17, Clark was playing with older pros and hanging out in "lots of smoky rooms." That year he was arrested for smoking weed on school grounds, which he sings about in his high-voltage rocker "Travis County." "I was high," he says. "But after sitting in [jail] for a while, I was like, 'Damn. This sucks. I don't ever want to come back here, ever.'" (He admits he did wind up in jail again. "I don't really want to get into all that," he says.)
To his parents' disappointment, Clark turned down a full scholarship at UT Austin, instead choosing to gig full-time, tour with Jimmie Vaughan and promote his first LP, Worry No More, a blues throwback album released on his own label. But Clark admits he was losing focus: "There was a lot of drinking and a lot of talking shit to people for no reason. There was a set or two where I was looking out with one eye trying really hard to keep it together.
"I tried playing a gig on mushrooms that went horribly," he adds. "It was awesome before it wasn't awesome anymore."
He scored a role in director John Sayles' 2007 film Honeydripper, a drama set in Fifties Alabama, where Clark played a soft-spoken guitarist who steps in for a blues legend at the last minute to save a dying juke joint. But auditions for other movies didn't pan out, and when Clark returned to Austin, his bassist had left to play with Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Clark started doing one-man shows, playing the bass drum with his foot. "I was sitting in my house, lights cut off, no gigs, like, 'What the hell am I doing?'" he says. "And I got a letter from Clapton in the mail."
Clapton's guitarist Doyle Bramhall II (the drummer's son) had recommended Clark for a slot at the 2010 Crossroads. "[Eric] asked if I had any young guitarists for the bill," says Bramhall. "I said, 'I know one.'" Clark's performance of "Bright Lights," a stomping homage to Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights, Big City," was nearly a disaster: The PA system lost power for half of the song. But Clark extended it until the sound kicked in, and the full performance, audio intact, came off as transcendent on the widely circulated video footage. "It was the lowest I've ever felt onstage, and then the highest," Clark says. For Clapton, it was a revelation: "I wrote him a letter," he said, "saying, 'Thank you – you make me want to play again.'"
Later that night, after Antone's, we drive through East Austin. Clark cues up a live version of Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose" from the front seat of his 12-passenger Chevy tour van. Cigarette burning, he taps furiously on the dashboard as we blaze past food trucks and neighborhood bars. We pull into the Sahara Lounge, a delightfully tacky one-story juke joint decked in Christmas lights. Untouched barbecue sits in tin containers on several empty tables, and Clark's old friends, a Texas blues-rock band named the Moeller Brothers, play their Monday-night set.
Here, it feels right; after a couple of beers, Clark tosses off his blazer, borrows a Stratocaster and launches into a short set of covers. He plays Reed's "Shame, Shame, Shame" at lightning speed, tugging the Strat toward his neck with each double-string jab. He's practically beaming afterward. "Man, I feel like we should be driving 500 miles right now!" he says, grinning on the cracked pavement of the parking lot. "Where we going? Norman, Oklahoma?"
"That was a bad idea," Clark says after guzzling his second shot of Jameson, slamming it on the table in a tourist-packed Manhattan hotel bar. He's due across the street at Madison Square Garden in two hours. "Trying to be all wasted, and it's not even dark yet," he says. With the ticket issue resolved and the set list finalized ("Numb" is out, "When My Train Pulls In" is in), he's getting loose.
In the past year, he's closed his office in Austin and moved to a Lower Manhattan apartment with girlfriend Nicole Trunfio. Somehow, he's skinnier than when we first met. His wardrobe is almost exclusively by designer John Varvatos (Clark even appeared in a Varvatos ad with Jimmy Page). He recently purchased a $6,800 Ernst Benz watch. "It's the most I've ever spent on something, but I'll have it forever," he says. Clark fell for Trunfio at Coachella in 2012. "I didn't think much of her, which is funny," he says. "And then we just kinda hit it off, man. I was, like, 'Yeah. I like this. A lot. I want this to be around, a lot, all the time.'"
Expectations were high for Blak and Blu, which came out last fall. Recorded in L.A. with Dr. Dre bassist-producer Mike Elizondo and drummer J.J. Johnson (and without Clark's touring band), it's hardly a blues album. It has been criticized as being too slick, with too many ideas, ill-advised rapping ("The Life") and neosoul ("Blak and Blu"). "In hindsight, I think there are things about the record he would like to be different," says Clark's manager Scooter Weintraub. "It would probably be more raw. But he made the right move. He did not want to be categorized as just the next guitar player. He doesn't want to be a one-trick pony."
"It was hard to go to L.A. and explain what Texas twang is," Clark says. "When you say 'twang' in Texas, people know what you mean." Still, Blak and Blu has sold 170,000 copies – impressive for an album without a hit single.
Clark struggled with the expectations of fans who wanted more of the guitar fireworks of his live shows. "If it were up to everybody else, I would do Hendrix covers all the time," he says. "I saw this comment from somebody online the other day, saying, 'We need you to play more Chicago or Louisiana blues – we want the raw shit.' Well, I'm not from Chicago or from Louisiana. I'm not from that time period." His voice rises over the chattering tourists. "There was segregation. That music was the popular music at the time. People were doing what they did in that moment in time to express themselves. It's a different time. So why am I going to pretend? I'm not some poor kid who grew up in the middle of nothing." The Hendrix comparison is an especially sore spot for Clark, according to Tucker. "It's an obvious, dare I say, lazy one without even getting into the racial undertones," he says.
"Have you ever met John Mayer?" Clark asks abruptly. The two played together at a Stones gig in Newark, New Jersey. "I'm curious about him. I was waiting for him to say some shit to piss me off. But he was really cool. I couldn't imagine being in the public eye like that and people are expecting the worst from you. It's so sad."
A Long Island dad approaches Clark with his cute 10-year-old kid, sporting a mini Afro, named Brandon. "He's going to play with you someday," the dad says, handing Clark an iPhone video of his son playing at a local festival. Clark watches the kid's impressive performances for several minutes. "That's crazy," Clark says. Clark's advice to the kid? "I don't have any advice," he says. "Don't steal my gigs." Then he gives Brandon a pick and his personal e-mail address. Clark heads outside to dinner with his crew, smoking a joint on 29th Street in the sun before changing his plan and heading back to the Garden without them.
A few hours later, the Garden is full. As Keb' Mo' and Taj Mahal play "Walking Blues," Clark is huddled behind the curtain with his band; they're due on in minutes, but the bass player is missing. "Where is he?" Clark barks. The lost bassist finally wanders back, and Clark gathers the band in a circle for a pep talk. After that, he steps over some wires to a dark backstage corner, holding and kissing Trunfio and whispering in her ear for a minute. He steps away to pick up his guitar, then stops, as if he forgot something, and they embrace one more time.
Seconds later, he's onstage. With his image projected on giant LED screens, he closes his eyes and unleashes a 10-minute assault on "When My Train Pulls In." Clark plays a series of piercing staccato flourishes, flicking his treble switch and producing an ocean of feedback while shaking his head violently. The crowd roars at the end of the set, giving him one of the few standing ovations of the night; Clark takes a modest bow, says "Bless you" and smiles for the first time. "The only place he's comfortable," says Trunfio, "is when he's onstage."
This story is from the August 1st, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.
From The Archives Issue 1188: August 1, 2013
Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook
With his debut album Blak And Blu he has just become the first artist ever recognized by the Recording Academy with Grammy Award nominations in both the rock and R&B categories for the same album in the same year, winning the latter: Best Traditional R&B Performance” - “Please Come Home”(from the album Blak And Blu). And the day after claiming those honors he provided one of the highlights of the highlights-filled “The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles,” with sparks flying as he dueled with Joe Walsh on an incendiary “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Dave Grohl behind them pounding the drums.
But that barely scratches the surface. The album’s a rocket ride from the Mississippi Delta of a century ago to multiple points still out beyond the horizon. Rock and R&B sure, but blues, soul, pop, psychedelia, punk and hip-hop are also in Clark’s expansive musical embrace and insatiable hunger for inspiration, which he’s internalized into music all his own. And his two acoustic blues performances on the soundtrack album for the acclaimed movie 12 Years a Slave show the distinct talent and personality he brings to his music.
That, in turn, has been inspirational to others — including some who inspired him. Just ask Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Jay-Z, Jimmy Page, Alicia Keys, the Roots, Buddy guy, Dave Matthews, Roger Waters, Keith Urban, Sheryl Crow, Jeff Beck, among the many who hailed his arrival as a major talent and cherished chances to perform with him. It’s no accident that he was invited to make more “special guest” appearances on the Stones’ recent 50th anniversary tour than any other artist, including the concluding Hyde Park blowout in which he and band also were the opening act.
Or ask President Barak Obama himself, who seeing Clark command the stage of the PBS White House concert honoring the blues — with Jagger, Beck, B.B. King and Buddy Guy among the veterans performing — declared of the young man, “He’s the future.”
Rolling Stone dubbed Clark “The King of the Summer Festivals” as he captivated audiences from Coachella to Glastonbury, Lollapalooza to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, from Metallica’s Orion Festival to Jay-Z’s Made in America, and of course his hometown Austin City Limits Festival, where he his band set a daytime attendance record. He’s dominated late night and daytime TV with multiple appearances on Leno, Letterman, Kimmel, Conan, Fallon, Arsenio Hall, Queen Latifah, Today, CBS This Morning and so on. Guitar Player magazine made him the first emerging artist to grace its cover in more than 15 years. Rolling Stone proclaimed him no less than “The Chosen One.”
It’s a lot to live up to, but through it all his musical ambition and reach continue to grow. New songs he’s previewed to delighted audiences show him exploring ever further combinations of sounds and styles, all with his distinct stamp.
A man of few words, he’s quietly grateful that the music he makes his way has connected with so many. “To think a weird idea I noodled on at the house has gone to something 40,000 people might hear at a festival is an indescribable feeling,” he told Esquire recently. “As cool as I might try to be, I think, ‘Oh my God, this is real!’”
Gary Clark Jr.: LIVE
By Sean Murphy
23 October 2014
Over the years I’ve found myself defending bands who cover classic blues, ranging from the good (Yardbirds, Animals), to the occasionally good (Rolling Stones, Beatles), to the occasionally great (Led Zeppelin), to… Eric Clapton.
One thing I tend to repeat, without cynicism: Even the most earnest if unconvincing renditions are worthwhile if they serve as a gateway to the source material. If, for instance, someone hears Jack White doing an overly stylized cover of Son House or the Black Keys doing remarkable service to the still-unjustly-unheralded Junior Kimbrough, or even the aforementioned Mick Jagger mumbling Mississippi Fred McDowell, it’s all to the greater good. Quick, raise your hand if you knew about Muddy Waters or Willie Dixon before you heard Led Zeppelin or the Allman Brothers, or Howlin’ Wolf before you head the Doors cover of “Back Door Man”.
And so on.
And so, what to do when you not only hear faithful, bordering-on-unbelievable covers of blues classics, but a young (!) artist who is doing more than anyone in decades (Robert Cray comes to mind, but in a Rated PG way, and Stevie Ray has been gone, alas, for a very long time) to recreate, reimagine and rechannel the old blues grooves into the here-and-now? Enter Gary Clark, Jr.
A few years back, when the Bright Lights EP started garnering rapturous reviews, I picked up a copy. It did not disappoint, but left me wanting more, so I made a mental note to check him out live, if I could. I did, and saw—and heard—what all the hype was about. I converted as many friends as I could, sending breathless emails with YouTube clips, saying things like “This is the real deal” and “We’re talking potential once-in-a-generation-type-talent.”
I saw him live, again, this time with some of those friends. They still thank me for ensuring they caught the soon-to-be superstar in a small-ish venue. We were hooked on him like a hipster on a can of PBR. Eventually, his big label debut, Blak and Blu, was released in late 2012. Perhaps inevitably, it was a mixed affair: Overly produced at times, too calculated by half in others, it seemed like product being tampered with by a kitchen full of PR chefs, all convinced they knew the best way to break Clark into the big leagues. It felt like what it was: an overly ambitious, uneven document, trying too hard to be all things to all people.
But it still was the official introduction of a major new voice. My mantra to naysayers was simple and succinct: You have to catch this dude live. The last time I saw him, at a larger venue in DC, he opened up with the slow burning “When My Train Pulls In”, and he had the crowd ready to lap up his sweat from the first second. He commands the stage like no one else has in a long time. Tall, thin, dark and cooler than a root cellar in December; he has the unique charisma that comes from not trying too hard. Of course you don’t have to try hard when it oozes out of you like steam from a sewer grate. And what’s it like to see him live, to believe with your eyes what your ears are hearing? Pyrotechnics and sick skills backed with tons of soul and feeling you can’t fake.
And now, finally, we have proper documentation of what Clark sounds like, live and unfettered. This is the album many of us, including those who will understand in short order, have been waiting for. This is, in fact, about as perfect an album as anyone could hope for, at once an introduction to Clark and a summation of what he’s accomplished. And what has he accomplished, exactly? Well, he’s made it possible to use the words “blues” and “21st Century” with neither irony nor resignation.
If it’s too easy, equal parts lazy and unimaginative, to invoke Jimi Hendrix, it is nevertheless obligatory. It’s not necessarily because of the guitar prowess (Clark is formidable, to be certain, but no need to commit sacrilege) or his vocal gifts (although he has an extraordinarily sensitive, at times laconic delivery that, coupled with his sometimes explosive solos, is emotionally devastating). Rather, it is because he mixes blues and rock, incorporating folk and jazz-y elements as well as anyone, arguably, since Hendrix—or at least Shuggie Otis. Plus, it would be wrong to label him, like Hendrix before him, a “rock” musician, since he is so clearly steeped in the blues tradition and can shift seamlessly between feedback-frenzied rawness and cool, old school soul and funk.
Where Hendrix used the blues as a launching pad for his otherworldly excursions, Clark is content to (mostly) stake his claim in traditional terrain, adding a unique imprint courtesy of those aforementioned solos. On this outing, we hear an inexhaustible mind matched by relentless energy: On multiple numbers, the solos are not aesthetic showcases so much as statements of purpose. Covering Albert Collins’ “If Trouble Was Money”, Clark seems to be suggesting, Yes, you may recognize this song, but you won’t recognize this. Over and over, he puts his own distinctive stamp on everything he touches, be it original, cover, or point of departure (see Hendrix’s uncoverable “Third Stone From The Sun”).
Some highlights include “Next Door Neighbor Blues”, which, with its slide guitar and rambling pace, will remind some of what both the Black Keys and the White Stripes have done, with varying degrees of success. Scorcher “When My Train Pulls In” is perhaps the best example of the way Clark impeccably blends past and present, at times taking tradition and handling it with care, love, and a welcome dash of irreverence, at others taking the idiom for a test drive and never coming back. Both “Three O’clock Blues” and “Things Are Changin’” feature top-notch playing (and fantastic support from second guitarist Eric “King” Zapata) and some so-laid-back-they’re-almost-languorous vocal stylings that quickly become addictive. There are, believe it or not, more definitive versions to be found online, but this take on “Please Come Home” is far superior to the too-saccharine studio version, as Clark’s (convincing) falsetto bookends the tasteful shredfest that comprises the meat of the number.
An already terrific disc is put over the top by a handful of tour de forces. “Numb”, again featuring some tasty and filthy slide work, creeps through the smoke and detonates into a deconstruction of every blues cliché those shades-and-fedora wearing imitators have been milking for decades. There are now multiple, all enjoyable, renditions of his signature song “Bright Lights”, and the latest installment serves as confirmation that only a handful of players can pick up an electric guitar and make these sorts of sounds happen. “Blak and Blu” is a rare achievement, using weary menace to push past exhaustion into defiance. It’s just one man, one instrument, one voice and several thousand spellbound fans. “When the Sun Goes Down”, an appropriate album-closer, is once again a solo showcase, unfiltered and without a net. Clark kills it, illustrating that a soft-spoken young man can—and often should—let his playing and singing do the talking.
To recap: If you have a chance to check him out live, do so. Like most of the better acts, especially in the jazz and blues circles, he needs to be seen to be appreciated, and believed. Believe this: he’s not going anywhere and he should be a major force in the American music scene for the foreseeable future. For now, this latest, most welcome installment, will tide us over until he returns to make us believe, all over again.
Postscript: If this album entices anyone to check out Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Albert King or, hell, Jimi Hendrix, Clark deserves extra accolades for being a brilliant ambassador for the legends whose torch he carries with style and pride.
Sean Murphy loves music, books, and movies and can't imagine a world without sub-titles. He was born in northern Virginia and has never found a compelling reason to leave. He studied English at George Mason University and has an MA in Literature. One of his thesis papers dealt with the utopian impulse in '70s rock (which, depending upon one's perspective, at least partially explains why he opted not to purse that PhD in Cultural Studies). During his time at PopMatters he has written extensively about music, movies and books, and his column "The Amazing Pudding" appears every other month. His memoir Please Talk about Me When I'm Gone is now available via paperback and Kindle at Amazon. Visit him online at http://seanmurphy.net/.
Gary Clark Jr. Reminds Us Why He's Great
Because he can do anything. Even a hip-hop mixtape.
By Lydia Woolever
May 2, 2014
As if Blak And Blu wasn't good enough as it is, Gary Clark Jr. has released a new "mixtape" with nine remixes of that original album, which features the likes of Big K.R.I.T., Robert Glasper, Bilal, and Talib Kweli, and, like everything the Austin guitarist touches, it's damn good. It may seem a little obscure for this Grammy-winning artist to drop a free online mixtape as if he were some aspiring MC waiting for a big break, but Clark has never really abided by the rules.
A blues man at heart, he's toyed with genre lines all along, seamlessly melding rock and roll with hip-hop, soul, and R&B, and now he's simply adding some rap and jazz into the fold. Take "The Life," which doesn't need any remixing at all to call it a hip-hop song, with its boppy, old-school beat and come-up lyrics about trying to beat the game. He leaves the EP version untouched on the mixtape, likely for this very reason, but he adds a Robert Glasper remix, too, taking it almost a capella over a barebones drumbeat and smooth, lilting piano jazz. Or take it another direction: The man slays a guitar but what many people don't realize is that he also has quite the croon. A number of his songs are about love and heartbreak, and the soulful title track, "Blak and Blu," is the best of it all. It's like it was made to be the hook of a rap song about your baby leaving you battered and low. The remixed version is evidence enough of that, with Big K.R.I.T.'s speedy spit perfectly complementing the song's smoky groove.
A number of other tracks remain unchanged from the original album version — like "Things Are Changin'" and "Soul" — but look instead to his area of expertise, rock and roll, with "Bright Lights." It's a track of rolling thunder that makes you want to hit the streets and burn the midnight oil. The remix adds an urgent rap verse from Talib Kweli that does for it what Kendrick Lamar did for Imagine Dragons — turns it up.
Since his early days performing at Southern blues clubs as a pre-teen, through his discovery and then breakout at the 2010 Crossroads Festival, to this very mixtape, Clark has managed to continuously push himself as an artist while simultaneously and surprisingly staying underneath the radar, which is probably why he could release such a thing at all. Nowadays, he weaves between Kings of Leon tours and tracks with The-Dream and Oscar-winning movie soundtracks, and yet it barely makes a ripple. Perhaps because despite his many hats, Clark manages to keep a cool, old soul, one that puts out inspired music and has garnered him deep respect from the legends he looks up to, like the Rolling Stones, Buddy Guy, Jay Z, and even Obama. Listen to his music and watch him play and it's hard to feel anything but respect.
Like in 2013, for example, when he took to the Crossroads stage solo, after the likes of B.B. King, Booker T, and Jimmie Vaughn, and stomped out two bold, bayou versions of his songs "Next Door Neighbor Blues" and "Don't Owe You a Thang," manning the guitar, the kick drum, the hi-hat, and the mic, all at the same time, all by himself. Respect. Take his performance with Keith Urban at this year's Grammys, where his very presence onstage, not to mention that guitar solo, instantly turned the Aussie country superstar into little more than his Guy Friday.
Those moments and this mixtape go to show that the man can do whatever he wants. He takes the stage with his quiet confidence and seems to not give two fks when in fact, it's quite the opposite: He gives a lot of them. You can hear it in his music. You can hear it in these remixes. You can see it as his fingers fly across the neck of his guitar. Maybe he remains at the edge of our radar by choice, filling the role that a previous Clapton protégé sort of threw away, by choosing the music over the mayhem. Maybe to remain unspoiled by the music industry, by those crafty, record-label desires, by the mirage of riches and fame, in order to create something good, like this, and one day something great. We're willing to wait for those ripples to reach far and wide.
Ain't Messin 'Round
Completing a music festival grand slam at ACL, Gary Clark Jr. gets 'Blak and Blu'
By Michael Corcoran
October 12, 2012
He's gone from "the gospel tent" to the main stage, and it only took a decade.
As an 18-year-old recent graduate of Austin High, blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr. played the very first Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2002. Sunday, he'll perform on a headliner stage after destroying crowds everywhere but home in Austin all year. His full-length major label debut, Blak and Blu, comes out amongst much fanfare Oct. 22, but Clark's career remains built on a live set that leaves palm prints on foreheads.
Every kid who's played a guitar and sang in his or her bedroom knows the dream Gary Clark Jr. is living right now. The opposite of Joe's Generic Bar on Sixth Street (where Clark played for tips as a teen) is playing for tens of thousands of wild-eyed fans night after night. He's the most exciting young guitarist since Robert Randolph. And Clark can sing.
This was the summer of lovin' GCJ, with the bearded 28-year-old's ACL appearance completing a 2012 Grand Slam that began at Coachella in April, took him to Bonnaroo in June, and then up to Lollapalooza in August. Killed it. Killed it. Killed it. Mixed in with the big four were appearances at Metallica's Orion Music + More Fest, Jay-Z's Made in America Festival, New Orleans' R&B heavy Essence Music Festival, Sasquatch near Seattle, Alabama's up-and-coming Hangout Music Festival, Milwaukee's Summerfest, and more.
With a mastery of blues that's both natural and psychedelic, this son of a South Austin car salesman has become his generation's guitar hero, a young black man proudly playing the blues in the era of hip-hop domination. Sometimes you can go through an entire Clark review without reading the name Jimi Hendrix.
Strike and Sustain
The downside to incessant touring is that Clark's Warner Bros. long-player, teased by the critically acclaimed The Bright Lights EP last August, has been a long time coming. Nobody spends a year and a half on a blues disc, so when Blak and Blu was sent to critics last month it wasn't surprising to find Clark stretching out on horn-driven soul ("Ain't Messin 'Round") and balls-to-the-wall rock ("Travis County"), while also employing bedroom vibes and a Gil Scott-Heron sample on the title track, getting Stevie Wonderish with "Glitter Ain't Gold," and aiming for radio on the alt-pop of "The Life." Bright Lights was the calling card. Blak and Blu is Clark showing up at the front door with a mixed bag.
Strike and sustain are guitarist terms that also apply to Clark's career. He's been striking while bookings are hot, but he knew he needed an LP to sustain the flash, so he took his sweet time. Forget about writing songs on the festival circuit. Most of the 13 tracks on Blak and Blu are old Clark tunes re-recorded with a new band, including Austin's J.J. Johnson on drums and touring guitarist Eric Zapata, another AHS alum.
From South by Southwest in mid-March until last week, Clark didn't spend a single night in Austin. Asked in June if he still lived in a house off Brodie Lane, Clark laughed, "I hope so." The new album ends with "Next Door Neighbor Blues," an acoustic number that plays off his fear of coming home to find his belongings piled up in front of the house.
"I miss my family like crazy," he said of his three sisters and parents. "My oldest sister had a baby and my youngest sister graduated from high school and I wasn't there, which really hurt."
You get only one chance to make your international debut and Clark's got a lot to live up to, what with critics invoking comparisons to you-know-who. One thing separating Clark from other nouveau Jimis is that he's the same race as the original, who was inspired by Buddy Guy, who was inspired by Lightnin' Slim – who Clark emulated when blues took over his life at age 13.
He wasn't even aware that it was unique for a young African-American to follow the genre's originators until a classmate at Austin High, also black, informed him "black folks don't play the blues." Knowing he was playing for more than tips and chicks, the anti-John Mayer spent his time learning rather than burning. Clark's emphasis on tone and feel plus a lightning-quick thunder of notes put him in a class by himself. Authenticity is the bacon of Clark's buffet and among those who've piled on the gritty blues reborn are a Beatle named Paul, a sitting U.S. president who led a standing ovation, and the older brother of the last young blues guitarist to cause such a stir.
"There are certain things that can't be taught," says Jimmie Vaughan, who brought Clark to the attention of Eric Clapton, a major figure in the young bluesman's rise. "You either get it or you don't, and even as a 13-year-old, Gary got it. He understands that a solo has a beginning, a middle, and an end. He sings like he plays and he plays like he sings. So smooth."
Among those who mentored "Hotwire," as he was nicknamed by the older cats, was vintage Austin blues guitarist W.C. Clark, who played with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton in Triple Threat Revue. When the two got talking about family after a gig at Momo's, they realized they were actually second cousins.
When he and his sisters were young, "Big Gary" tried to organize them into a family group, but the younger Gary, who once wanted to be the next Michael Jackson and claims to have the Thriller moves down, maintains he was born to go solo.
He lived on the edge of his bed, where a permanent dent attests to the hundreds of hours he spent trying to figure out "how did they get that sound?" Clark spent five years, ages 13 to 18, trying to replicate what he heard on records, and the last decade trying to duplicate what he heard in his head.
Backstage at Bonnaroo, where I traveled in June to interview Clark for Texas Monthly, seemingly every black person he encountered – the guards, the stagehands, the clean-up crew, other musicians – shook his hand, called out a "hey, man," or gave him a nod and thumbs up. And Clark interacted, very much in his element. He knows he's got folks rooting for him.
Yet like a young MJ, Clark doesn't seem comfortable with media attention. When it came time for our 30-minute interview, with a publicist nearby keeping time, the words to his song "Don't Owe You a Thing" rang true. "Me and this guitar is all you get." He repeats each question to give himself more time to think.
Don't mistake Clark's shyness for aloofness. He's still the same guy – humble, polite, a little goofy – that I met when he was 17 and mopped up a Victory Grill crowd that had come to see Bobby Blue Bland. He doesn't like to talk about himself, which made 15 hours of driving each way to Bonnaroo seem silly in retrospect.
Still, interviewing a veteran of Austin's music trenches who's making a name for himself nationally is something I've almost never had the opportunity to do in 28 years of covering local music. For every Timbuk3, Butthole Surfers, and Spoon, there are dozens of Sincolas, Poi Dog Ponderings, and David Garzas who just can't miss. One has to go back to Stevie Ray Vaughan 30 years ago to find an Austinite who's had a point in his career where Clark finds himself today.
Bright Lights, Big City
Blak and Blu is no Texas Flood. Nor is it trying to be. Co-producer Mike Elizondo helmed projects as dissimilar as Mastodon, Fiona Apple, 50 Cent, Maroon 5, and Avenged Sevenfold, so he met Clark at the crossroads of being both comforted and challenged by the limitations of the blues.
"I have so many influences – Bob Marley, Parliament-Funkadelic, hip-hop, jazz, Jackson 5," nods Clark. "They've been creeping in to my sound."
No doubt to the dismay of label marketers, Blak and Blu is all over the place. Lead-off single "Ain't Messin 'Round" doesn't include those words and the album sequencing feels picked out of a hat. If it sounds patched together, that's because it was. The only unifying constant is Clark's playing, nasty fingerpicking that goes back to Lightnin' Hopkins and Albert Collins. On that alone, Clark will continue to be called "savior of the blues," a term to which he's grown an aversion.
"It's strange to be called the future or the savior of the blues, because there are so many great musicians that I look up to who've kept it going for years," he reasons.
Nobody else has made the blues cool to the hip-hop generation. When Warner Bros. held a party for Clark in Manhattan in June, among those on hand were not only actor Leonardo DiCaprio, but Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, Questlove of the Roots, and super-producer Pharrell Williams. Alicia Keys, after duetting with Clark on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" at a New York City benefit, gushed for everyone to "Google Gary Clark Jr." We'll save you the trouble.
Getting his first guitar, an Ibanez RX20 electric, for Christmas in 1996 at age 12, Clark went to the library and checked out a book on guitar instruction. By his birthday in February, he was working out SRV's "Pride and Joy" with his friend since third grade, Eve Monsees, who got Clark interested in playing blues guitar when they were in junior high. The two started making the rounds at local clubs, then had a dream fulfilled as teens when Clifford Antone called them onstage to jam with Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin and Muddy Waters harmonica icon James Cotton. The 15-year-olds were hooked.
"As soon as I got a hold of a guitar, my grades suffered," admits Clark, who jammed often until last call at Joe's, Babe's, and Antone's on school nights. "My parents were telling me, 'Keep your studies up,' but I felt I was getting the best education possible down in the clubs."
On his 21st birthday at the Continental Club, Clark floored film director John Sayles, in town searching for a young African-American musician to play lead character Sonny Blake in the 2007 film Honeydripper. Sayles said he thought he'd have to settle for an actor pretending to play guitar and "felt very lucky to have found Gary."
That was all B.C: Before Crossroads. Clark's current "who's hot" status owes almost everything to 10 sensational minutes onstage at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago, June 2010. Demonstrating a growth in confidence to go with the beard, Clark took "Bright Lights, Big City" from Jimmy Reed and made it his own, declaring, "You're gonna know my name by the end of the night!" Just as Jimmie Vaughan had long advised him, Clark made every note count.
He had previously released three self-produced local CDs, playing every instrument on 110, named after the apartment he recorded it in. After Crossroads, Warner Bros. signed Clark and Sheryl Crow's manager Scooter Weintraub took over the young bluesman's career based on that one song – that single performance in Chicago. Who needs American Idol?
Red Hot and Blues
A dozen years after his Austin High classmate stunned Clark with "black folks don't play the blues," an older African-American approached the guitarist after rehearsal for a PBS performance and thanked him for keeping alive the tradition forged by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and many, many more blacks who migrated to urban centers and electrified old field hollers.
"It was such an honor to meet President Obama," acknowledged Clark of February's "Red, White and Blues" event in the East Room of the White House. The commander in chief, seated with the first lady in the front row the next night, bobbed his head enthusiastically as Clark's music took him back to the south side of Chicago. "Here I was, this black guy from Austin, Texas, up there with Buddy Guy and B.B. King, playing for the first black president.
"I felt like I was a part of history."
That event was a footnote compared to the true legacy Clark's helping expand. He's the latest car on that Texas blues train going from Blind Lemon Jefferson to T-Bone Walker to Lightnin' Hopkins to Freddy King, and continuing through Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Gatemouth Brown, Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan. That's his lineage.
The blues had a baby and that baby's name is Gary Clark Jr.
Q & A: Gary Clark Jr. on Modeling With Jimmy Page, Keeping Up With Stevie Wonder
Gary Clark Jr. and Jimmy Page pose for a John Varvatos ad campaign.
By Kory Grow | February 8, 2013
"I never expected to be approached for an ad campaign," rock, soul and blues artist Gary Clark Jr. tells Rolling Stone about his turn at modeling for clothing designer John Varvatos. "I had just gone into his Soho store last year. I bought some boots and a jacket and hung out. After that, my friend and fellow musician J.J. Johnson and I just started hanging out there all day."
He laughs. "I went in to get some clothes and ended up being in the window at the store. It's kind of weird."
His inclusion in the campaign, which features him posing alongside none other than Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, is just the latest gust in the whirlwind that's been the past few months for the 28-year-old musician. Since the October release of his eclectic debut LP, Blak and Blu – which ranked among Rolling Stone's 50 Best Albums of 2012 – Clark has performed at the Kennedy Center Honors (which recognized Led Zeppelin), appeared as a special guest at two of the Rolling Stones' New York-area dates and sat in with Stevie Wonder in New Orleans. The year ahead finds him paying tribute to bluesman Albert King at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and appearing at several festivals, including Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival in New York City, the Roots Picnic in Philadelphia and the Maverick Music Festival, which some of his friends put together in his home state of Texas.
Video: Gary Clark, Jr. on Recording His New LP
Rolling Stone spoke to Clark about his busy schedule and his fashion sense yesterday after soundchecking for his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, where he wore a beige jacket, a pale, ornamented scarf, dark slacks and his calling-card boots, all of which neatly complemented his cherry red Epiphone guitar. His song of choice for the show was "Ain't Messin' 'Round," an upbeat blues number that features the line, "Don't wanna be your exhibition, no, I don't want nobody hanging around." Judging from the exultant way he talked about posing with Page, though, it's clear why he made an exception.
What was it like taking photos with Jimmy Page?
It was a bit awkward at first, to be honest. I had never met him before, and I showed up late. He's kind of a shy, keep-to-himself kind of a guy. I didn't really know what to say to him. Then we decided to throw some blues tunes on, and he asked me who my guitar heroes were. I mentioned Elmore James. Then he looked at me and gave me the biggest smile. He was like, "Right on, man." From there, we just started talking. It was really cool. Surreal.
What did you discuss after you both opened up?
We just talked about Elmore James and Muddy Waters, the guys that influenced him. I pulled out my Gibson 330, and he kind of checked it out. I was hoping he would play it a little bit, but he didn't. You could tell, everyone was like, "Oh, Jimmy's got a guitar. Is he gonna play?" But it was like, "Nah, not for you guys." [Laughs]
This was your first time modeling. What is it about John Varvatos' clothes that made you want to do it?
His stuff is just classic, classy, very tasteful but edgy. You can tell Varvatos' garments just by looking at them. I can't really explain or put my finger on it.
Where did you get your sense of style from?
This old girlfriend of mine went through my closet and threw out everything that she thought wasn't cool. And then she brought me some cool stuff. I never paid much attention before. I was a T-shirt, jeans and Chuck Taylor kind of a guy. Then I started wearing boots. And I started wearing hats, because I don't know what I'm doing with my hair. I don't know if I should grow it or just cut it all off, so I just cover it up. [Laughs]
Those hats have become a big part of your look. What attracts you to the wide-brimmed hats you often wear?
My dad got me this hat years ago, and I never wore it. It was always a little bit too formal for me. I waited a few years, grew a little bit and the hat was too small, so I just popped the top off and shoved it on my head, and had this weird-looking new deal. It might also just be that I'm growing into my Texan roots, with my boots and hat.
You don't look like the Marlboro Man.
Right. I couldn't pull that off if I tried. [Laughs]
In addition to Jimmy Page, you've been getting some praise from some other rock legends. What was it like performing with the Rolling Stones in December?
It was great to be able to play with those guys. I was talking to Keith Richards, and he said, "We come from the same school of music, mate." I was like, "Yeah, I guess so." We ended up playing "Going Down," by Freddie King, who was an influence on me and them as well. Not much conversation went into the song choice. When I was standing up there onstage, looking around, I was like, Wow, I'm hanging with these guys. Not a bad gig.
Speaking of bluesmen named King, you'll be honoring Albert King at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. What's your go-to Albert King album?
Born Under a Bad Sign. That's just killer. I'll probably play "Oh, Pretty Woman" at the ceremony. But there's this song he wrote about his guitar I've been listening to that's pretty sweet. He called his guitar Lucy, so it's called "I Love Lucy." If I'm ever feeling like I need to be inspired or have a little fire under my ass, I'll just listen to the song's intro over and over and over. Dude, it's so bad.
You've played with so many icons. When is the last time you've felt nervous playing with someone?
I had the opportunity to sit in with Stevie Wonder in New Orleans a few days ago, and that dude had me nervous. Talk about a musician's musician. When we were in rehearsal, going over "Superstition," I played a few wrong chords, and he stopped the whole thing. He was like, "Something's wrong with this." All of the blood left my body. [Laughs] I was like, "Crap, I'm being called out by the dude." Then during the show, my guitar cable wasn't working, and he called a couple of other songs that we didn't rehearse, so I was getting nervous. I was like a deer in headlights. It was the most uncomfortable few minutes of my life.
But you made it through.
Yeah, I made it through. Still smiling. I can laugh about it.
So, other than appearing in fashion ads and playing with music legends, what's next?
Doing some laundry and moving on to the next gig. I do the laundry so people don't look at me funny when I'm on an airplane, and they're like, "You smell like a musician who's been on the road forever." Like, "Yep, pretty much."
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Watch Gary Clark Jr. perform Catfish Blues at In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues.
Hosted by President and Mrs. Obama, the evening will pay homage to the great figures of the Blues and the songs they made famous by tracing the influence of the Blues on modern American music from soul to rock'n'roll. Taping on February 21, this concert honors the musical form that sprang from the Mississippi Delta and flourished on the Westside of Chicago. Airs on PBS Monday, February 27th at 9p.m. ET.