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Gary Clark Jr.

Influenced as much by gunslinger guitarists BUDDY GUY and JOHN LEE HOOKER as JIMI HENDRIX and LENNY KRAVITZ, eclectic electric blues artist GARY CLARK JR., also played hard-edged rock, funk and hip hop. A protégé of entrepreneur Clifford Antone (owner of Antone’s blues venue), Gary finally made the grade in the fall of 2012 when his soon-to-be Grammy award-winning album, “Blak And Blu” gate-crashed the Top 10.
Born Gary Lee Clark Jr., February 15, 1984, Austin, Texas, he mastered the guitar as a young teenager and was soon performing at local venues; soon to be endorsed by JIMMIE VAUGHAN who must’ve seen in him a little bit of his ill-fated brother Stevie Ray. Two limited-edition sets were recorded in 2001 and 2004 respectively, but neither WORRY NO MORE (2001) {*6} and 110 (2004) {*6} could egg-on prospective major labels to give him a chance. Ditto his collaborative effort with J-Moeller & James Bullard: TRIBUTE (2005) {*6} – a set recorded live in front of studio audience.
Subsequent exposure by other means was a necessary evil in an artist’s quest for success, so an appearance (as “Sonny”) in John Sayles’ 2007 flick, Honeydripper, allowed folks to see him in a different light. His hero ERIC CLAPTON came up trumps when he requested the services of CLARK to play at his Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2010, an event that led to a recording deal with Warner Bros.
The waters were tested a year on when the wholly self-scribed `The Bright Lights EP’ – showcasing the title song and solo acoustic takes of `When My Train Pulls In’ and `Things Are Changin’’ – proved he’d now turned a corner. The aforementioned BLAK AND BLU {*8} contained definitive versions of all three tracks, as well as fuzz-funk highlights `You Saved Me’, `Numb’ and the HENDRIX-vs-LITTLE JOHNNY TAYLOR medley of `Third Rock From The Sun’ and `If You Love Me Like You Say’; the title track sampled both ALBERT KING and GIL SCOTT-HERON.
Mooted as the next HENDRIX or STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN (more so the latter), CLARK JR’s live prowess was there for all to see and hear on the double-CD concert document, LIVE (2014) {*8}. For most artists this cash-in set would’ve been frowned upon; however in this case, there was much for frustrated electric blues fans to salivate. Peppered among his previous set’s big ticket items were classy covers of Robert Petway’s `Catfish Blues’, B.B. KING’s `Three O’Clock Blues’, ALBERT COLLINS’ `If Trouble Was Money’ and LEROY CARR’s `When The Sun Goes Down’.
Touring was most definitely his thing, and after opening for rock giants, The ROLLING STONES and FOO FIGHTERS, CLARK was ready to stir up another set of studio blues a la THE STORY OF SONNY BOY SLIM (2015) {*8}. Espoused with the erstwhile poisoned chalice as in “the future of the blues”, the 30-something artist caressed not only that genre, but R&B, nu-soul, gospel, funk and hip-hop. So Gary’s enterprise was not simple by any stretch of the imagination, and by adding a new spoke in the wheel of the blues (from openers `The Healing’, `Grinder’ and `Star’ to the earthy `Hold On’, `Church’ and `Can’t Sleep’), there was as much SLY & THE FAMILY STONE as there was The BLACK KEYS for the Top 10 artist, who’d recently married Australian model Nicole Trunfio.
Intermittent live sets (his next LIVE / NORTH AMERICA 2016 (2017) {*8}) might yet be his commercial Achilles’ Heel, though his astute re-work inserts were an intuitive stroke of genius to keep the never-say-dies on board; this time with JIMMY REED’s `Honest I Do’ and ELMORE JAMES’ `My Baby’s Gone’. Gary would supplement his earnings by covering The BEATLES’ `Come Together’ on the “Justice League” soundtrack, as well as guesting on the all-star TOM MORELLO album, `The Atlas Underground’, in 2018.
It’d been three years since GARY CLARK JR. was inaugurated as a bona fide blues star, and in this time a very rich megalomaniac had taken over the White House and nigh-on half of America. However 2019’s THIS LAND {*8} was certainly a case of make blues great again, rather than the bigger jingo-istic picture. Gary’s pro-African-American stance had always been clear from the get-go; blues was in his blood. So with his third consecutive studio Top 10 set, the fight was on to articulate his message with a no-walls policy of inter-racial genre-busting. If STEVIE WONDER once delivered “Where I’m Coming From”, CLARK posed an up-dated post-hip hop/hard-rock version in tracks such as `Feed The Babies’, the reggae `Feelin’ Like A Million’ and the PRINCE-esque pair `I Walk Alone’ and `What About Us’. And as for the CHUCK BERRY-meets-DAMNED-meets-YOUNG FATHERS-esque, `Gotta Get Into Something’, Gary held the future of profound “rock” music in his hands.
© MC Strong/MCS Nov2019

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