Feature Artist of the Issue: Gary Clark Junior Ain’t Messing Around

Blues isn’t dead—Gary Clark Jr. is making sure of that. Clark is a music rarity. With superb electric guitar ability and a soulful R&B voice, Clark has the unique ability to infuse blues with modern style, making him the quintessential musician.
Clark got his start when he received a guitar at the age of 12, and he shortly began playing gigs in his hometown of Austin, Texas. A charismatic performer, Clark quickly made a name for himself in the Austin music scene, a stronghold of blues music. While Clark’s guitar expertise gained him much acclaim, his secret weapon was his poetic songwriting skills. Clark’s rare mix of lyricism and fast playing caught the attention of Clifford Antone, a blues club owner responsible for helping the careers of esteemed guitarists Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan. Antone’s support helped put Clark on the radar of well-known blues musicians.
By the age of 17, Clark was a local celebrity; the mayor of Austin had even named May 3, 2001, “Gary Clark Jr. Day.” However, it wasn’t until 2010 that Clark exploded to the forefront of blues music. Blues-rock icon Eric Clapton invited Clark to perform at his Crossroads Guitar Festival, giving Clark the opportunity to play in the same lineup as guitar legends such as BB King, Robert Cray and Clapton himself. “To be on the same stage with basically guys who taught me to play guitar without even knowing who I was, to get that call to be up there was amazing,” Clark said in an interview with Guitar Center.
Clark’s performance at the festival included his song “Bright Lights,” in which he sings the promise, “You’re going to know my name by the end of the night,” against smoky guitar riffs. He couldn’t have said it any better—after playing Crossroads, Clark went from being a hometown hero to a nationally renowned musician. Rolling Stone magazine dubbed him “Best Young Gun,” and Clark began to accumulate an influential fan base with praise from many artists already well known at the time. Singer Alicia Keys has thrown her full support behind Clark. Clapton has said that Clark makes him “want to play again.” When a musician as successful and influential as Clapton pays you such a large compliment, you’ve earned it.
But the proof of Clark’s musical genius is not in his celebrity fans; it’s in his power-packed albums. He released his first, self-titled album in 2010. A short but eclectic mix of genres, Clark’s first album showcases both his faculty as a guitarist and his expertise as a singer-songwriter. Two years later, he released his album “Blak and Blu,” which includes tracks from his first album in addition to polished new songs. Tracks like “Travis County” and “Don’t Owe You a Thang” prove Clark’s loyalty to his Texas blues roots. These songs feature his signature high-powered fuzz guitar licks that contrast nicely with his smooth voice.
The track “Things Are Changing” shows off Clark’s skills as a songwriter. He laments, “It’s hell knowing that from now we shouldn’t kiss and tell, when it’s so good.” The song channels a jazzy vibe: funk guitar rhythms accentuate a relaxed drum beat as Clark employs soulful harmonies. The acoustic version of the song highlights Clark’s melodic skill and seemingly effortless vocals.
In “Ain’t Messing Around,” Clark uses strong vocals, blues guitar and brass to create a catchy, energetic song. This track earned the title “Song of the Year” at the 2012-2013 Austin Music Awards. In fact, Clark earned eight of the Austin Music Awards this year, including the title “Electric Guitarist of the Year.”
Clark’s ability to play the blues as skillfully as the masters might make listeners wonder if he’s actually from the ‘60s. But Clark’s R&B songs like “The Life” prove that Clark has the breadth and potential to excel in modern music. Clark said he draws influence from “blues, jazz, soul [and] country, as well as hip hop,” making his work appealing and accessible to a wide range of listeners.
Though Clark’s songs may vary in genre and style, one thing remains consistent: on each track he plays with the skill of a seasoned guitarist and sings with his soul. There’s something different about Clark. He is poised to become one of this generation’s influential musicians, and if he continues on his current trajectory, Clark is bound to make history.