Join Ro­nan Mc­Cul­lagh this month as he ex­am­ines the in­no­va­tive style of a young blues­man from Austin, Texas: Gary Clark Jr.

Guitar Techniques - - LEARNING ZONE -

Join Ro­nan Mc­Cul­lagh this month as he ex­am­ines the in­no­va­tive style of a young blues­man from Austin, Texas: the most soul­ful Gary Clark Jr.

Sat in a dark room at his Austin, Texas home with no gigs on the hori­zon, a 29-year-old Gary Clark Jr was feel­ing pretty down with how his mu­si­cal ca­reer was tak­ing shape. Or, more to the point, how it wasn’t. He’d been grind­ing away on the Austin mu­sic scene like many other great gui­tarists, since leav­ing school to tour with Jim­mie Vaughan. But he was strug­gling to find a wider au­di­ence. Soon af­ter, a let­ter ar­rived in the post from none other than Eric Clap­ton, ask­ing Gary to per­form at his 2010 Cross­roads Gui­tar Fes­ti­val. Gary nat­u­ral­lly ac­cepted. Clark owes Doyle Bramhall II a big thank-you, as it seems he was the man be­hind this in­vi­ta­tion: he’d seen Gary hold down an elec­tri­fy­ing per­for­mance of Bright Lights, a homage to Jimmy Reed’s Bright Lights Big City, while en­gi­neers fixed the PA which had gone down. This was the break that his ca­reer needed, pro­pel­ling him into the lime­light and land­ing him a deal with Warner Brothers. For Gary, life to­day is rather dif­fer­ent to the cut-throat scene of Austin. He’s now based in Man­hat­tan, has an out­stand­ing band, can boast six al­bums to his name and is reg­u­larly shar­ing stages with his he­roes.

Gary Clark Jr is all about the live show, and so he main­tains a busy tour­ing sched­ule. If he’s not in a town near you there’s plenty of great live footage on YouTube that you will most def­i­nitely want to get stuck into.

He clearly has a wide range of tastes when it comes to mu­sic, as his flavours re­sem­ble a ver­i­ta­ble pick and mix. You can hear his ear­lier in­flu­ences with the Light­nin’ Hop­kins and Elmore James sound com­ing through, but you also get touches of Shug­gie Otis and Cur­tis May­field; there’s even hints of hip-hop. He keeps his fo­cus squarely on the song­writ­ing, too, and dis­plays an at­ti­tude of not want­ing to be ‘just the next gui­tar player’ but with­out any de­cent songs.

His rhythm play­ing is raw and loose; there’s al­ways a funky edge to his ap­proach and he’s no stranger to sin­gle-line riffs with heaps of fuzz. His lead play­ing is ex­tremely ex­pres­sive as he ex­plores ideas in depth, not let­ting things go too quickly. You will no­tice him do­ing this with bends as he will re­lease a bend slowly, pick­ing out a va­ri­ety of rhythms across the idea. His so­los are Pen­ta­tonic based but Gary adds colour with the ad­di­tion of ex­ten­sions such as the 9th. His use of theme, vari­a­tion and de­vel­op­ment is at the heart of his so­los so when you ap­proach our back­ing track, do keep this in mind.

NEXT MONTH Ro­nan digs into the play­ing style of the great blues-rocker Bernie Mars­den

a let­ter ar­rived from clap­ton invit­ing gary to play at his 2010 cross­roads fes­ti­val

Gary Clark Jr play­ing a fab­u­lous SG with side­ways Vi­brola vi­brato

Gary is of­ten seen with an Epi­phone Casino or Gib­son ES-330, but will grab any­thing from a ‘70s Tele to an SG gifted to him by Pat Smear. Amp-wise it’s a Fender Vi­bro King with three 10” Jensen speak­ers. On his ped­al­board you will find Octa­fuzz, Zen­drive, Stry­mon Flint, and wah. Any gui­tar will work fine, es­pe­cially with some drive and, best of all, fuzz added to the mix. Re­verb or de­lay will add a spa­tial el­e­ment to em­u­late Gary’s live sound.

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