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