Once in a blue moon, a music fan is lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the future. I was just so lucky a few weeks ago. Opening for The Roots at a private event in New York, a young singer, songwriter and guitarist from Austin, TX, blew my mind. His name: Gary Clark Jr.
Clark radiates that extra little hocus-pocus that makes the hairs on your neck stand on end. The searing riffs and soulful grooves are reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan with a little White Stripes thrown in. It’s powerful stuff, cool and joyful, and Clark makes it all look effortless.
“All the stuff I’ve really been inspired by are artists who put their all into it and go to some other level,” says the soft-spoken Clark, 27, from a tour stop Los Angeles . “They’re diggin’ deep, reaching something more powerful than just a song or a show. It’s a beautiful place. It’s soul music, being open and vulnerable.”
After years spent paying dues playing Texas clubs, putting out his own records and becoming a fixture of Austin’s legendary live music scene, Clark’s big break came last year when he performed at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival. “I was overwhelmed, like being in a dreamlike state, it was surreal,” Clark recalls. That gig led to a major record label deal and all that comes with it, including sets on the summer festival circuit and upcoming shows at New York’s CMJ Music Marathon. This month, he’ll open for Clapton himself on the guitar legend’s Brazilian tour.
“I’m really looking forward to soaking that whole thing up,” Clark says of the upcoming South American jaunt. “The music, the culture, the food… I’m from Texas, I’ve been here my whole life, I’ve always wanted to see what other people are doing.”
The follow-up to Bright Lights, Clark’s four-song EP, is underway, but, “the thing is, I have to go finish it,” he laughs. “We’ve been touring for the past couple of months. When I’m back from Brazil I’m going to shut myself in the studio.”
Clark grew up listening not only to blues, soul and rock, but also to jazz, country and hip-hop. “I remember playing my parents’ records and dancing around the living room with my parents singing along,” he says. He picked up the guitar at age 12 and, within a couple of years, was playing his first gig. “It was a blues jam with my friend at Babe’s sports bar,” he laughs. “[A guy named] Walter Higgs, he had this band, the Shuffle Pigs… It was funny, I guess they’re not used to 14, 15 year old kids hanging out in bars.”
Right away, Clark knew the stage was his home. “I love being up there, vibing with the crowd,” he says. “I don’t know why I feel so comfortable onstage, I failed my public speaking class.”