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Gary Clark Jr: From Behind the Six-String

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 2/11/2015 Jason Landry

"He's the future." ~ President Barack Obama
Music does heal. And if you have been listing to what Gary Clark Jr. has been singing and strumming over the past few years, you may have found your special musical elixir. His newest CD The Story of Sonny Boy Slim ebbs and flows from his roots in blues music and into more soulful sounds of R&B. Sitting in a corner of the green room at the House of Blues in Boston, dressed in a black, winter jacket with a fuzzy hood, this soft-spoken musician talked to a bit about the evolution of his music, the growl of his guitar, and going back to the future.
2015-11-01-1446383904-1523558-GCJr01.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-11-01-1446383904-1523558-GCJr01.jpg Photograph courtesy Frank Maddocks.In your song The Healing there's a line that says, 'when this world upsets me, this music sets me free.' It's a very simple and true statement that I think many people can relate to. When you were younger and things weren't always going your way, what music did you turn to?GCJr: I would listen to The Jackson Five, all my parents' records, and the soul stuff--Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder. When I got to be a teenager, it was Hip Hop--Biggie and Tupac, and the messages in that music. It gave me some sort of inner strength to go on about my day.
Do you remember the first song that you heard that prompted you to want to pick up and play the guitar?GCJr: I can't remember the first song in particular. But I do remember that the guitar really stood out to me in funk records and in soul. The first time that I ever heard 'fuzz' guitar, which definitely peeked my interest a little more, was Tito Jackson playing live. He played the Isaac Hayes Walk On By cover with his brothers. I think it was in seventy-something, live at The Forum--I had it on tape. I wanted to know how to do that.
There is a distinct growl to your guitar tone that is unmistakable. When it comes to guitar players with recognizable tones, who are some that immediately come to mind?GCJr: Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Lightning Hopkins, T-Bone Walker.
Were there any specific guitar players whose tones resonated with you that you tried to bring out in your own playing?GCJr: Definitely. A couple I already mentioned. Albert King, Freddie King--I really like the tone of Wes Montgomery, as much as I don't really experiment with that on my own. I do more of that at the house--keep it quiet, not to piss off the family.
I find your music is still rooted a lot in the blues, but has moved on to this more soulful R&B tip. Is that fair to say?GCJr: I wouldn't say I moved on. I have been working on all types of music for a while. So, I just felt like this was the time to go on that route and experiment with those groves and those tones.
2015-11-01-1446384029-1874101-GCJ_SBS_Cover.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-11-01-1446384029-1874101-GCJ_SBS_Cover.jpg Do you think the evolution of your music has been a natural progression that was bound to happen, or has your taste in music and what you are inspired by changing?GCJr: I still like what I like. I think definitely with technology--I'll go into a store and find some sort of new toy that I'm curious about that will inspire me in some way. I still like what I like.
You have this folky tune called Church on your CD, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim. It's almost like you are channeling a young Bob Dylan. Stripped down to its acoustic elements, with just you and a guitar, there is this eerie sense that you are in a church confessional seeking answers. Where did the idea come from?GCJr: That idea comes from being alone in a hotel room after a long tour. Being away from family, looking around and saying, where the hell am I, what am I doing? Those are moments, when I can be completely honest and true to myself--and longing to be home. I'm finding ways to numb that feeling. It's pretty raw and self-explanatory. To go any deeper I think would just jumble up the meaning of it.
What to you is the greatest compliment that you have received from someone about your music?GCJr: I think that something that really resonated with me, and it was kind of heady, was Eric Clapton saying that hearing me play guitar made him want to play again. Which is completely flipped of how I got into it. I first saw him on television playing. My dad said, if you want to play guitar, you got to learn these licks. So I think the greatest compliment is coming from a guy like that or, maybe not words, but being invited to play along side some great guitar players who inspired me to be who I am, like Carlos Santana, Keith Richards, and guys like that. An invitation is a great compliment to me.
2015-11-01-1446391886-4677900-garyclarkjr.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-11-01-1446391886-4677900-garyclarkjr.jpg Photo courtesy Marc Lacatell. MLACphotography.comWhat is your most memorable moment playing at Antone's in Austin?GCJr: (a huge smile comes across his face) The most memorable moment was the first time. Because I got to play along side James Cotton, Hubert Sumlin, 'Mojo' Buford, Calvin 'Fuzz' Jones, Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith, George Raines--the guys who paved the way. That was probably the most memorable. That was when I was like, Yeah, I really want to be in this--I want to be around it.
If you were able to go back in time today and run into your younger self and could say to him, Slim, one day you'll play with all of the greats at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival, tour the world, earn a Grammy, play at The White House, and be a champion to a renewed interest in blues music. How do you think he would have responded to that?GCJr: (laughing) I probably would have said, in my smart ass little way, I'm working on it.
I always knew I wanted to be doin' what I'm doin', but to be humble and grateful for every single moment. If things don't go my way, it's not for me. Go on about it.
To find out more about Gary Clark Jr., and current tour dates, visit:

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