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Gary Clark Jr.: Splicing the Blues with Modern Funk

Posted By: Matthew Duersten · 11/13/2012 12:45:00 PM

In the midst of his quartet’s primal, soulful (and earsplitting) two-hour-concert at KCRW's Berkeley Street Sessions last night, the Texas blues guitarist Gary Clark, Jr. sat down onstage with KCRW DJ Anne Litt for a brief live interview. Clark revealed in a soft, contemplative voice the mix of his influences that have made people like Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton perk their ears up at his arrival on the stagnant blues scene: Al Green, Prince, Snoop Dogg, 2PAC Shakur, even Tito Jackson. Growing up in the musical melting pot of Austin didn’t hurt either. “Diversity is where I come from,” he said of the early years honing his craft on Austin’s 6th Street. “Reggae, jazz, blues, country -- I just soaked it up.” His openness to seemingly opposing genres may have gelled when he “indulged in turntables and a couple of cheap drum machines while I was learning to play guitar.” And he does like to wear a knit cap onstage.

A protégé of Fabulous Thunderbirds axe-man Jimmy Vaughn and Clifford Antone of Austin's legendary Antone’s club, Clark has been releasing albums on his own Hotwire Unlimited label since 2004. He first poked his head above ground with the release of his Bright Lights EP on Warner Brothers in 2011. His new CD, Blak & Blu, has only upped the critical “savior of the blues” genuflecting that hasn’t been seen since Robert Cray emerged in the mid-1980s. What Clark has done in his nascent career is bridge this schism by not really playing “the blues” and instead seamlessly making it part of his mix.

This was evident last night on Clark’s melding of fellow Texan Albert Collins’ “If You Love Me Like You Say” with Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun,” where he used his guitar to mimic a scratching turntablist over a smoldering slow-funk workout. His powers didn’t end there. Clark offered up clean Chuck Berry riffs on the rockabilly-flavored “Ain’t Messin’ Round” and Johnny Cash’s driving chika-chika sound on “Don’t Owe You A Thang.” He then switched to nasty, molten-magma splats of heavy reverb for the thunderous “When My Train Pulls In” that sounded more like Black Sabbath or Cream. The extraordinary “Travis County” veered more toward power pop. “Things Are Changin’” began with a dewy, autumnal prologue before chugging into some E-Z soul worthy of Al Green or The Chi-Lites, with Clark demonstrating remarkably soulful vocals to match. This wasn’t a mimic at work; this was a gene splicer.

Read the full review at StompBeast.

[Photos by Jeremiah Garcia]

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