2016 may just end up being the biggest year for Gary Clark Jr. The 32-year-old Grammy-winning bluesman from Austin, Texas, has been on the road for the better part of his life. He’s played with just about everyone from the Stones to Clapton, Buddy Guy to Run the Jewels. His seminal 2010 appearance at Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival cemented him as the new axeman on the scene. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of bright lights, big cities, and the respect that comes with currently being the most buzzed about guitarist in rock, with his most recent support slot being with Foo Fighters during their massive Sonic Highways tour. Last month, Clark played two sets on the main stage at Coachella and still found time to get married to his fiancee, Nicole Trunfio, in between weekends in the desert. We caught up with him to talk about his experience in Indio, surprise collabs, and how to introduce your children to the blues.
When you got out onto the main stage at Coachella and you saw hundreds of kids lining up to see the blues, how did that make you feel?
It made me feel great, man. People always say blues is a dying art. I don’t necessarily know if it’s a dying art, but I think right now there’s this thing of young folks digging through their parents’ crates. It’s a crazy time in music; there’s so many different things going on. I think people are just like, “What’d you listen to? Where did this come from? Where did this all start?” I think it goes back to blues, jazz, folk, rock and roll music. The folks are interested, and man, I love it. And there’s some great young players coming up too, so look out.
Who are some of those players you are excited about?
There’s this young kid—well, he’s not so young anymore—named Marquise Knox. He’s out of Memphis. King Fish, the Peterson Brothers out of Texas, who are young—16-, 17-, and 18-year-old kids playing blues like grown men. It’s crazy. Check it out, there’s something happening.
Who were you excited to see at Coachella?
Run the Jewels, Anderson Paak, of course Ice Cube. I saw DJ Yella [of NWA] backstage and I kind of fanboy’d out.
How was guesting with Run the Jewels during Weekend One?
It was awesome. A buddy, Brian, linked me up with them cats a long time ago. I’ve been a fan ever since. I ran into El-P in Austin, and we’ve been trying to do whatever we can when we’re in the same city together. I respect what they do 100 percent. Not only are they great lyricists, but El-P is a super producer. Amazing. Mad respect. I can go on and on, but I won’t.
You self produced you latest record, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim. So I imagine you hear and see things as a producer differently than most.
I like to dig deep and figure out how things work and why they work. Part of the fun of playing music is organizing noise, letting everything sit. When the final product is over if everyone is going like this [sways head]. Cut it and move on.
You’ve collaborated with so many greats but settle this for us: we watched you at Buddy Guy’s 77th birthday, where he brought you up on stage to play. You looked genuinely surprised. Was that planned?
No, I just went because I’m a fan. I wasn’t even dressed. I was kind of going under the radar, no hat or anything. I was low-key, wearing, like, a T-shirt, and they say, “Yeah, Gary, come up!” I was like, “Ah!” So I went up and did it, of course. He’s another one who’s laid the groundwork, so I got a lot of respect for Buddy Guy. Seeing guys like him, Keith Richards and the Stones, folks getting up there and doing it every single night and having that energy—if I ever get tired I have no excuses. You know what I mean? They’re doing it with a smile on their face, dancing, being showmen. It’s amazing.
What’s a record the youth of America should discover?
One of my favorites which, if they don’t appreciate or like right away, sneak it in there—BB King, Live in Japan, 1971. I was talking to Dave Grohl about kids. I have a one-year-old, and I was asking him if his kids fell into music, or if they’re interested or whatever, and he’s like, “I actually brainwash my kids and throw in Beatles’ Yellow Submarine in between their cartoons and regularly televised programs.” Start ’em young, man.