When Gary Clark Junior’s manager, Scooter Weintraub and other mutual friends introduced us, I’d yet to see him perform live. Later that day, when I heard him play, ‘Bright Lights.’ He blew me away. His fusion of rock, funk, and blues was masterful and original. Gary played more festivals in 2012 than any artist in the world. That’s quite a feat considering his debut album, Blak n Blu had yet to be released.
NUR KHAN: You’re background is important – you grew up in Austin, TX. The Texas blues were your early influences, mainly Stevie Ray Vaughn. Who else was instrumental for you in deciding to head into the music business?
GARY CLARK JR.: Actually, this girl that I’d known since third grade, her name is Eve, she’s a badass in the neighborhood, she played guitar and had a band. She took me down to this Blues club for her fourteenth birthday. I was checking out the locals, like Alan Haynes And Jimmie Vaughn. I would hang out to see Buddy Guy come through. I just soaked that up. Cliff Antone and Steve Wertheimer would let me play at the Continental Club. I was just following this girl around who was my best friend, that’s what she is into and I immediately fell in love and started doing my research.
NUR KHAN: How old were you when you started playing with these guys?
GARY CLARK JR.: I was around fourteen, a freshman in high school.
NUR KHAN: Did you have a goal then or did you want to play for yourself? What’s your goal now?
GARY CLARK JR.: I had a goal. My first concert was this Michael Jackson concert on the Bad tour. I thought, ‘people can do this for a living?’ That’s all I wanted to do. I was playing air guitar. I didn’t have any other goals other than to play music for the rest of my life. In the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘I want to be on stage doing my thing.’ But, you know, folks don’t take you seriously.
NUR KHAN: The blues are a uniquely American genre. You added contemporary influences to your interpretation. I felt that you’ve taken the blues and a spread them out over your own personal style and from what I’ve seen, its everything from rock to hard rock to soul and R&B, blues.. Texas blues. Is that accurate? If not, what would you say your guitar style encompasses…
GARY CLARK JR.: It encompasses all of that. I grew up in the 80s and 90s with all kinds of sounds and noises. My Dad is a big funk fan. We had Parliament Funkadelic playing in the house along with the Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Tupac, Biggie, Snoop. I would have the guitar and just be playing along; soaking up all the sounds while listening to Texas Blues.
NUR KHAN: Aside from the blues, you just mentioned Snoop. I understand other influences had an impact on you, Snoop and Dre and Prince. Does that give you a little bit of the psychedelic rock side that I feel in your music?
GARY CLARK JR.: Absolutely! My friends and I thought we were going to be the next Boyz II Men. Then the guitar was introduced. I listened to reggae music with all my friends with long hair and sandals. We’d listen to Peter Tosh and Eddie Hazel.
NUR KHAN: When I watch you play I see your eyes close and you just roll back to the psychedelic rock side…I feel your music. I can see you get lost in the jam session.
GARY CLARK JR.: I let it loose, catching the vibe.
NUR KHAN: how do you feel about festivals? Do you prefer them to solo tours?
GARY CLARK JR.: I love festivals. Coachella was amazing. I love to go out there, soak up all the energy and see the otherwise urban people interact with nature… See their minds blown walking through some field by whatever they watch. To be a part of that is great. I think the festivals give great exposure. Folks that knew us were a small percentage of the ones that show up. To see people just wander up out of the blue having not heard… It’s creating a new fan base. It’s also fun getting around and seeing all these different places. After that great success we are going global. We’re going to hit Australia in the beginning of the year. Have you been on Big Day Out? We are doing that. We are going to hit Europe, Scandinavia, Japan.
NUR KHAN: You just recently played in the Electric Room, which holds only 100 people. That show was so intimate and special to a lot of our mutual friends and me. How do you feel about doing something so intimate? That was like having you play at my loft for friends and family.
GARY CLARK JR.: I loved that. Festivals are just a thing. Getting in an intimate yet legendary club like Electric Room, it’s really incredible. You are basically sweating on the crowd. You’re face to face with them, It’s real. It’s honest. If they aren’t feeling you, you can feel it. If they are, then it’s elevated many times over. I love doing it. They guys loved doing it. It’s like being in a living room or in a garage. It’s inspiring.
NUR KHAN: That was just a few weeks before your record was released. It dropped at number six or something on the charts, pretty amazing for a debut album. Obviously those festivals paid off. Did that exceed your expectation or is that something that isn’t’ a main focus of yours?
GARY CLARK JR.: I try not to pay attention to it too much, but I’ll be lying if I said I didn’t. Of course it seems like a lot of artists whether they pay attention to it or not, they all want to be successful. What they do to be respected and known on a wide scale, you hope and you plan but I’m known as this blues guy from Texas. There’s no way you can compete with Taylor Swift or Kendrick Lamar. I was stoked you know. I see my album cover at number six.
NUR KHAN: Collaboration has been a large part of your career. It’s also the way we work as creatives now. Supporting each other has become a part of the vocabulary of art. From what I understand, you played Eric Clapton’s Crossroads benefit for his charity and that was a pretty important moment in your career. How did you meet Eric and how did that show come about?
GARY CLARK JR.: I met Eric through stalking Jimmy Vaughn at their shows. They started to get to know me and told me they liked what I was doing and supported me. They took me out on tour and would sit in with me. I got the word that they were doing this festival and Jimmy is a good friend and he brought my name up. I got called up and got a letter. I hadn’t met Clapton until I got to the festival and I figured I might as well thank him for having me here. I walked up and said thanks for having me. I just poured it out. And that was it. That changed the whole game.
NUR KHAN: You also played the black ball with Alicia Keys and you played While My Guitar Gently Weeps, one of my favorite Beatles songs ever, which actually George Harrison wrote. I think Clapton played guitar on it… and of course… you just played the White House tribute to the blues with Mick Jagger and Buddy Guy and BB King! Was President Obama rockin’ out or what?
GARY CLARK JR.: I was six feet away from the dude and he was up there, getting down on Catfish and singing along. The first lady was up there with him. They seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was a trip that they invited me in the first place, that they let me play guitar.
NUR KHAN: You just had a pretty busy weekend in New York playing with the Rolling Stones. That must have been one of the high lights of your career. I’ve been friends with the Stones for many years, and I imagine it was probably Keith who was instrumental in having you join them. Was it Keith who brought you on board?
GARY CLARK JR.: Yeah I mean he showed me a lot of love. We come from the same school of music. That was great after a whole crazy year of touring. Going from one place to the next and constantly having my mind blown.
NUR KHAN: Keith is very particular about who he takes under his wing. There’s another notch on your belt of achievements. I heard he and Ronnie were trying to grab you to play on their side of the stage. How did it feel to play with the Stones?
GARY CLARK JR.: I’m overwhelmed and grateful to be this kid from Texas who had a dream to play guitar in front of people. I just released my first album and played all those festivals… I think someone’s looking out for me and I’m in a good place. In 2012, on stage with the Rolling Stones… It’s a lot to imagine, I am so thankful.