Why Gary Clark, Jr. is the Future of the Blues
You've seen me write about him before: the 31 year-old Texan that has streaked into the music spotlight in the last several years. Armed with an Epiphone Casino, some distortion pedals, and a nice hat, Gary Clark, Jr. has drawn on the nostalgia for long-gone guitar masters like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Albert King. He has played alongside some of the greatest guitarists ever – Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons, and many more. In the wake of the “second blues revival,” Clark is now poised to become one of the biggest rock acts on the scene. He is renowned for his guitar-playing and vocal abilities - at times, his playing sounds more like Hendrix's than anyone else. When asked what he felt about such comparisons, he said, “you know, [I'm] a young black guy playing a fuzzy guitar … it used to bother me, but I'm not mad at it [anymore] … I wanna be great, and if people throw my name into the same sentence with greats, I'll take it and just keep practicing.” Thus spoke the Hendrix of our age. But how can he save the blues from utter ruin? How can he salvage a genre that has fallen from being the most popular musical genre to one of almost complete obscurity? The answer lies in his ability to innovate; he doesn't play just straight blues, but adds hints and elements of contemporary R&B, soul, rap, and even indie and pop rock. This hooks in many listeners who otherwise wouldn't have given him (or blues) a chance; and his vocal delivery and guitar playing style echoes some of the blues greats. Unlike the now-deceased White Stripes and the much-altered Black Keys, Clark still draws on the blues for inspiration: his live performances have a distinct lack of hip-hop and instead reflect more on simply rock and blues.
My strange blues addiction aside, Clark must be recognized for the skilled musician and innovator that he is. With every other major blues group of our era moving on from the genre or disbanding altogether, Clark is a bright spot in the American genre: he can make it fresh without changing the base characteristics of blues, while also drawing fans of other genres into the fold by taking influence from the great artists of those genres.
Clark is young and in a position to make an even bigger impact on popular music than he already has. With a little bit of a push, he can make “the American genre” popular once more.
Image credit: soundofboston.com