Guitarist Gary Clark, Jr. Plays Searing Acoustic Blues in a Spontaneous Jam Session

Gui­tarist, singer, and song­writer Gary Clark, Jr. was “sup­posed to save the blues,” writes Geoff Edgers at The Wash­ing­ton Post. That’s a lot of weight to hang on the shoul­ders of a musi­cian born in 1984. Clark grew up in Austin, Texas lis­ten­ing to Jimi Hen­drix, Ste­vie Ray Vaugh­an, Green Day, and Nir­vana. He’s been onscreen in John Sayles’ Hon­ey­drip­per, played Eric Clapton’s Cross­roads Gui­tar Fes­ti­val, and played along­side his hero B.B. King.

His ring­ing tone recalls King, his sear­ing leads sound like Hen­drix, but he’s just as hap­py evok­ing Cur­tis May­field, Stax Records, and Quin­cy Jones. He’s described his ide­al sound as “Snoop Dogg meets John Lee Hook­er.” The blues, what­ev­er Clark’s crit­ics might think they are, have come a long way since white 60s revival­ists trav­eled south and dis­cov­ered coun­try blues­men like Clark’s fel­low Tex­an Mance Lip­scomb, a share­crop­per all his life, even after his first album made him famous in 1961 and he record­ed with a “who’s who of musi­cians.”

Lip­scomb, “despite his fame,” writes Texas Month­ly, “remained poor.” Clark has done quite well for him­self. His suc­cess pro­vid­ed the occa­sion for his furi­ous, reg­gae-tinged track “This Land,” which recounts a con­fronta­tion with a neigh­bor who refused to believe a Black man could own the 50-acre ranch Clark owns in rur­al Texas, out­side Austin. Clark’s got blues, but it’s a dif­fer­ent era, and the music is more mul­ti-faceted than it was six­ty, nine­ty, or 100 years ago, even if some oth­er cul­tur­al atti­tudes haven’t changed at all.

He clear­ly wants to evade tra­di­tion­al labels and avoid repeat­ing him­self. “If it were up to every­body else,” Clark once sneered, “I would do Hen­drix cov­ers all the time.” (See his “Voodoo Child” live.) He may not want to wear the man­tle of the “sav­ior of the blues.” But he “can bang out a coun­try blues on an 80-year-old res­onator gui­tar,” Edgers writes, as com­fort­ably as he drops sam­ples into the demos he arranges at his home stu­dio.

See Clark at the top in a spon­ta­neous 12-bar acoustic jam in Berlin, and just above, he breaks out the res­onator for “Nextdoor Neigh­bor Blues.” This song is not, in fact, about a racist neigh­bor but about a much more uni­ver­sal sub­ject, one Mance Lip­scomb — and all the blues­men whose songs he remem­bered and record­ed in his own sur­pris­ing­ly ver­sa­tile, vir­tu­oso style — sang about all the time: a love affair gone wrong. It’s a sto­ry as old as music and maybe one rea­son we don’t have to wor­ry that the blues are going any­where.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Jimi Hen­drix Plays the Delta Blues on a 12-String Acoustic Gui­tar in 1968, and Jams with His Blues Idols, Bud­dy Guy & B.B. King

Ste­vie Ray Vaugh­an Plays the Acoustic Gui­tar in Rare Footage, Let­ting Us See His Gui­tar Vir­tu­os­i­ty in Its Purest Form

The Future of Blues Is in Good Hands: Watch 12-Year-Old Toby Lee Trade Riffs with Chica­go Blues Gui­tarist Ron­nie Bak­er Brooks

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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