Junior's Big Day

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

How many 22-year-old musicians have a day named in their honor?  Gary Clark Jr. does.  Back in his home town of Austin, TX, the mayor declared May 3 to be “Gary Clark, Jr. Day” in honor of the young blues singer-guitarist’s contribution to “maintaining this city’s claim to be the live music capital of the world.”  He has performed at some of the country’s most prestigious festivals and venues including Buddy Guy’s Legends Club in Chicago and the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival.  On Saturday we have a chance to see him locally when he performs at Monterey Live.

Clark grew up listening to his parents’ Motown and R&B records.  “When I was young, my parents would put on a Jackson 5 record,” he said.  “I used to think I was Michael Jackson: I’d dance.  I was about 4 and tried my hardest to get everything right.”  Clark’s musical story began in earnest in 1996, when he was 12 years old.  He asked his parents for a guitar for Christmas.  At first his parents were reluctant to buy one as he had not previously shown any interest in playing any musical instruments, but eventually relented and bought one for him.  With the help of tutor books and his favorite blues recordings, he taught himself to play.  “I pretty much learned on my own,” Clark said.  “I went to the library and checked out some books – ‘this is a G chord’ – stuff like that.  I just sat in my room for hours and hours figuring stuff out.”  A year later, he and his friends won a talent contest at their middle school. 

This early success proved to be a big inspiration for Clark.  By age 14 he was playing regular gigs at clubs around Austin, both as a solo artist and with a band.  His shows won rave reviews and often he would play to packed houses.  In 2000, aged just 16, Clark competed in the Houston Blues Society’s Blues Challenge.  His band took first place and went on to represent the society in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

Clark’s first CD release, “Worry No More,” was voted 2002’s best Texas Blues Debut CD by Real Blues magazine.  It was followed in 2004 by “110,” on which Clark played all the instruments as well as writing and singing the songs.  This album differed from his debut’s straight-ahead blues style in that it introduced more contemporary R&B sounds into the mix.  In 2004 he was also named Best Blues Musician at the Austin Music Awards.

Clark is currently on tour to promote his most recent release, 2005’s “Tribute.”  This album honors the artists that influenced him by either covering their songs or playing originals written in their style.  “I like Albert and Freddie King, Ellmore James.  I like Howlin’ Wolf’s voice, but I can’t sing like him,” said Clark.  “I appreciate hip-hop and DJs and that stuff, but blues is what I play.”

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, March 2, 2006

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