Monday, January 2, 2012

Gary Clark Jr. Shines Bright In Austin

At 27, one might think guitarist Gary Clark Jr. is an upstart, another young and promising entrant into the blues scene. But Clark has been quietly paying his dues at home in Austin for more than a decade.

He was just 17 when Austin Mayor Kirk Watson declared May 3, 2001, Gary Clark Jr. Day for his role in helping to make Austin the live music capital of the world. The mayor isn't his only admirer; so are Jimmie Vaughan, Ron Wood and Eric Clapton.

The latter even helped put his career in the spotlight. Clapton gave Clark the opportunity of a lifetime to play at the Crossroads Festival. And his performance prompted Warner Brothers to sign him.

The Bright Lights, his 4-track EP, is only a taste of things to come. The full length is slated for spring.

While working on his major label debut, due out this spring, Clark cut four tracks as an introduction. The Bright Lights EP is a lively blend of old fashioned blues, soul, and classic rock. It includes two studio cuts, Bright Lights and Don’t Owe You A Thang; and two live solo acoustic tracks, Things Are Changin’ and When My Train Pulls In.

Clark's work on these tracks is cause to mention him in the same sentence as Jimi Hendrix, Richard Thompson, and Jack White. Clark is intense and captivating to watch. Oh, and he can sing too.

Don’t Owe You A Thang is an up tempo slice of Southern blues boogie. Things Are Changin’ is surprisingly delicate and soulful, punctuated with snazzy, jazzy fretwork. Bright Lights, from which the EP takes its name, blends cool vocals with hot guitar. And when My Train Pulls in is eight minutes of unadulterated virtuosity. Hear it for yourself, one of the few clips stripped down to nothing but Clark.

It’s odd that a blues artist, especially one who until late had been relatively unknown, would attract the interest of the mainstream music media. But this time out, it was Rolling Stone’s feature review that propelled the EP to the top of the blues chart. It also landed on the top 200 pop chart.

The earliest beginnings of Gary Clark Jr., a name you'll get to know.

Clark took an interest in music at the age of 12 when he received a guitar for Christmas. Determined to learn how to play, he borrowed instructional books from the library and augmented this with clips from Austin City Limits that he recorded on VHS tapes.

Eventually, Clark played clubs throughout Austin and met Clifford Antone, owner of the music club staple Antone’s, who gave him the opportunity to perform. He didn't perform with just anyone, but with some of the most influential names in the city's music scene.

Locally, Clark is household name. He received the Austin Music Award for Best Blues and Electric Guitarist three times, and also managed to self-produce two albums and score the film Full Count. Go and rent the 2007 film Honeydripper, and you’ll even see Clark playing (no surprise) a bluesman, along with Danny Glover and Stacy Keach.

Pretty cool, especially because Clark has retained his personality. He's laid back, even understated, as if he doesn't know how great he is. Maybe he doesn't. Even on Late Night with David Letterman, he rules.

The song is perfect, especially the lyrics. There is little doubt we will know his name.

The Bright Lights EP by Gary Clark Jr. Smolders At 9.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If the EP is any indication of what is on the full length, then Clark and his Epiphone Casino guitar have a real shot at legendary status. While he continues work on the album, Clark is still playing a few dates here and there. He’ll be in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco Feb. 13-15 and is slated to appear at the much-anticipated New Orleans Jazz Festival in April. You might save the date.

You can find the 4-track Bright Lights on iTunes. Barnes & Noble has the CD for $1 more. The Bright Lights EP is slightly more on Amazon, unless you download the tracks.
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