Blues musician Gary Clark Jr. has got some pretty famous fans. When he stopped by Complex for an interview a few weeks back, his publicist had just run through the guest list for Clark's showcase at The Darby later that evening. Pharrell Williams would be swinging through. Estelle was planning to attend. Q-Tip was set to DJ before and Questlove would spin afterwards. “Really?” Clark responded with disbelief. For real—they all came through that night to see the electric guitar virtuoso wail on songs like “Bright Lights” and “Please Come Home.” Also in attendance: surprise guest Leonardo DiCaprio.
Gary’s a favorite amongst in-the-know industry types and A-list celebs alike. And with his major label debut album coming this September, the man The New York Times said "may be the next Hendrix" is aiming to translate his guitar god credentials into true rock star status. (If you happen to be in Milwaukee you can catch him tonight.) Clark told Complex about how he came up, why he probably won't be working with any of his celebrity fans, and how a mild-mannered dude from Texas transforms into a monster performer on stage.
Written by Brad Wete (@BradWete)
COMPLEX: Tell us about your journey.
Gary Clark Jr: I got a guitar at like 12, started hanging out downtown in Austin, Texas. There is just a bunch of bands playing blues, jazz, and the whole thing. So I went down there at 14 and just jumped in and pretty much didn't stop. I moved out of the house around 19 and started wandering and adventuring and going on road trips with some of the older guys and hitting the road and doing that thing and learning things that I shouldn't know.
I moved out of the house around 19 and started wandering and adventuring and going on road trips with some of the older guys and hitting the road and learning things that I shouldn't know.
Got introduced to a lot of the guys that already kind of put Austin on the map as far a blues. Antones is like a staple music venue in Austin. I met with Jimmy Vaughan, Derek O'Brien, Buddy Guy, a lot of these older blues guys. I started to hang with them. They had me open up shows and I got to travel and see the world. A couple years ago I did this Eric Clapton Crossroads concert in Chicago—a recommendation from Jimmy Vaughan. Met some cats from Warner there and started talking to them and I hit it off with them and just kind of got going.
How long ago was that?
That was summer of 2010. Fairly recently. I had been in the game since ‘98, ‘99. It just hit.
Was it a struggling artist type of deal?
Yeah it basically was like the struggling artists type thing. But I kind of put it on myself, I didn't want to do anything else. I didn't have another job or another gig or anything like that. I just wanted to play music. Sometimes I could eat and sometimes the lights would be cut off and I'd be sitting there for a minute—that whole type of thing. But I'm just passionate and wanted to play music.
When did you realize this could be “it” for you?
That was pretty much a decision that was made after I went to go see Michael Jackson when I was five years old. I went and saw the concert. It was like the Bad tour. My parents surprised me and went to that thing. I started school soon after that and I was like, “Psshh—come on man!” I was always interested in music. I used to sing in the choir, play the guitar in church, all that. I pretty much knew young that this was all I wanted to do. I would tell my folks I had a backup plan and I'd do something else, but I was a horrible student. That was it. I figured it out.