theGrio’s 100: Gary Clark Jr, bringing blues music to a new generation

Gary Clark Jr. performs onstage at the after party for the premiere of '$ellebrity' at the Hard Rock Cafe on January 8, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Gary Clark Jr. performs onstage at the after party for the premiere of '$ellebrity' at the Hard Rock Cafe on January 8, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Who is Gary Clark Jr.?

Gary Clark Jr., 28, exploded onto the music scene at the age of 26, when he delivered an incredible debut performance of his song “Bright Lights” at Eric Clapton’s 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival. Clark became the soul man for a new generation.

“Gary Clark Jr. a young force steeped in old sounds. Ten years in the making, Gary Clark Jr., is about to become an overnight sensation,” James Sullivan of the Boston Globe wrote.

Born and raised in Austin, TX, Clark began playing guitar at age 12. He performed small gigs throughout his early teens before popping up on the radar of legendary promoter Clifford Antone, owner of Austin blues club Antone’s. Through Clifford’s connections, Clark was soon sitting in with and learning from an array of musical icons, including Jimmie Vaughan. Vaughan, and others in the Austin music community, mentored Clark along his path, facilitating his steady rise on the Texas music scene. His peers have showered him with acclaim for his incomparable live performances. In 2001, Austin’s mayor, Kirk Watson, declared May 3rd to be Gary Clark Jr. Day. Clark was 17 years old.

During a recent interview with GQ, Clark opened up about what inspired him to become a guitarist. “The thing that drew me into blues was hearing artists like Jimmy Reed, Albert King, Freddie King; a lot of guys from Texas, like Alan Haynes, Derek O’Brien, Mike Keller. I was maybe 14 when I realized what the Austin music scene was about and before that I was just running around as a kid.”

Why is he on theGrio’s 100?

Clark is the future of blues music. His singular talent has attracted a bevy of artist support, including accolades from Alicia Keys, Sheryl Crow, Citizen Cope, Damian Marley, Ron Wood, and Questlove. His new album Blak and Blue has been described as a mash-up of “everything from delta blues, to R&B, via some dirty swamp rock.”

February 2012, President and Mrs. Obama invited Clark to perform at the White House as part of the In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues event. “I was more worried about meeting Obama simply because he has more security,” Clark said to GQ about meeting President Obama. “I didn’t want to shake his hand the wrong way or look at him the wrong way in case some guy chucked me out. I had a chat with him. I just said “Thanks for having me. It’s an honor to be here.” He told me, “It’s good to have a young guy here playing the blues. But don’t tell the old guys that.”

What’s next for Clark?

The 27-year old guitarist is just getting started. He continues to tour the nation promoting his new album Blak and Blu. He is also has a guitar solo on “Fire We Make,” a duet with Maxwell and Alicia Keys on Key’s latest album, Girl on Fire. Clark is establishing himself a performer adept with the blues but able roam free in R&B, hard rock and hip-hop. Clark says he would like to be remembered “As a good guy who played some good music. That’s about it.”

Follow Gary Clark Jr. on Twitter at @GaryClarkJr