Gary Clark Jr. talks blues and balancing

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Gary Clark Jr. 

ATLANTA — Even though Gary Clark Jr. often performs in front of thousands of people, the Grammy-winning musician still doesn’t know how to react when he hears concertgoers chant his name.

“I never know what to do,” he said. “You can’t say thank you, I guess. I just smile and take it all in.”

Clark has embraced the pressure of being considered the future of blues. So far, he’s kept the genre alive performing on the grandest stages alongside music’s biggest acts, including Mick Jagger and Beyoncé.

This year, Clark opened for The Rolling Stones’ kick-off tour. He joined the Foo Fighters’ tour for nearly two months and was a headliner at several popular music festivals, including Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits Festival.

Clark’s bluesy rock sound won over fans and peers in his 2012 breakout album Blak and Blu. His critically-acclaimed album The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, released last month, has kept the momentum going for the 31-year-old Austin, Texas, native.

While sitting backstage after a recent concert in Atlanta, Clark talked to The Associated Press about his anxious reactions before shows, being accepted by blues greats and balancing his hectic touring schedule while raising his newborn son with his fiancee, Australian model Nicole Trunfio.

AP: Guitar legend Buddy Guy called you the future of blues. How do you feel about carrying the torch for the genre?

Clark: I really don’t think of it as passing the torch. It’s more like seeing the big kids in the neighborhood playing ball and me wanting to get in. I kept hearing you’re not ready yet, you’re not ready yet. But now, I’m accepted as part of a team or group. I used to watch Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Jimmie Vaughn and B.B. King. These guys basically taught me how to play. So for them, especially Buddy Guy to say things like that, it makes me feel accepted, more confident and grateful.

AP: Since January, you’ve been constantly on the road with 67 tour shows. How have you found time to spend with your son?

Clark: (His son and Trunfio) come out on the road sometimes. It’s not as much as I want, but I have my moments. With technology these days, I’m able to check on him.

AP:: Your nickname is Sonny Boy Slim, given by your mom. What caused you to use your nickname for the album title?

Clark: It just popped up in the studio one day. We were listening to some older music, and it just took me back to places in my life. A lot of it was remembering those times. It felt right.

AP: Some perceive your demeanor before shows as nervous, somewhat anxious. What do you call it?

Clark: I’m just always ready to go. A lot of it is hurry up and wait. We drive 10 or 12 hours and show up to the venue early, maybe two or three hours before the show. I’m pacing around thinking about how to approach my set. Not really nervous, just excitement. I want to be in that moment on stage, and not wait. Hanging with these guys (Foo Fighters) has helped, because they rock out.

AP: You’ve performed with so many music artists from different genres. Do you see your bluesy sound evolving into something else?

Clark: If it’s an artist I’m willing to work with, I’m going to do it. I’m not going to put any boundaries on my music. I like to sit and play the piano, I picked up violin, I love to play horns. This bluesy thing is my foundation. But you never know. I might pop up playing the accordion somewhere. … One thing I don’t want to do as an artist is to not be free artistically.

Gary Clark website

Idaho Statesman/ Jonathan Landrum Jr.


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