Blues Emerging Artist: Gary Clarke Jr.

The town of Austin, Texas looms large in the story of modern American music. There’s SXSW of course, and a thriving independent scene that’s been around for decades, but it’s now also known as the hometown of new blues star Gary Clarke Jr. An ambassador of roots music, Clarke Jr. combines a seamless mix of hard rock, soul, punk, hip-hop, reggae and R&B to create a 21st century blues sound that is all his own.

Born in 1984, the guitar player has been obsessed with music since he was 12 and started gigging immediately after becoming a teenager. The Austin scene offered Clarke Jr. numerous opportunities to gain his chops and soon he was performing on stages alongside Jimmie Vaughan and Sheryl Crow, as musicians visiting Texas were made aware of the teenage prodigy’s prowess via famed local promoter, Clifford Antone (the man who helped launch Stevie Ray Vaughan’s six string assault on America). When Rolling Stone named the guitarist ‘Best Young Gun’ in 2011, Clarke Jr’s star began to rise and soon he found himself co-writing with Alicia Keys and landing a major label record deal. His debut album for Warner Bros., ‘Blak And Blu’, was released in 2012 and he was off to the superstar songwriter races – collaborations with Foo Fighters, Childish Gambino and Eric Clapton soon followed.

World tours and best-selling albums arrived as Clarke Jr. took his explosive brand of blues on the road and won fans at festivals and award shows wherever his amp’ was set-up. His performance at Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2010 brought further notoriety, as did guest spots with The Rolling Stones on their 50th anniversary tour, before his concept album ‘The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim’ hit number one on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart in October 2015.

The Texan had arrived and the stage was set for him to become one of the all-time blues greats. Clarke Jr. didn’t disappoint and continued to thrill audiences worldwide with his new blues style and hard-hitting live show. However, it was 2019’s Grammy Award-winning ‘This Land’ that skyrocketed the guitarist to headliner status and national news, containing as it did 15 modern blues broadsides that took on the world and all its injustices. His third consecutive Top Ten US album, the record was lit up by the social commentary of its prescient title track which brought together Woody Guthrie and Muddy Waters to lay waste to the hypocrisy at the heart of the current American dream. “Go back where you come from, we don’t want your kind; I’m America’s son, this is where I come from, this land is mine…”

Behind The Song – ‘This Land’ (2019)

“I wanted every lyric to mean something.” Gary Clarke Jr. has spoken about ‘This Land’ often but never has the fire inside the song gone out under discussion. “It was a regular occurrence to get dogshit in the mailbox when I was growing up,” he has revealed. “My people have been through a lot, so the least I can do is say thank you for your sacrifice. We’re sliding backwards.” From a Parliament/Funkadelic-esque keyboard intro, through some of the most brutally honest lyrics aired in 2019, and onto the Curtis Mayfield style grooves and meandering melody that dominate the hit song, ‘This Land’ is a slippery customer bouncing on a righteous beat.