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"I Remember Seeing Jennifer Batten Play 'Beat It' and Thought, 'What is that? I Need That!'": Gary Clark Jr. on Early Influences, Current Live Rig, and More | Interview

Published 2 weeks ago on July 3, 2024

By Jonathan Graham

"I Remember Seeing Jennifer Batten Play 'Beat It' and Thought, 'What is that? I Need That!'": Gary Clark Jr. on Early Influences, Current Live Rig, and More | Interview

Backstage, still riding the high of his performance during night two of American Express presents BST Hyde Park, Blues Rock and Soul superstar Gary Clark Jr. sat down with Guitar Interactive Magazine to share some insights into his creative process, gear choices, and early inspirations, offering an exclusive glimpse into the world of the modern blues maestro.

"It was great. It was absolutely incredible, man," Gary Clark Jr. explains, stepping off the Great Oak Stage in Hyde Park. "We came a long way from Austin, Texas. The crowd was cool and got things kicked off." No stranger to London audiences, the transition from the heart of Texas back to one of the UK's biggest stages remains an exhilarating experience for Clark, who has continuously pushed the boundaries of modern blues with each of his live tours and album releases — the latest of which, 'JPEG Raw,' is out now worldwide.

Clark's stage presence is matched only by his impressive live gear setup, and for the Hyde Park show, that was no exception. "My setup is a Divided by 13 rig that my guy Zapata hooked me up with. Apparently, the other amp that I had got voted out without me," Clark laughed. "I showed up one day, and my other amp was gone. So, apparently, people have been plotting on me," he joked.

Despite this mysterious amp disappearance, Clark remains loyal to his Fender roots. "I grew up playing Fenders. My first Fender was a Fender DeVille. Then I moved over to Vibro Kings and tried Twins and Princeton Reverbs, which I love. I use Princetons in the studio," he explained, underscoring his dedication to the authentic blues sound that has become his hallmark.

Clark's guitar collection is as eclectic as his musical influences. "Guitar-wise, I've got a Bill Asher model that I used for the song 'Maktub' and a couple of other things. I've still got my Ibanez Blazer that I got in 1997. I still play that one," he said. His passion for his Wide Sky hollow body guitar, handcrafted by Patch Rubin in Hawaii, shines through — comparing its craftsmanship to a Stradivarius violin, calling it a "beautifully crafted instrument."

For a legitimate bluesman like Clark, certain six-strings are indispensable. "I grew up a blues guy, so I've got to have the Gibson 335. It's like the B.B. King tone, you know? That's the sound I always wanted," he explained, his voice reverent for blues legends like King, who paved the way with their sonic choices.

In an era where many musicians are opting for digital setups, Clark remains somewhat of an analogue purist. "I'm kind of old school. I like to feel the amps, you know, the feedback and the interaction with the tubes. Digital is cool, but I just haven't gone down that road yet," he admitted. However, he isn't entirely opposed to digital gear, recalling how fellow musician H.E.R. impressed him with a digital setup during a Prince tribute. "She was using a digital rig, and it sounded amazing. But I'm just old school. I'm from the school of Gibson and Fender," Clark explains.

Clark's formative years were shaped by a multitude of artists, with two moments involving the King of Pop leaving a lasting impression. "I remember seeing old videos of the Jackson Five and watching Tito and Jermaine Jackson stand out, these young kids that looked like me. I was like, 'Oh, I want to do that,'" Clark reminisced. "My first concert was seeing Michael Jackson live on the Bad tour in 1988. I remember seeing Jennifer Batten playing the guitar solo for 'Beat It,' and I was like, 'That! What is that? I need that,'" he recalled, a revelation that ignited his passion for guitar.

Reflecting on his teenage years, Clark recalls a particularly frosty exchange at a blues jam. "I came in with a solid-state Crate 60-watt and my Ibanez guitar, and all these old blues guys were like, 'What the hell is that, dude? Get that out of here.' I still struggle with trauma from my teenage years being bullied by old blues guys," Clark jokes. This harsh welcome only strengthened his resolve to carve his own musical path.

Following the release of his fourth full-length album 'JPEG Raw' in March 2024, Clark is acutely aware of the pressures of the contemporary music landscape. "I feel the pressure a little bit, but the way I create is not really what I would call creating. It's getting in a room and being open to receiving something. Sometimes it'll come, sometimes it doesn't. If I force something just to get something done, I hate it later," he explains. "If I have something connect with me, I'll sing it over again, or I'll play it over again and over again, and I'll leave it alone. If I wake up the next day and it sticks and I remember it note for note, word for word, then it's something."

Beyond his music, Clark has dabbled in acting, often playing roles that align closely with his musical persona. 

"I love getting on set and being part of some other story. But I haven't had to stretch as an actor. Everything has been, 'Can you play a blues guy?' Pretty much, and no problem," he laughed. However, he's eager to stretch his acting chops in more challenging roles. "If I really want to do it, I'm going to do something that's really, really challenging," Clark confirms. "I think that would be a way for me to test my chops and see if I really got it in me to pursue it on a real level." His background has given him a solid foundation for acting, as he revealed, "I grew up as one of those nerdy choir and musical theatre kids, acting in plays and stuff, so I'm not scared of a script." This comfort in front of the camera and on stage speaks to his versatility as an artist.

Whether through his music or acting, Gary Clark Jr.'s passion for storytelling and dedication to authenticity remain at the forefront of his artistry. Currently on tour in Europe, he will return to the UK to inspire and captivate audiences with his soulful artistry in a run of shows in October.

For more information on Gary Clark Jr., including his discography and upcoming tour dates, visit his official website.

To find out more about the BST Hyde Park 2024 lineup and ticket information, visit the BST Hyde Park official website.


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