Heroes & Villains: Gary Clark Jr

Who was your first hero?

Obviously my parents, but Michael Jackson as well. I went to see Michael Jackson in concert when I was five and that sparked my whole interest in live music. I’d try to moonwalk around the house after that.

Xscape_, Jackson’s second posthumous album, is out now. Is releasing an artist’s unfinished work the act of villains? _

Me being a musician and understanding the process, if it’s not finished then it’s not meant to be released. But then I’m a fan, so I’m curious to hear the music. So I can go either way on that one.

Who was your first blues hero?

My introduction to blues came from Stevie Ray Vaughan. My family gave me Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood album and that got me interested in the blues scene, especially because he was from Texas like me as well.

Blues is enjoying a big resurgence, with plenty of new artists emerging. Who is the ultimate modern blues hero?

I think the Black Keys are very cool and very important in bringing the blues sounds back into pop culture. I’ve got a lot of respect for them.

A lot of young guitarists will see you as a hero. How does that feel?

That trips me out, to be honest, to think that young guitarists are picking stuff up from me. I’m sure in a couple of years they could teach me something. It’s really cool though when people come up to me at shows and want me to sign their guitar. I feel like I’m ruining it.

The Stones are heroes to millions, and you’ve played with them. How was that?

That was incredible. From the moment I got there they made me feel very comfortable. We were hanging out in their dressing room, listening to Howlin’ Wolf, talking about Muddy Waters and telling stories. I never dreamed I’d be hanging out with the Rolling Stones and then getting up and playing with them.

You’ve opened for Eric Clapton as well. Is he a blues hero for you?

Yeah, I opened for Clapton. That one isn’t a bad gig! I had a chance to talk to him a little bit. I’m such a fan of his music. It was cool that he came along when he did and put his take on blues and rock’n’roll. He’s a beast on guitar, an amazing songwriter and a great guy. He’s done a lot in putting blues on a big scale all over the world.

Blues is all about authenticity, so what do you make of arena-filling commercial pop?

I did a gig last night where we did our set and immediately after it was this pop scene thing. Maybe I’m just getting older, but I couldn’t relate to it. My whole thing is about live instrumentation, so I respect pop guys like Justin Timberlake where it’s not just all about visuals. With some pop, music is the least important part. I can’t wrap my head around that. I don’t think you’ll ever see me dancing at my show.

George Bush is a fellow Texan. Would you say he’s a hero or a villain?

I’m not one for starting any controversy. But I do know that when I was in London when Bush was in office, I was sitting at a table with a lot of people, some strangers and some new friends, and when I told them I was from Texas, all the attention turned to me and what I thought of him and what a terrible guy he was. It was as if I had something to do with it and it was my fault. No good came of me saying I was from Texas. At that point I realised: I guess a lot of people don’t like this guy.

Rich Chamberlain

Rich Chamberlain has written for Classic Rock, Musicradar.com, Total Guitar, Nuts, FourFourTwo, Billboard, Classic Rock Presents The Blues and Classic Rock Presents Country.