PHOTO: Joey Martinez
The Texas bluesman dives in deep on his love for fuzz and why he relentlessly tours and makes new music.
By Mike Duffy
Gary Clark Jr. has had quite the year.
He’s already played a few dates with the great Eric Clapton in celebration of “Slowhand’s” 50th anniversary as a recording artist (with four more coming later this year), he released his second live album—Live in North America 2016—in March and he has a slew of big festival gigs lined up through the rest of 2017.
Midway through his busy travel schedule, Clark hooked up with Fender to take a look at the new Mustang GT amplifiers, dial in a preset and discuss his favorite effects, how he stays motivated to relentlessly tour and make new music, and how he missed out on a dream collaboration.
"There you will find your own voice. It’ll keep you inspired. What really happened to me was I was playing straight-ahead blues a lot out of fear of being judged by elder bluesmen and 'blues purists'—which is a terrible thing to say, but it’s real. People want things to be exactly the way that they were. So I was recording all this stuff that I thought I would never share. But it just hit me one day. I was like, 'Look, this is who I am. I’m a mix of this.' I was born in 1984. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t see anything that’s happened since 1968, you know? So I just mashed it all together, stirred it all up in the pot. And I got a fuzz [laughs]. That’s it."
"These guys made major waves and inspired generations and generations of people by taking risks and not doing what anybody else was doing. People were like, 'What is that?' And you know what, 'That’s the shit.' I’m trying to find that and not just be stuck in this place that’s comfortable and safe.
"It's that burning feeling. I feel like I can really scream with it. Sometimes when I feel that way, that’s how I can get my aggression out. Fuzz is the lion’s roar."
“I think Wyclef would be really cool. He’s definitely an underrated guitarist. A Ben Harper collab might be cool. These are guys that I watched growing up. I always thought about doing some blues thing with those guys, being inspired by them. And also seeing those guys move around. The way that they moved was inspiring as young black dudes. But I do have one crazy thing … I got back from Australia or something, and I got invited to go to Paisley Park, and I was just too tired to do it. I was too jet lagged and never made it. That’s one that got away."
"That was something that really inspired me. I started off playing a small little amp that didn’t have much happening, and I was hearing all this cool music and getting kind of frustrated because my tone wasn’t sounding like that. But once I started to discover effects … reverb, delay, wah-wah, phaser, whatever, I felt like I could be more creative and find my voice.
"And also just watching stuff on TV. I never really didn’t want to play. If I was stuck, I’d just take a day or two and let my fingers heal and get back to it."
"Some of my favorite live albums are Stevie Ray Vaughan Live at Carnegie Hall, James Brown at the Apollo, Marvin Gaye Live in London at the Palladium … There’s just something about not being in the room but imagining what it’s like to be in that room, in that moment. You can hear the excitement and the screaming and the shouting. There’s this energy that you don’t necessarily get from a studio record. And it also just proves that there’s true talent there. There’s no smoke and mirrors if you’re hearing this live recording. I love live albums. When we did this last one—and the one before—I was compiling a lot of different things and I really wanted to lead up to that one night, like a Band of Gypsies New Year’s Eve type of thing. There’s something about a band playing on stage in front of people. It’s a moment."
“Gary looked at the Mustang as if he was thinking, ‘This would be an amp with a bunch of cool pedals in the preset that I could use for the whole set,” said Fender Amplifier Product Development Manager Rick Heins, who helped walk Clark through the Mustang GT’s features.
“With the Princeton, it’s got a little bit of tape delay in front of the amp, and he went with a Large Hall Reverb behind the amp instead of a Spring Reverb for a bigger sound.
“In front of the amp is a Big Fuzz, because he loves fuzz and what that does to his playing, and a Green Box for some more overdrive for a different part of a song. It’s a great preset that really fits his sound.”
“It was mainly small amps that I could take to gigs and wouldn’t break my back that sounded great,” said Clark. “The Princeton breaks up. If you turn it up just past the halfway point or so, turn your volume up, you can get it to crunch up really nice and it’ll still sound great. You won’t lose the tone in the crunch. It’s great for jazzy-type blues stuff.
“And it doesn’t piss off the neighbors.”
Which is why he seemed to enjoy the process of tinkering with the seemingly endless possibilities offered by the Mustang GT.
“He took a lot of time and was really into it,” said Heins. “There was a certain time when he wasn’t talking and just playing his guitar through that amp. When a musician does that, you know you’re on to something.”
Click here for all of Gary Clark Jr.'s tour dates.