Gary Clark Jr. is one of the most commercially successful, critically revered and musically diverse guitar heroes of the modern age – a man who’s played with everyone from B.B. King and Jeff Beck to Alicia Keys and the Foo Fighters, and always held his own.
He’s won multiple Grammy awards, gotten his major-label deal, played at the White House for President Barack Obama and received a letter from Eric Clapton, who wrote, “Thank you. You make me want to play again.”
But it wasn’t enough.
To move forward, Clark had to rethink, re-evaluate and reinvent himself, and ultimately draw on his soul, funk and hip-hop influences more than before.
Today, the young Texan is not only one of the most important crossover artists to embrace and embody the blues – he propels it to new heights.
“You do things musically by reaching back and pulling from the foundation to move it all forward,” he says. “That’s how I am in life and how I am as a person. I grew up in a house where I was taught to respect your elders and where you come from – to remember who you are – but also to look forward.
“Encourage yourself to push the limits and see how far you can go.”
That combination of respecting the past while pushing forward is evident in Clark’s musical style, as well as in his electric guitar tone, where fuzz and spring reverb fuel his retro, yet contemporary vibe.
Here’s a couple of riffs we’ve put together in the style of the great man himself...
Ex. 1 is a simple minor pentatonic riff, but because Clark’s fretting is so nuanced, pay attention to details like the clipped feel of staccato articulations (indicated by a dot over a note or chord) and the bluesy-sounding quarter-tone bends.
The riff in Ex. 2 includes clashing unison bends, which are typical of Clark’s style. His soloing is very much about feel and dynamics, and how effects like fuzz, distortion and octave pedals shape his tone.
Add a little finger vibrato to the bent notes on the G string to create some Clark-approved bluesy dissonance.
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