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25 September 2017

Gary Clark Jr. Owns The “New Hendrix” Mantle

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Texas-based rock/blues artist Gary Clark Jr. has been making and playing music for quite a while by now. At just 33 years old, he’s played alongside the likes of Eric Clapton, B.B. King, and John Mayer, and has made the rounds on late night show stages as well. He’s by no means an unknown. But he’s probably about to get a little bit more mainstream – which we’ll explain in a bit.

Clark released his first albums in 2004 and 2008, but stepped it up a notch and in some ways made his true professional debut with 2012’s Black and Blu, released under the Warner Bros. label. The album earned some praise, particularly for Clark’s guitar playing, and was actually nominated as Best Contemporary Blues Album at the Blues Music Awards. It provided an interesting mix of rock instrumentals and blues-y lyrics and melodies, and is actually a pretty fascinating listen.

In 2015, Clark followed up Black and Blu with his second Warner Bros. album, and, with a largely similar style, exceeded expectations. The album reached number one on the Billboard blues charts (again, with a heavy dose of rock and a bit of hip-hop and R&B thrown in also also). The album was praised as a highly individual effort, with NPR in particular lauding Clark for stepping outside what would have been an easy mold to fall into. The publication’s review stated that while Clark knew the rules and expectations for a potential blues/classic rock savior, he wouldn’t be following them.

As he’s gained recognition, Clark has been anointed by some as the new Jimi Hendrix, which is a pretty difficult comparison. For one thing, it puts him in elite company to live up to; for another, Hendrix’s music has never really gone anywhere in the 47 years since his death. His songs frequently appear in films, and also featured in an internet game that was released just last year. Apparently, game developer NetEnt was able to reach a mutual agreement with the Hendrix family to use his sounds and likeness to craft the game. It’s things like these that have seemed to keep him generally present like few other artists who have been gone so long.

The idea of a “new Hendrix” is one that’s easy to throw around in general. But more often than not, what we hear is closer to “best guitarist since Hendrix.” It’s a label many have ascribed to Clapton, or even Mayer, in fact. Clark faces a more unique pressure, being referred to as a new iteration of perhaps history’s greatest guitarist, rather than simply being compared to him.

For his part, however, Clark seems to have humbly embraced the mantle, and in the process owned it. Earlier this year, he played at the Monterey International Pop Festival for its 50th anniversary, and was quoted in Rolling Stone talking about the impact of the festival, and Hendrix, on his own music. Clark played a cover of Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun,” and said of the comparisons that he’d soak it up, because he knows that kind of distinction can disappear – and, as he put it, there’s some kid with a guitar out there coming for him.

It’s a pretty impressive outlook for a guy who’s still very young and, one would think, feels a great deal of pressure to live up to his own talent. But it should serve Clark well if and when he becomes even more famous. As to that, we mentioned that he’d be getting more mainstream, and that’s thanks largely to a move that incidentally feels quite Hendrix-y. Clark has done a cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together” that’s being used in trailers for Warner Bros. Justice League movie, and the high-octane take on the old hit has generated some attention online. Hearing him do it, it almost seems like a song Hendrix would eventually have covered – and it’s probably going to amplify Clark’s audience significantly.

Count us among those who will be listening.

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