This musical prodigy’s resume is already well renowned, and the numerous accolades he’s received thus far explain why he shares the stage with legends. But that stage is not exclusive to music—he has also succeeded in crossing over into acting with Hollywood big timers.
Growing up in Austin, Texas, Gary Clark, Jr. gained exposure to a wide range of musical influences: from heavy doses of Earth, Wind and Fire on family road trips and his parents’ Motown albums to bands such as Nirvana. As a self-taught guitarist from the age of twelve, Gary developed as a player by checking out guitar books from the library, and watching Austin City Limits recordings that he taped on VHS. His interest in playing the guitar and blues was partly sparked by Eve Monsees, his neighbor and childhood friend, and by their mid-teens the two started playing their first gigs together at Babe’s Bar and Grill in Austin.
In 2001, when Gary was just seventeen-years-old, the Live Music Capital of the World proclaimed May 3rd Gary Clark, Jr. Day. His first monumental musical success occurred the year before, when he took first place in the Houston Blues Society Blues Challenge. This honor earned his band an invitation to play at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee later that year. However, music wasn’t all that occupied Gary’s time. He also played sports in high school; although, as one would imagine, embarking on a successful music career at such a young age interfered with extracurricular activities. As a high school basketball player, his practice appearances waned due to the gigs he continued to pick up around town, leading to his lifestyle as a full-time musician.
Gary has released three records with a fourth set to debut later this year. All of the music and lyrics of the first two, Worry No More in 2002 and 110 in 2004, were written by him. The third album, Tribute, pays respect and adds his own flavor to some classic blues tunes. In addition to music, he has also dabbled in film, writing the score for the Jason Wiles film Lenexa 1 Mile, and starring with Danny Glover in 2007 as Sonny in Honeydipper, written by John Sayles. Gary’s only prior acting experience was being selected at a blind audition to play Prince Charming in eighth grade. (Not a bad start.) He’s interested in more film projects down the line, and dreams of working with other greats, namely Samuel Jackson, Bill Murray, Jamie Foxx, and maybe even have a Western one-liner, drag-out fight with Clint Eastwood.
Since 2004, Gary has received five Austin Music Awards, including Austin’s Best Blues Musician; Best Blues Band; Best Blues Artist; and this past year he racked up two—Best Blues Musician and Best Electric Guitarist. Oh, and remember, he’s still in his twenties. That kind of recognition leads to playing on stage with greats such as Pinetop Perkins and Jimmie Vaughn. An honorable way of passage that few budding musicians could seriously dream about, much less live out.
This Friday, April 24, the list of greats Gary shares the bill with continues on, when he opens up for the legendary Etta James, who’ll be backed up by The Roots, a band famous for their live performances. If you can’t make it to the show, make sure to be on the lookout for his fourth record. It’s going to deliver some new sounds to his repertoire that he’s having fun experimenting with. I know this because he was kind enough to play a few potential tracks for me in my garage, over a Shiner Bock beer.