Clark playing a sunburst version of his favorite guitar, the Epiphone Casino, on
“Please Come Home” at Lollapalooza 2012 in Chicago’s Grant Park. Photo by
These days you’ve got a pretty
killer band behind you when
you’re on the road—Eric Zapata
[guitar], Johnny Bradley [bass],
and Johnny Radelat [drums]—
but in a way you’ve also been
your own band, right?
That started when I moved out
of my parents’ house and got my
own apartment. Instead of buying
furniture, I bought drums
and an 8-track recorder and keyboards
musical, that’s what I wanted.
I just started collecting instruments.
I had two roommates
who were going to college, so
they would go to school all day
and I would sit there and bang
around. And right around when
I was 19, I started to get really
familiar with what was going on
in my head, and then hearing it
back on tape, and trying to lay
that down and translate it. It all
started to make sense then.
When did you first feel like
you were getting your own
sound together and doing your
own thing as a guitar player?
It’s definitely an ongoing process,
but I think when I was around
20 or so is when it really started
coming together. I was recording
my own stuff outside of the blues
“genre,” I guess. That’s when I
quit covering T-Bone Walker
and Freddie King and all that. I
strayed away from straight-ahead
blues for a while, and started
getting into people like Shuggie
Otis and Cody Chesnutt. [Otis’]
Inspiration Information changed
my whole perspective on what
you could do with the guitar.
That whole psychedelic thing was
funky and raw, cool and soulful,
and just very outside the box.
It comes from Curtis
Mayfield too, definitely, but
basically it got to the point
where I said, “Okay, I can get
through fine on lead, so let’s
play some rhythm guitar now,”
you know? You can play a lead
for 25 minutes, but it’s a different
thing to get that timing and
tone and feel and groove going.
So it’s an ongoing process.
What was your first guitar?
It was an Ibanez RX20. It has
two humbuckers, black with
the white pickguard, and a
maple neck. I wanted the “Little
Wing” tone right away. I didn’t
understand why, and, of course,
a little bit later I was like, “Well,
you need a Stratocaster.” I got
one eventually and I still have
it—it’s actually an American
Squier. This guy came to a show
at Joe’s Generic Bar down on
Sixth Street in Austin. I was
maybe 15, and he says, “I’m
gonna send you something—
give me your address.” And
sure enough he sends me this
American Squier Strat! I think
it’s an ’89 or a ’90, whenever
they were making them here.
Funny you should mention
“Little Wing,” because of its
connection to Jimi Hendrix
and Stevie Ray Vaughan. How
did you first discover them?
Well, a friend of mine down the
street heard that I was playing
guitar, and one day he was like,
“Check this out,” and he gave me
The Ultimate Experience CD. It’s
the green and purple one with
Jimi on the cover, and he’s standing
there with a cool military
jacket and scarf—really trippedout.
So I got back home and put
it on the headphones first, and
that changed everything. I’d never
heard anything like that really.
It was crazy. He definitely takes
you to a different place mentally.
I’d never heard sounds or lyrics
or chords like that before—the
tension, the resolution, the
mind-bending—from the first
few songs, it completely flipped a
switch. I felt like I’d been missing
something for a long time.
And along with that Hendrix
CD, I got Texas Flood the same
day. I mean, you can’t really
play anywhere in Austin without
Stevie Ray Vaughan being
part of the conversation. He’s
just so major. You can’t pick up
a guitar as a kid in Austin and
not know his music—at least, I
think that. If it’s not that way,
it should be. He’s so influential.
Stevie and his brother Jimmie,
and Derek O’Brien, too—the
list goes on. When you’re in
Austin, these are the people
whose music you have to know.
Gary Clark Jr. sat in with several artists at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in
2010, including with the man himself, Mr. Eric Clapton. Photo by Chris Kies
What was it about Jimi’s
“Third Stone from the Sun” in
particular that pulled you in?
I was just drawn into it—the spoken
dialogue, the sound effects,
the slap-back delay, and the whole
spaceship-landing thing. It was
one of the coolest things I’d ever
heard in my life, so it always
stuck with me. Playing it just
came from us jamming around
town—I think it was Jay Moeller
[drums] and James Bullard
[bass] with me at the time. I’d
just go into something and they
followed, and over the years it
turned into what we do now.
And, in fact, a lot of the way
we play is based on just seeing
how things go. That’s always
been a fun way to experiment,
and onstage you get that energy
sometimes. It can be really
great, or sometimes people look
at you like, “What the hell are
you doing?” And that’s how you
know. That’s how I started to
engage with what’s really going
on out there. Years and years of
trial and error have gotten us to
where we are at this point.
How did you first get hold of
the Epiphone Casino?
I was guitar shopping with my
friend [Eric] Zapata, who plays
guitar in the band. I think I just
really wanted a hollowbody. And
I like the P-90s—the sound and
the look of them—so I just came
to the conclusion that I wanted
a Casino. We rode around town
and ended up at this spot, and I
was looking at the natural ones.
Zapata said, “Try the red one!”
and I was like, “No man—that’s
a bit bold, don’t you think?” And
he was like, “Just try it, man—
that’s the one!” Sure enough I
plugged it in, A/B’d them—the
natural and the cherry red—and
the cherry was just screaming at
me like, “You know I’m the shit.
I’m the one!” When I got back
to the house and plugged it into
my rig, it was like I’d just been
waiting for that sound.
What is it about the tone of
those P-90s that really packs
Well, you can flip it on the
neck and it’s dark, round, and
bold. It’s really slick and sexy if
you want to go there, and you
can get that treble in the bridge
if you want a bite. The range
is just so broad. It’s the most
versatile axe I’ve ever picked
up, and it’s light, so it won’t
break my back. And it might be
annoying at points, but I love
how it feeds back when you
crank it up. It’s also fun to sit
there unplugged and just play. It
has a great tone and resonance.
Are there players who have
played that particular guitar
that may have inspired you to
pick it up? Didn’t Otis Rush
play a Casino, for example?
Yeah, and I think he also played
the Epiphone Riviera. Have you
ever seen the American Folk
Blues Festival footage? He plays
“I Can’t Quit You Baby”—just
some lowdown blues on the
Epiphone. That’s so sick. I think
I want one of those. And later
on, you know, the Beatles recorded
with the Casino. They made
some okay records too [laughs].
But also I just like the look of it.
It’s just a beauty to look at.
What’s your main amp
Lately I’ve been using a Fender
Vibro-King. Zapata gave me my
first one, and he’s the one who
got me to jump in with both
feet on the whole hollowbody
thing, so a lot of that’s from him.
There’s just something about the
three speakers in the Vibro-King
that got me. It breaks up just
enough at the right volume. It’s
crunchy but it can be real sweet
to you, and the reverb on it is
killer—the vibrato, too.
You’ve got a few pedals in
your arsenal, too.
I’ve got a Fulltone Octafuzz and
a Real McCoy wah-wah, and
I’ve got a couple of Analog Man
pedals—an Astro Tone Fuzz
and their new [ARDX20] delay.
Zapata kind of snuck that one
on my rig. It has the expression
pedal, too, so you can adjust
the time of the sweep. I think
those options can help express
certain feelings and certain
attitudes, and I’m always looking
for new ways to do that. It’s
exciting because there’s so much
out there that I don’t even
know about—the whole thing’s
What was it like working
with Mike Elizondo and Rob
Cavallo on Blak and Blu?
It’s been very new to me. Rob’s
got the aggressive, loud, harder
sounds on the album. “Numb”
was actually with Mike, but
on “Bright Lights,” that was
with Rob. And he’s all about
guitars—loud and fast. When
it comes to Mike, he can really
relate on grooves and textures—
soulful R&B stuff. He’s got that
from playing bass with Dr. Dre.
So he had an understanding
of where I come from, but it
was broad and diverse, as far as
points of view were concerned.
Our heads were all in it together.
I learned a lot from making
this record, and I had to let go
of a lot of stuff, too.
For the basic tracks on
“Numb,” you and Mike and
J.J. Johnson all played together
live as a power trio, right?
Yeah. We were all in the room
at Can-Am [Studios] in Tarzana
[California]. It was great. Mike
has everything—Pro Reverbs,
AC30s, Marshalls—he had all
kinds of amps. I think there
were two or three fuzz pedals on
that song, too. Mike was on his
hands and knees like, “Check
this one out! Check that out!”
But I’ve really gotta give it up
to him. I don’t think I really
knew that he was so into guitar
tones. It was definitely like
being a bunch of little kids putting
Gary Clark Jr.'s Gear
Real McCoy wah-wah,
Analog Man Astro
Tone Fuzz, Analog Man
ARDX20 delay, Prescription
Experience pedal (on
So who are you listening to now?
Otis Redding, Parliament—actually
I just got this Eddie Hazel
record yesterday. I haven’t really
explored Eddie Hazel as I should,
but from what I’ve heard so far,
he’s just doing some fierce, powerful,
psychedelic guitar playing.
It’s some funky-heavy blues—I
mean, my dad played that stuff
all the time. But I’m doing a
little research on him, so I’ll get
back to you on that.
I’ve been listening to stuff
that’s all over the place though.
I mean, I’ve been riding around
in a van for a few months with
a bunch of dudes, so we’ll put
on anything from hip-hop stuff
to Little Dragon to Radiohead
to Bob Marley and the Wailers,
Nina Simone—a lot of different
things, man. With all the music,
I’m just trying to soak it up and
let it go. I try not to think about
it too much, and just let it happen
and have fun, you know?