At Coachella 2016, Clark plays the guitar that started his collecting kick: a 1961 reissue Gibson SG with a vibrola tailpiece. Besides his Gibsons and Epiphones, he’s also appeared more recently brandishing a white Stratocaster.
Photo by Debi Del Grande
You tour with a second guitarist, but do you play all the guitar parts on the record?
Yes I do. I played all the parts on the record.
How do you divvy them up when you hit the road?
We listen to them and we both learn both parts, each of us, and then we figure out what serves each other better: If I’m singing, if it’s better for me to sing this part and play. It’s really not that big of a deal.
Do you discuss ways to distinguish tones? Like, he’ll play a Strat if you’re using a Gibson?
No, [Eric] Zapata, he’s got a pretty dialed-in tone. He can get whatever he wants out of his gear. Me, it’s a little bit different, if I’m going for an old-school bluesy type of sound or a rockin’ thing like “Pearl Cadillac,” or an SG or a Flying V or something. It’s on me to balance out the guitar tone.
When you lay down your solos in the studio, do you do just a few passes and that’s it?
I can only give a guitar solo a few passes before I start thinking about it, and then the technical execution becomes more of a focus than the feeling and the emotion—actually playing and being loose. So I’ll give it three or four, and then I’ll just let it be what it is.
Do you cobble stuff together in Pro Tools to craft the perfect solo?
I’m not going to lie. I’ve taken the first chunk of one and slapped it onto the end of another. But for the most part, I try to keep it all one thing. I can tell in post if it’s broken up. I’m like, “I wouldn’t do that normally.”
Do you stand in the control room when you record your solos?
I stood in the control room for a few of these things. I was using a César Diaz 100 watt and turned it all the way up. I like to hear, so for the sake of my hearing, I got out of the room.
What else did you use?
I used that one and I used a normal Fender Vibro-King. I didn’t stray too far from home.
You don’t have a closet of vintage gear back home?
I’m not really a crazy vintage collector guy. I’ve had maybe three amps that I’ve bought. I’ve had some nice gifts and stuff, but no, I’m not really that curious.
Do you use the amp’s reverb?
I did, but sometimes we play these stages and they’re really boomy and shake around. You hear that reverb tank bashing around. It’s been a little bit distracting in some low-down, minor blues, intimate moments. You just hear schcrang!
You played on Tom Morello’s recent solo album. He told us that you just showed up and jammed for a few hours, and then he cut it into pieces.
[Laughs.] Yeah man, it was awesome. I showed up to the studio, the whole crew was there, it was cool. You know his mother goes with him everywhere. She was hanging out. It was sweet. It was like being in a garage band again as a teenager. It was funny. I was a little bit intimidated, because he was like, “Hey can you come and play on my record?” I was like, “What can I do that you can’t do?” But it was cool. We just threw some ideas back and forth and the way that he slipped them into the album really blew my mind, because I didn’t know what he was thinking. I didn’t know what his vision was. To see it go from where we started to where it ended up was, like, the dude is onto something. That album is amazing. He’s a cool guy, too, man. It was fun.
It’s very different from his other stuff.
That’s what I liked about it. I really loved that he’s not scared to take chances and try other things. It was badass.
You’ve met most of your heroes who are still alive. Some of them were probably playing guitar from before your parents were born. They must have wisdom and war stories oozing out of them. What are some things you’ve learned? Anything you can share?For the most part, it’s been pretty cool: Be yourself; you’ve gotta find your own voice. If you’re going to be in this, you’ve gotta know what the history is. It’s important to know the history—so they give me lessons. Gave me records to listen to and references to check out. But one that really stood out to me was when I first went out with Jimmie Vaughan. We were out in San Francisco—I think we were playing at Slim’s—and I was backstage. Me and the band were acting up, and I was cutting up, and I was a little bit underage. I was sipping on a little bit of whiskey, and Jimmie Vaughan just comes up to me with a bottle of water. He just points at it and looks at me dead in the eye, turns around, and walks away. That was it.
Gary Clark Jr.’s stylistic blend—in this case, a little reggae, some nasty-ass rock, and blues—comes across in the title track to his new album, “This Land,” which also resonates within the current cultural climate. Clark’s got his three-pickup SG on this February 17 Saturday Night Live performance, and he and his band’s second guitarist, Eric Zapata, share gristle-toned interplay.