GRAMMY™ winner debuts his Epiphone Ltd. Ed. Blak & Blu Casino
Gary Clark Jr.'s major label debut for Warner Brothers, Blak and Blu, earned him a GRAMMY and both fans and critics are anxious for his follow-up studio album coming later this year. Clark's cool rhythm-centered style and total disregard for pop music clichés has made him a favorite of artists from every genre including Alicia Keys, Eric Clapton, and The Rolling Stones. Clark fearlessly plays whatever inspires him. (Clark's signature cover of "Catfish Blues," has its roots in both country and blues).
From the start, Clark's constant companion on stage has been an Epiphone Casino. And now, Epiphone proudly introduces the Ltd. Ed. Gary Clark Jr. "Blak & Blu" Casino, Clark's first ever signature guitar. We first met Gary in New York City during Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival. At the time, Clark had just received samples of his new signature model, the "Blak & Blu" Casino ("this is incredible") and used it for the show. And ever since, fans have been clamoring Epiphone (and Clark) for news on when the guitar would officially be released. This spring, Epiphone will release not one but two Gary Clark Jr. Blak & Blue Casinos--one with a trapeze tailpiece and the other with a Bigsby®. Clark, who became a new Dad earlier this spring, took some time away from his recording studio in Austin, Texas to talk about what's happening.
It's great to speak with you again, Gary. How is the new record coming along?
It's going great. I'm trying to figure it out. It sounds good to me. We'll see what happens.
Did you bring your band in for the sessions?
Not really. I'm doing most of it by myself. I brought in the guys to jam a little bit but I'm keeping this thing pretty close to me. And I think I've already told you too much so don't tell anybody (laughs). I'm just messing with you.
How do you go about putting together an album where you play all the instruments?
Well, for me, my whole process has been doing everything myself. In the past, I've had these little A and B karaoke machines where I track parts onto cassette A, put another part onto B, and go back and forth stacking things on different tapes to get ideas out.
Now I'm doing that on a bigger scale, now that I have the time to do it. And folks are being patient and cool enough to let me just kind of figure out my thing in a studio setting as opposed to demos at the house, you know what I mean? So, I'm throwing it all out there. I'm able to get different sounds out and really experiment. And the thing with communicating with other people is, I'm not necessarily the best at expressing that musically. I just kind of feel it. In the studio, I'm able to do things the way I feel them and hear them to see how it translates and then go from there.
When we last spoke right before the Crossroads concert...
That was so much fun...
You've been on the road and in the press constantly. Is it a relief to be in the studio?
It's really nice. I never quit writing but I'm one of those people... I can't do it on the road. I'm either in one place or the other. So to get this time to be in the studio and get all of these ideas out and kind of be weird and just be focused and figure it out is a nice relief and release from things.
A lot of the hype in the press seems to want to box you into being a blues guitar hero.
Yeah, I just kind of keep my eyes closed and just roll with it. I try not to get too caught up in what's being said--what's going on out there--or I might freak myself out. I just kind of do my thing and do my shows and make my records and kind of keep to myself and try not to get too caught up in the hype that comes with my name. I'm just the same dude that was doing what I did before. I'm just trying to keep it cool.
Early Days in Texas
Clark began performing as a teenager in Austin, Texas and quickly got the attention of Clifford Antone, owner of Austin's beloved Antone's club who also famously helped Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan begin their professional careers. With help from Clifford and enthusiasm from Jimmie Vaughan and many others, Clark (who is self-taught) worked on his chops, paid his dues in clubs, radio shows, and tours, and within 10 years was asked to perform his first Crossroads Guitar Festival.
"I was about 14 or 15 when I started out playing in the clubs. I had been playing for a couple of years," recalled Clark. "They (Clark and Austin colleague and friend Eve Monsees) let us up because we were young kids. Our skill level wasn't quite where it needed to be. But they were so generous. I'll admit that. Those were good times. The thing that I noticed that's changed is the guys who kind of brought me up are gone away so that's a little rough to deal with."
When we first spoke, you were living in New York City. Now you're back in Austin. Does it feel good to be back in Texas?
It's good. It's where I'm from so it feels familiar. It feels comfortable. I'm just hanging out, checking out the Austin music scene. Catching up with people I haven't seen in a while.
Do you plan to stay?
I'll be there for a little while. I'm not leaving for the next few months--at least finish the album.
And you're engaged...
Thank you sir.
And you're a Dad, congratulations!
Thank you. Yeah... I'm gonna stay here for a little while with my girl and my little one and just enjoy that for awhile.
And now you've got your own signature Ltd. Ed. Epiphone "Blak & Blu" Casino, named after your debut on Warner Brothers. Where did the title come from?
It's kind of an idea I had in my head that would be a good title for a record. And I didn't put this together until later that The Rolling Stones had an album called Black and Blue. So I put it out and someone said 'what do you think about this?' and I thought oh gosh (laughs) that's cool. But you can take it just literally for what it is or what it isn't. It's just Blak & Blu--here's an introduction to myself. Here I am.
I've seen you on stage with a few other guitars but mostly Casinos. Do you own a lot of guitars--do you look for them on the road?
I'm not really instrument crazy. For somebody who has a lot of instruments, I've been very fortunate that people have laid these nice gifts upon me.
Was the Casino always your main electric instrument?
I pretty much knew from day one that I needed a few things for my arsenal. The Epiphone Casino is the one that always stood out. I'd always go out and pick one of those in a store when I would go Strait music or Ray Hennigs Heart of Texas Music down here in Austin. It always stood out but I never had the money to get one.
And then finally I scrapped up some change and got one and the Casino changed my life. I knew that was what I needed to have. I had my eyes on it before I even really got familiar with it. And it just kind of stuck. I'm good with that. It's cool to have a Blak & Blu guitar, do you know what I mean? To have the guitar I've always wanted and to be able to customize it--"what if it was this color?"--it's surreal to see it all happen.
I didn't put anything extra on it. I like things as-is, you know? Whatever it is right off-the-shelf. The paint job to me was everything. I could have painted it myself but I went, the professional route and let the guys who made it do the painting (laughs). Everything is pretty much as it would be. To be honest, I loved the original prototype. Maybe I need to step out of the studio and see what's going on.
Are you using it in the studio?
I've been using my '68 Casino in the studio mostly but that just happens to be where I am at the moment. But I play the Blak & Blu on stage a lot.
What have you been listening to when you're not in the studio?
Prince, Curtis Mayfield, things like that. I'm trying to become more disciplined as a rhythm guitarist. So I've been listening to that for grooves. As far as new stuff I like that Benjamin Booker guy. I like his energy and the things he's doing. As far as inspiration goes, I'm just listening to local guitarists for tone. These guys in Austin are crazy tone freaks. So Alan Haynes, Josh Perdue, Mike Keller, guys like that.
So you've been going to the clubs a bit?
Yeah. Just a few nights. I've been in the studio all night, every night. Johnny Moeller is one of my favorites, too. I've been kind of stealing stuff from him. That's about it. I'm kind of in my own world, in a bubble. I've mostly been in the studio here in Austin, listening to myself trying to figure myself out.
Well, we can't wait to hear what you're working on. Thanks again for choosing Epiphone. Your "Blak & Blu" Casino already has a lot of fans.
Thank you! I absolutely love these guitars. I like putting them on stands and chairs and just looking at them. Thanks for everything.
A Closer Look at the Gary Clark Jr. "Blak & Blu" Casino: