I’m sitting in one of the spacious, ornate dressing rooms deep within the bowels of the iconic Forum in Inglewood, California. Down the hall in another room, Eric Clapton is gearing up to perform the final night of his four-evening run in the building, a venue he’s returned to numerous times since playing here with Cream at the tail-end of the 1960s. But that’s not who I’m here to talk to. I’m here to pick the brain of one of the great artists of the next generation of musical wizards; the pride of Austin, Texas, Gary Clark Jr., who in a few hours will blow the minds of 18,000 people with his blazing guitar work, and guttural, emotion-packed singing.
Gary Clark Jr. is your favorite guitar player’s favorite guitar player. He’s got four studio albums to his name, the standouts of which are 2012’s Blak And Blu that netted him two Grammy nominations, and 2015’s The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim. He’s put out a pair of incendiary live records, including Live North America 2016 which hit just a few months back. He’s also touting a new single, a cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together” that manages to give the original a run for its money, while blowing the Aerosmith version clean out of the water. Then, there’s his take on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s protest anthem “Ohio,” alongside Jon Baptiste and Leon Bridges that was recently put together for Ken Burns’ series The Vietnam War.
He is also, without a doubt, one of the coolest motherf*ckers you’ll ever meet in your life. Pictures and video don’t do his aura justice. He looks cool, acts cool, plays cool, speaks cool, even stands cool. The actual atmosphere in the room noticeably shifts as soon as he enters it. You can’t help but feel like the lamest person in the world as you shake his hand. That’s not his fault of course. It’s just the way things go.
Sitting diagonally from me on the L-shaped couch, Clark seems open to talking about… whatever. There’s really no subject that he’s ill-equipped to speak on. Blues, rock, hip-hop, soul, film, Austin, sports: The man does it all, and he does it better than you or I could ever hope. This is someone who can go from jamming in the studio with Donald Glover one night, to ripping it up in front of 60,000 people next to Keith Richards the next, then wake up the next day for a session with Alicia Keys, before a meeting of the minds with Tech N9ne. In other words, he might just be the perfect avatar of the genre-less, streaming millennial, to whom the only thing that matters is, “Is it good?” In Clark’s hands, the answer more often than not, is “Hell yes!”