Gary Clark Jr. (IMPACT Series)

The epitome of blues, rock and soul.

Welcome to the IMPACT series where I dissect notable and iconic sequences from games and movies, and how they broadened my mind and left a lasting impression on me, years to come. 

Blak and Blu … this is The Story of Sonny Boy Slim.

The Backdrop.

With so much music being made nowadays, it is easy for us to let talented musicians fly under the radar.

I discovered Gary Clark Jr. the same way I discovered most of my musical taste … through Rockstar Games, the record label masquerading as a multi-million dollar game company that has produced masterpiece upon masterpiece.

I found it incredible that for such a short cut-scene in Max Payne 3, they managed to get the license of Bright Lights by Gary Clark Jr. All just to provide incredible atmosphere to the New Jersey bar that Max found himself slumped in.

I grew obsessed with the song and then artist soon after. I devoured his album, Blak and Blu and grew to appreciate his incredible guitar skills. The way how Clark Jr. seamlessly transition between blues and rock still floors me to this day.

So when I heard his next album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim was coming out, I immediately pre-ordered and got myself a shirt.

There were even plans to see him live in Melbourne. But unfortunately I was strapped for cash so instead I just dedicated a weekend listening to his albums over and over again.

I get a Hendrix vibe from him and while he may not reach the heights of Jimi, he’s damn close and I’ll settle for that any day of the week.

Make no mistake though, this guy from Austin Texas sounds even better live and he is one of the few artists where I actually download the Live albums.

Shredding it like no one else can. Just listen to one of his live renditions. The guitar solos are always worth sticking around for, not to mention the heavy vocal skills on display.

The Impact.

One of my favourite things about Gary Clark Jr. is that the man is raw. Raw talent. Raw emotions. Raw performances. There is a roughness to his playing style that makes it compelling listening. He is insanely talented and skilled at manipulating a guitar, but it is the combination of his vocals and the actual meaning behind his lyrics that make him the real deal.

There is a folklore quality to his songs that inspired me to actually start revisiting other famous guitarists with a message to scream into a microphone.

It also made me realise just how difficult it is to create a niche for yourself in the over-saturated world of blues and rock. Often times you find talent copying other famous musicians, or people who can hold a tune, but can’t string a guitar or vice versa.

Gary Clark Jr’s raw style and folklore style to his lyrics make him a unique voice in American music.

There is a road quality to his soundscapes, where you might be passing by a bar on the street and suddenly you hear this wail of a guitar.

You stop, pay your entrance fee and forget whatever plans you might have had for the night, because talent this good doesn’t come by often.

That’s the effect Gary Clark Jr. has on me. He made me sit up, notice and hum his songs for days after. His voice can soar above his guitar, and somehow go low enough to meld beautifully as well.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it …. he made me want to wear beanies, and hang a guitar over my shoulder. Unfortunately I grew up playing piano and so I’m stuck with only wearing beanies.

The Enrichment.

Gary Clark Jr. opened my eyes to a lot of things beyond his amazing skill and killer album Blak and Blu.

Firstly, I appreciated that he was an early proponent of Indigenous Australian issues, when he toured Australia. The Aborigine flag was highly prominent across his chest as he jammed out his tunes and it seemed the issues they faced, were echoed in his latest album, This Land.

The album was inspired by a encounter he had when buying his ranch in Texas and it prompted one of his best songs yet, with an incredible opening that was as unique as it was impactful.

Warbles, guitar riffs and an angry, indignant voice combined together to create an absolute banger of a song to headline his latest album.

Beyond his obvious championship of Indigenous rights, an issue no doubt brought about his lovely Australian wife, Gary Clark Jr. also tackled social issues in most of his songs.

There is righteous anger in This Land, mythical wistfulness in The Story of Sonny Boy Slim and just pure nostalgia for a rugged Americana in Blak and Blu. His music videos are always well informed and tackling something crucial in society.

Well … perhaps his Justice League MV leaves a lot to be desired but … at least the lyrics are killer.

But the real enrichment Gary Clark Jr. provides for me is an angry atmosphere to wrap myself into. My favourite three songs of his, all make me feel a certain way that just can’t be captured by other artists.

His song, Numb is this hard-edged melody that makes me feel comforted in knowing that I am not the only male out there that loves his woman, but can also be incredibly frustrated by her. The slow, burning energy of the guitar is what sells this song.

Yeah I know … Yeah woman, I can’t feel the same.

Then it is When My Train Pulls In makes me want to run away with her again. The folklore style of the lyrics and wistfulness of his guitar make me romantic. Let’s escape across the road and put our worries behind is the vibe I get from this song. I want to, I want to so badly, but I can’t and that’s why this love is doomed.

I’ll be ready now … I’ll be ready when my train pulls in.

The best song for last is of course Bright Lights where it makes me feel like I am in the same bar as Max Payne, nursing a drink, agonizing over regrets and desperate to chase away the hangover with something even stronger. I’m angry, alone and desperate. I’m willing to do anything to make my pain go away, but nothing is coming, so I’m getting angrier.

Bright lights, big city going to my head

I’ve bought all his albums. That’s a rare statement from a guy like me who is as cheap as it gets when it comes to free methods of downloading on the internet.

The Culmination.

If trouble was money baby …. I swear I’d be a millionaire …

If worries was dollar bills …. I’d buy the whole world and have money to spare.

Gary Clark Jr. remains one of my all time favourite musicians. His guitar skills are unbelievable and there is just a hell of a lot of emotions in his singing.

He’s a born live performer, not a man to be cooped up in a studio.

There is weight to his songs, a real strong sentiment of a man that can’t be tamed and lives on only through his music.

In a lot of ways, Gary Clark Jr. represents to me the ideal musician. A man with raw unmatched talent, the fire within to speak about anything he damn well please and he let his skills do all the talking.

He carry the kindred spirit of guitar legends on his shoulders and it has served him well.

Even now, when I listen to his stuff, I get transported to another space, a place where I am devoured by some strange passions and at the mercy of whims.

And that is a gift that not many musicians can conjure up within me.

Just watch him shred

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