Gary Clark Jr: ‘I spent time in Keith Richards’ dressing room, eating shepherd’s pie’

The Atlanta bluesman, who has a new song on the soundtrack of Deepwater Horizon, has played with the best but there was one band who intimidated him

One of musics pre-eminent guitarists, Gary Clark Jr has gone from a teenage wunderkind from Austin, Texas, to a Grammy-winning star with five studio albums under his belt and a grueling touring schedule. On the verge of releasing a trove of fresh material, the first of which is the new song Take Me Down for the Gulf coast oil spill drama Deepwater Horizon, Clark discusses how Take Me Down could pave a possible path to an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) and what its like hanging out with the Rolling Stones.

Youve jammed with so many musicians over the years. Who has been the most fun to play with?

(Laughs) Im gonna have to say the Foo Fighters, just because those guys have so much fun. They have this nonstop energy and theyre cool, yet goofy and silly. Theres no ego or attitude, its just a very open and comfortable environment. Monkey Wrench was one of the first I learned how to play, reading tablature in Guitar World magazine. I feel like Ive known them for a long time and its like were jamming in a garage as teenagers, and I dont get that feeling a lot. A lot of the time Im too nervous or have a fear of messing up or hitting a wrong note or whatever, but with those guys its just loud, wild rocknroll.

You also opened up for the Rolling Stones last year on their tour. What were they like?

That was one of the ones I was more nervous about. It was kind of the same vibe as hanging with the Foo Fighters and them being just cool people. But those guys are super legends, theyre the biggest band in the world.

That must be like playing with Mount Rushmore or something.

Pretty much! (Laughs) We got to hang and I spent a lot of time in Keith (Richards) dressing room eating shepherds pie and listening to Howling Wolf records, which was kind of surreal. I was saying to myself: Dude, just be cool, be cool, be cool, be cool. He was like: Yeah, were from the same school, mate. Were like brothers. Im like, ho-ly shit. I walk out of that room and was thinking, I can not believe that just happened. Ive had some great, crazy experiences and have gotten the chance to jam with some of the biggest artists in the world, so every day Im just grateful. I get up every morning and grind and strive to be something like that.

It seems like youre always touring. Is it a perpetual thing?

It kind of never ends. I get a few days here and there to deal with other things, then its back out on the road.

Do you actually get to see the sights of a city?

Its tour bus, venue, hotel, tour bus. You can slowly piece the city together every time you come and get the vibe. Perfect example: the ultimate destination spot for everybody is Rome. When we went, we didnt see anything except this venue which is an old horse track, the Sheraton hotel, and the European tourbus I cant stand up properly in because its a double-decker and Im 6ft4in. That was my Roman experience.

How did your involvement in the Deepwater Horizon movie come about?

Me and (director) Peter Berg have been on each others radar for a few years. Peter shot the movie over to me and asked if I can do something with it and I said definitely. Seeing the movie made it all make sense. After the melody, the lyrics started flowing. The stars just kind of aligned. I like the song and I think the movie is really great. Its a really touching story. I think itll hit home with a lot of people and open their eyes to something that they may not know that much about.

I was thinking how a song like this is perfect Oscar bait. Have you thought about that?

Yeah, Ive heard talks about it. I try not to get myself to excited, but Im not going to lie that would be definitely cool.

Youd be on your way to an EGOT.

(Laughs) Yeah, I know. I talk to my manager about it and hes not really impressed with anything. Hes like: A Grammys cool, bro, but you gotta get that EGOT. Im like: Youre gonna put that pressure on me? Whatever, man.

That means you gotta hit Broadway too, I guess.

Hey, well you know what? All that time in choir, dancing around, and doing plays that all my guys used to give me a hard time for, maybe itll all pay off one day. (Laughs)

Your son Zion was born last year. Has he inspired any songs yet?

He kind of forced me to look in a mirror and figure out what I want to do, how hard I want to work, and how deep I can go. How vulnerable can I be as an artist? Im starting to write songs and let things go, with the intention of teaching him not to be scared and be your own self. He inspired my last album, [last years] The Story of Sonny Boy Slim. Songs like Star or Wings were definitely inspired by the thought of him being a part of this world and me being responsible for another human being. He definitely played a part in it and theres more to come.

You have some new stuff coming out soon?

Im working on releasing another live album because those are just fun. And Im working on another record, and other projects as well. Ive been working with other artists and experimenting. Im cooking up right now.

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