While I have always loved the blues, I tend to enjoy blues from the 1930s to the 1970s. Artist like Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Elmore James and, of course, the legendary Robert Johnson are among my favorites. During the 1960s, English bands such as the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, and the Spencer Davis Group were all respectful of the masters and rarely strayed from the original format. Jimi Hendrix, on the other hand, took traditional blues and added a psychedelic spin on it.
Today blues, for the most part, isn’t really “blues” at all, and I can count on one hand which bands are truly playing in the style of the traditional masters. Gary Clark, Jr. is one such artist who pays respect to the past, but also takes the genre to a new level as he introduces the blues to a new generation.
While his self released debut went unnoticed, it caught the eye of indie label, Hotwire Unlimited on which Clark released two albums. In 2012 the guitar slinger signed with Warner Bros. and recorded Blak and Blu. The record made Clark a star as he appeared on several TV specials, took part in an array of blues festivals, and became the go-to guy as the Rolling Stones’ opening act. His latest, Gary Clark, Jr. Live, is a testament to what a dynamic performer he is.
The album opens with the classic “Catfish Blues.” The obscure song was first recorded in 1941 by Robert Petway and proved to be the inspiration for Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone.” In addition, it was covered by B.B. King, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker and Jimi Hendrix. Clark then slides into the slow blues track “Next Door Neighbor Blues” from his fourth record without breaking a sweat.
Blak and Blu is well represented as Clark delivers versions of “Travis County,” “When My Train Pulls In,” “Numb,” Bright Lights” and the title track. He pays respect to the legendary B.B. King with a rousing version of the Lowell Fulson penned “Three O’Clock Blues.” Clark turns his attention to the master of the telecaster, Albert Collins with a fresh rendition of “If Trouble Was Money.” He summons Jimi Hendrix’s spirit as he tears through the instrumental, “Third Stone from the Sun,” before launching into another Collins’ classic “If You Love Me Like You Say.” The end of the album comes too quick as he slows things down to a crawl on “When the Sun Goes Down.”
All in all, an impressive outing for Clark as he pays respect to the past, but also shines as a songwriter. Besides, blues always sounds better in front of an audience.