It was the evils of racism which prompted Gary Clark Jr to write This Land.
The title-track from his Billboard 200 top ten latest album, a question from a neighbour about the ownership of the superb 50-acre ranch in Kyle, Texas, he had recently purchased was effectively the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“I was asked who owned my house and who lived there,” Gary explained. “I was a black man so it was like it couldn’t possibly be me.
“Maybe it wasn’t racial but, in my mind, that’s what I was thinking. It was towards the end of 2017 so you know what was happening around that time, black people being shot by the police. Getting asked who owned my house created a kind of fire in me.
“I grew up black in Austin, Texas. People would write bad words on the fence outside my parents’ house. We’d get dog dirt in the mail box. People would ride around in trucks waving Confederate flags. We’d get these flags over our fence. These things happened regularly.
“I was angry at what happened. I’m still angry. It makes me emotional to think about these things and I’m tired of having to think that way. That’s why being questioned about my house hit home so much. I was a young, successful black man. I wanted to get myself some property and live the kind of life I’ve always wanted. No-one was going to deny me the right to that.”
This Land was inspired by the Woody Guthrie folk classic, This Land Is Your Land.
“Woody Guthrie’s song is one of the first we learn as children and we all sing it together. It’s like the Pledge of Allegiance. When you’re kids, everybody is together. You don’t see differences until you get older and you’re influenced by older people to think about other people in a different way. I wish we could get back to singing Woody Guthrie’s song like we were kids again.”
Now 35, Gary is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He started playing guitar at the age of 12 and became so proficient that he is frequently compared with legendary guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. His musical output is a hybrid mix of blues, soul, R&B, rock and hip hop.
Gary began playing at small venues around Austin in his teens. He so impressed Clifford Antone, owner of the renowned Antone’s blues club, that Gary was immediately invited to perform there. These gigs at Antone’s, which Gary now co-owns, effectively launched his career.
Although he did not sign to the Warner Bros. major label until 2010, Gary’s early years saw him release albums and EPs on the small, independent Hotwire Unlimited label. These recordings, allied to dynamic live performances, got him noticed.
This recognition was not confined to music circles. Gary played the role of young hot shot guitarist Sonny Blake in the 2007 movie. Honeydripper.
“I struggled on set for the first day or so. I’d never been an actor and I wasn’t sure how to be an actor. I felt very uncomfortable; I was stuck in my ways. But I learned to let myself go and actually loved the film-making process. It taught me to just be in the moment and I’ve applied that to my everyday work in music.” His songs have sound-tracked numerous movies and TV shows. He has even appeared as part of a performing band. But despite Gary’s positive comments about acting, he has never accepted another dramatic role.
Yet concentrating on music certainly seems to have been the right choice. His high regard within the music industry has seen Gary in demand to perform with a wide variety of artistes. These range from Alicia Keys to the Foo Fighters and Childish Gambino to the Dave Matthews Band.
Since signing with Warner Bros., Gary’s three albums have all reached the top ten on the Billboard 200. He has also won the Best Traditional R&B Performance Grammy for Please Come Home, a track from his first Warners album, Blak and Blu.
“The success and fame is nice. I sometimes get to hang out with people I really admire, which is pretty cool. But I also get the opportunity to do genuinely meaningful things. I’m very proud of my work as an Ambassador with Music Unites. This is a nonprofit charity which supports music education throughout the world.”
Gary is also a proud and loving family man. He is married to the Australian supermodel Nicole Trunfio. The couple now have two children.
“We were married at the Colony Palms Hotel in Palm Springs, California. It’s just down the road from the site of the Coachella Music Festival. This was our special choice because we’d fallen in love at Coachella four years earlier.
“I love my family so much. My kids actually played a part in why it’s been three and a half years since my last album.
“I didn’t want to just put out an album for the sake of having a new record on the market. It’s about creating something with intent and purpose and being proud of the finished product no matter how long it takes. I wanted to teach my kids by example when it comes to doing something you really believe in.”
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