Texas Blues Guitar Showdown

Now we have a new look to go along with our iPad/iPhone optimization. Special thanks to our Web Wrangler, Keena… Looks like all those trips to the World of Rubber Museum finally paid off!

Gary Clark Jr.

Gary Clark Jr.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately. Haven’t come across any new music that’s moving me. The last two projects that pinned my ears back were Dr. John’s new album and Bombino’s 2011 release “Agadez” – and I’m starting to wear both of those out. The music news app on my iPad keeps sending me articles about Madonna’s right nipple. I’m bored to death by indie singer-songwriters who want me to feel more deeply… about them. And every time I pick up Rolling Stone, they’re raving about some dubstepping DJ who looks like a failed hairdresser.

Am I missing something? Should I buy some new designer drugs and book a flight to the next Electric Daisy Chain Festival, where I can “embed” myself like a Times reporter in Afghanistan? Or just write a post about another dead blues guy? April and Rick – help me out… I’m dying here!

Maybe I should mix it up by showing my appreciation for a contemporary artist and then going back to my old gravedigging ways (looks like I’ve just come up with RCR’s new mission statement!).

Under the first category, I’m very intrigued by the Austin-based blues guitarist Gary Clark, Jr. I don’t know that much about him, other than he played local clubs as a teenager (much like another guitar phenom from Austin, Charlie Sexton), and that he appeared in the John Sayles film “Honeydripper” as a fearsome young guitslinger… I know, not much of a stretch.

Clark’s four-song EP from 2011, “The Bright Lights,” shows lots of promise. He’s a muscular player with a big bagful of tricks that clearly draw from the blues tradition. And he sings with a whole lot of soul for a guy who’s only 28, reminding me a little bit of a bearded white kid from the Rubber City. On this cut, Clark jumps right into a relentless Magic Sam-inspired boogie… Hard to top that: Don’t Owe You a Thang

The EP also features a heavy blues called Bright Lights – with a lyrical nod to Jimmy Reed – and a couple of tasty acoustic tunes. I’m looking forward to hearing what he comes up with next.

Hopefully, he won’t fall under the spell of Eric Clapton, who invited Clark to play at his 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival. I’d hate to hear Clark’s guitar buried under a layer of Phil Collins-like production gloss… Which reminds me, have any of you listened to Bobby Womack’s new album? At one point, I think I heard the sound of the kitchen sink crashing onto the studio floor. Seriously, when you have that voice and that guitar to work with, how much shit do you really need to pile on top of it? I’m a little cranky today… does it show?

One nice outcome of checking out Clark is that it sent me back to my favorite Texas blues guitarist of all time, Freddie King.

Freddie is one of those blues guys worth arguing about. And with him, it usually boils down to whether you prefer his recordings for King Records (mainly, their Federal subsidiary – from 1960 to ‘66), or the more extended blues workouts that he recorded after that, up until his untimely passing in 1976 (he was only 42 when he died from acute pancreatitis).

For example, nephew Dan and brother James are big fans of Freddie’s later stuff, including a great live album (“Larger than Life”) and some soul-infused numbers he recorded for Leon Russell’s Shelter label.

Here’s a video from that later period that Dan sent us for our very first post. I love the way Freddie takes his time strapping on his guitar and then casually tosses off a sublime blues riff. And what an incredible voice… I’m sure more than a few ‘70s rock bands paid a heavy price for having Freddie as their opening act.

I’m partial to Freddie King on King – mainly because it would be almost impossible to replicate the sound of those recordings today, or even assemble a group of musicians who could play with the same level of restraint and taste. A lot of the credit should go to King Records producer, pianist and A&R man Sonny Thompson, who helped Freddie score his first hit in ’61 with the often-covered instrumental Hide Away. King and Thompson followed that up with another 30 instrumentals as well as bona-fide blues classics like this one, recorded in Cincinnati at the same session that produced Hide Away: Have You Ever Loved a Woman

But there’s a lot of hidden gems in the King catalog that capture Freddie in a number of settings. Here sings a duet with the pride of Port Clinton, Ohio, Lula Reed: You Can’t Hide

And he even tackles a bossa nova (of sorts): The Bossa Nova Watusi Twist

Of course you could argue that anything by Freddie is worth owning – in which case you should cough up about $200 for “Taking Care of Business,” a seven-CD set on the Bear Family label that compiles everything he recorded in the studio from 1956 to 1973. That’s roughly half the price of one ticket to see Madonna’s right nipple (I assume the VIP package allows you to glimpse the other one).

More Freddie… Here he appears on The Beat TV show in ’66 with “assistance” from the John F. Kennedy Dancers:

And Gary Clark Jr. blasts through Bright Lights in the studios of WFUV at Fordham University, December 2011:

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6 thoughts on “Texas Blues Guitar Showdown

  • Daniel, 17 June 6:18 am

    Don’t think you are are missing anything, good music is definitely hard to find. I’ve been so uninspired with what’s available lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of soundtracks e.g. Clint Mansell (Moon), Gustavo Santaolalla (21 Grams), Nick Cave & Warren Ellis (The Road or The Proposition). Although not really blues based or something your readers would be interested in, might get you out of your funk 🙂

    Enjoyed that Freddie King clip

  • admin, 17 June 7:42 am

    Thanks Daniel… I’ll check those out. I’ve been digging into the Stax-Volt catalog (including some pretty wild stuff featuring Packy Axton). Can’t lose there either.

  • BigJay, 18 June 11:36 pm

    Gary Clark Jr. is a good new artist but its so hard for a geezer like me who saw “The Texas Cannonball” live at various venues in the early 70s to embrace anything less. Your own familial Black Keys are closer to it. Freddy in the Barrel Inn in Tulsa all nasty , comes to mind.

  • admin, 19 June 11:44 am

    You’re a very fortunate man, Big Jay. Never had the pleasure of seeing Freddie live. As you can tell, I’m another old-school blues hound who’s trying to keep an open mind about new music. It’s not easy when a lot of it sounds second-rate and soulless. But like Flea said in a recent interview, I don’t want to be the old geezer with a garden hose yelling “get the hell out of my yard you damn kids.”

  • Rixaidan, 26 June 9:54 am

    Well, when we’re too old too chase them out of the yard, sometimes all we’re just left with is, “Yeah well I saw xxxxxx at the Agora when you were still wearing Pampers”.
    It feels good to say, but it closes the mind. And for sure there was some old fart who swore he sat in with Robert Johnson when your parents were in cloth diapers. Every generation stakes its claim to the genuine article.

    On my iPod you can take some wild rides…… from Buddy Guy to Buddy Holly, to a Buddy Rich vs Gene Krupa drum battle in under 15 minutes. Viva la difference!

  • John Berg, 03 September 4:40 pm

    The Freddy King live set from the Ash Grove in LA is still available via “Wolfgang’s Vault” and is pretty great straight-ahead Freddy before he signed with Leon Russell’s label and in my view got a bit too sanitized or “white influenced” in the musical packaging. I saw Magic Sam and Howlin’ Wolf at the Ash Grove and keep hoping WV will post something from those gigs — like they did with the Risin’ Sons sets.

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