For a period of about ten years in the early aughts Gary Clark Jr. was Austin’s best kept secret. These days he’s a world renowned guitar hero who reps our city around the globe. As we prepare for his big appearance at Austin City Limits Festival in a few weeks, we sat down with Clark’s lovely parents, Sandy Clark and Gary Clark Sr. who shared a few little known facts about Austin’s most famous son.
His friends used to call him “Hotwire.”
When Gary was a teenager his father used to take him and his friend Eve Monsees to play at blues jams around town. After a few years he became a young fixture on the local scene and the supervised visits weren’t enough to satiate his appetite for live music. “Next thing I know as he got older he was sneaking out the house going down to Antone’s to hear bands and I’m snoozing,” Gary Clark Sr. said with a laugh. He actually took the keys, but he earned the nickname by sneaking off with his mom’s car after his parents were asleep.
The first time he played the Crossroads Festival in 2010, he was flat broke.
Clark spent his early twenties as a true starving artist. His mom used to stop by his house to drop off groceries to make sure he was at least eating. By most accounts, including his parents’, his stunning debut at Eric Clapton’s guitar festival was a career turning point. Shortly after the performance he would sign to Warner Brothers and begin his rapid rise, but at the time he was still struggling. The experience of playing to thousands, in the company of legends, was emotional and surreal. “It was just really humbling to him that he was onstage with so many of his idols and he said, ‘Mom, I didn’t have a dime in my pocket,'” Sandi Clark said.
He does a mean Moonwalk.
Clark’s first live concert was in 1988 when his parents surprised the family with a Michael Jackson concert in Denver. Clark was only four at the time, but he cites the experience as formative, saying he was transfixed by Tito Jackson’s guitar playing. When he was still young, his mother taught him Michael Jackson’s signature dance move. Recently, the family was gathered at the apartment Clark and his fiance Nicole Trunfio share in New York for the holidays, and Clark’s sisters were showing off their own moonwalks. “Gary just sat back quietly and watched everybody ,” his mother said. “And I can’t remember if it was Nicole who said, ‘Let’s see what you’ve got,’ and he got up and moonwalked across the whole room floor and Nicole just sat there with her mouth wide open.” She laughs heartily. “So we keep waiting for him to pull that out on stage with his guitar.”
Update: This blog has been updated to reflect that Gary Clark Jr.’s first concert experience was in 1988.