GARY CLARK JR. has created a lot of conversation with “This Land,” the provocative title track off his latest album, his third consecutive Top 10 release. In the angry blues-rock song, he recounts racial epithets hurled his way and other racist taunts before he defiantly asserts that he too is “America’s son.”
In the accompanying video, young black children confront racist imagery, including a noose, among other disturbing scenes. Clark says the song was sparked after he sensed a change in his Austin neighborhood during the 2016 presidential election, but a confrontation with a neighbor prompted him to write the song.
“I’m not going to try and explain all of it,” the 35-year-old musician says, “but something shifted. Having two young ones, it made me concerned about what we were getting into.”
Clark says a neighbor met him outside the home he’d recently purchased and asserted there was no way he — a black man — could be its owner. “I’m just going to check the mail, I’m with my kid, and I’m confronted by racism at my front door,” Clark recalls. ‘And I’m like, ‘Man, what time is it? What day is it? Where are we?’”
It was an experience he contemplated for some time. “I was taught to be quiet and let things pass. But I was just tired of it,” Clark says. “I think it’s only right that at this moment if you have a microphone louder than others, you speak out about that anger. I haven’t been through shit compared to my people. But if I can do anything with my opportunity and say thank you to Martin Luther King Jr. for sacrificing his life so that I can have a microphone … that’s the least I can do.”
Clark now has two children with his wife, Nicole Trunfio, a white Australian model. So he laughs at Twitter trolls who’ve called his latest song “reverse racism.” “How? Do you see my wife and my children? Look at my band. We look like the Village People.”
To his fans, who’ve nicknamed him “the chosen one,” the Grammy-winning guitarist is the type of artist who comes along once in a lifetime. Ever since he performed at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival in 2010 — the only newcomer on the bill — the Austin native has been astonishing audiences across the globe with his sonic journeys that are equally soulful and psychedelic.
His debut album, Blak and Blu — a rocket ride rushing from the Mississippi Delta of a century ago to a point somewhere ahead of the horizon — reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and earned Clark acclaim for the inventiveness of his blues, rock and soul combo. His two follow-ups, 2015’s The Story of Sonny Boy Slim and This Land, released in February, have also landed in the top 10. He’s played the Late Show with David Letterman and garnered the lead review in Rolling Stone — for an EP, Bright Lights, released in 2011.
And in 2013, he was summoned to the White House to perform for the Obamas, alongside Mick Jagger, B.B. King and Buddy Guy. His performance — part of In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues — led the then-president to remark of Clark, “He’s the future.”
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