Long before guitar prodigy/soul singer Gary Clark Jr. became known as “the future of blues,” he was a young musician absorbing the abundant riches of the music scene in Austin, Texas. Over the years, he’d occasionally sit in with local session bass ace Johnny Bradley, who’d often invite the teenage Clark up to sit in with his blues bands. Naturally, when Clark landed a major record deal and embarked on a life of constant touring, choosing a bass player was a no-brainer. Bradley happily obliged, and after several years of monumental tours and landmark performances, both parties remain highly content with their choices.
As a lifelong student of the blues, Bradley brings both his soulful, heavy-grooving electric bass playing and his foundational, big-toned upright support to Clark’s band. And while he’s content with the role of being the backbone to the music, his powerful licks and greasy fills give the music a depth only a true bluesman can offer. Clark’s recently released live album, a showcase for his powerful chemistry with Bradley, finds the bassist’s big pocket laying the foundation for a skillful four-piece that prefers to never rehearse or prepare set lists. And as the band enters the studio to create its next recordings, Bradley intends to keep things as exciting and uncharted as possible.
What inspired the live album?
The concept was that if we wanted to know where we were going, we had to chart where we’d been. We’ve only had around three rehearsals in the last four years, and that’s the nature of this group. We never have a plan or a blueprint going into a song; we just like to dive into it. We don’t ever use set lists—they seem to detract from us being normal onstage. None of us knows what’s going to happen, and that keeps it exciting in every moment.
How do you find space playing in such a guitar-heavy band?
I listen and respond. Before I left on my first tour, I talked to Keith Ferguson, who is a bass mainstay in Austin’s music scene, and he said, “Don’t play louder than the guitar player, don’t rush the drummer, play up the neck and down the neck to create and relieve tension— but if you play above the 9th fret, I’ll get up and go to the can.” That’s great advice, but it’s a good thing no one ever said that to Noel Redding or Paul McCartney.
How do you dial in your tone?
I don’t want my tone to sound like a vowel, and I don’t want it to make a “boing” sound, either. I like it to be thick and sound more like a “thump,” in a percussive way. I used to mute my strings, thinking that I was making my tone sound a certain way, but I stopped doing so that I could honor each note more. I like to think of my notes sounding like a greasy bubble that is rising and surfacing in a Jurassic tar pit— like a black, sticky tar bubble.
What can we expect from the upcoming album?
It’s hard to say. It’s never a linear process, and we never have a starting or ending point. I have no idea what to expect, and I know Gary doesn’t, either. This time around, I’m going to use some big tube amps and 15" speakers, but otherwise, I’ll just have to wait with everyone else to see what happens.
Gary Clark Jr., Live [Warner Bros., 2014]
Bass Modified Fender Mark Hoppus Precision Bass, Fender Precision 1954 Reissue, 1994 Epiphone Rivoli reissue, 1950s Regal upright
Rig1963 Fender Bassman head, Deitz Cabinets 2x15
Strings La Bella Original 1954 Deep Talkin’ Flatwounds, Pirastro Eudoxa on upright (wrapped E and A, gut D and G)