Guitar god Gary Clark Jr.: Racist neighbor fueled ‘This Land’

When guitar god Gary Clark Jr. started getting noticed early this decade, he was hailed as everything from the second coming of Jimi Hendrix to the savior of the blues. But strolling into a corner suite at the Dream Midtown hotel recently without the instrument that gives him his rock-star powers, he looks more like…
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Arcade Fire’s Will Butler on His ‘Showbiz Mormon’ Family and How His Granddad Pioneered the Electric Guitar

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

There’s a scene in the 1944 Ann Miller musical Jam Session that opens on a talking guitar. In the first shot, the neck of the guitar, carved into a face with the off-kilter stare and wobbling jaw of a ventriloquist dummy, croaks out lyrics: “I am the spirit of the St. Louis Blues, I am so bluuue, all the day long I am blue, all the day long I am so bluuuuue.” The puppet’s words sound weird—not quite guitar, not quite human. They were voiced by an analog “vocoder,” a kind of music tech that might sound more at home in a Kraftwerk album, than among Hollywood show tunes and old school swing bands.

But the dummy guitar was a prelude to the Alvino Rey Orchestra, a group whose frontman, Alvino Rey, pioneered early electronic instruments, and has been hailed as the grandfather of the modern electric guitar. He’s also the grandfather of Win and Will Butler, the brothers behind Arcade Fire.

Born in 1908, Rey’s bizarre musical trajectory stretched across the 20th century, zig-zagging from lowbrow to high, and weaving through major moments in American politics and pop culture. That’s the story that Will, the younger Butler and sideman of Arcade Fire, is telling in the latest issue of Pop-Up magazine, a live, mixed-media variety show currently touring the country and playing at Brooklyn Academy of Music on Feb. 7. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Butler described Rey as unassuming guy whose life, almost by accident, ballooned out into homeric epic. “He was kind of like a nerdy guitar player swept into all of American history,” Butler said.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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