Accepting his first-ever Grammy, a Best Traditional R&B Performance trophy for “Please Come Home” in January 2014, Gary Clark Jr. was emotional and reflective: “Eve Monsees, I wouldn’t be playing guitar, I wouldn’t be playing music if it weren’t for her,” he announced from the podium. “She took me to my first gig and it all started from there.”
Who is Eve Monsees? And how did Clark Jr. evolve into America’s best young blues guitarist? We took the 31-year-old musician back to his roots for Gary and Eve, the third documentary in our “Mastering the Craft” series by Rolling Stone Films presented by Patrón.
Setting up shop in the garage where they used to jam seemingly a lifetime ago, Clark Jr. and Monsees remember how it all began. Monsees moved from Houston to Austin in third grade, and Clark Jr. was in her new class and lived right down the street. She scored her first guitar as a gift at age 11, and Clark Jr. was “drawn in right away” by her ability to hear a record and translate it through her fingers.
The pair became obsessed with a bootleg tape of Sixties footage of blues greats like T-Bone Walker performing in Germany, rewinding and watching licks again and again. “I thought I was going to be the next Boyz II Men or something,” Clark Jr. laughs. “Being here in this garage kind of helped change my mind about what I wanted to do in my life. The guitar, the rock & roll was edgier, it was cooler, more rebellious — I was like, yeah, I’m gonna go do that.”
The doc includes incredible footage of the duo playing Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” at the eighth-grade talent show (they won first place), after which they started performing as Gary and Eve at local Sixth Street dives, playing until 2 a.m. in venues that were 21-over (the duo were still just teens).
One night club owner Clifford Antone invited them to one of his venue Antone’s famous blues jams, bringing them onstage to play T-Bone Walker’s “T-Bone Shuffle,” and they nailed the tricky twin-guitar harmony. “I think it was the first night they had been on that stage, Antone put them up there with us and I found out right away that they could play,” blues great James Cotton tells us. “I figured in time both of them would be doing it on their own.”
But soon after, their paths would diverge. “She started playing with a different band, moved out of the house,” Clark Jr. remembers. Eve went on Blues Caravan, a European tour, while Gary stayed around Austin and stuck with his craft there. “I was kind of a starving artist, but didn’t want to do anything else,” he says. In 2010, he was invited to play Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival. “28,000 people or something,” he says. “I’ve never seen that many people in my life and all of a sudden I’m standing in front of them and they’re look at me like, what are you going to do, I hope you’re awesome.” Blak and Blu, his major label debut, came out in 2012, “and things have been kind of crazy since.”
Monsees, his “partner in crime,” is still a musician too, but her heart remains in Austin, where she now co-owns Antone’s Record Shop. And Clark Jr. says she still understands him better than anyone else. “She understands more about what I’m doing than I do. If it hadn’t been for her mentorship, friendship and support, I don’t think I would be sitting here in this chair.”