Musicians Off the Record: W. C. Clark

Wesley Curley Clark is commonly referred to as “The Godfather of Austin Blues.” Born in Austin in 1939 into a musical family, Clark found singing and playing the guitar a natural creative outlet. His father taught him to play the guitar while the women of the East side household sang gospel around the clock. “They were always humming some type of music,” Clark recalls of his parents, grandmother and sisters.

The legendary Victory Grill provided Clark his first public stage, and it was there that he was assimilated into the blues scene under the tutelage of T.D. Bell and Erbie Bowser. Clark joined Bell’s outfit, the Cadillacs, on bass and in turn performed with Blues Boy Hubbard and the Jets, then chart-climber Joe Tex, throughout the 1960s.  Clark toured the Southern state’s “chitlin’ circuit” extensively and returned home to discover that Austin’s blues scene had metamorphosed into a viable community of players and fans. “The people that was involved, they had to let it out one way or another,” Clark remarked about the changes that were occurring. “It’s got a lot to do with the generation getting older and then people coming up . . . The old people sit back and say, ‘it’s about time,’ and the young people go, ‘wow!’ Check that out, you know it’s great.”

A new generation of blues aficionados, mostly white, talented and hungry, made Austin home and formed a thriving musical oasis. The players and scene fixtures—Clifford Antone, Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Paul Ray and Angela Strehli among them—became Clark’s admirers and eagerly shared his love of the blues. In short order, Clark became their guitar and bass wielding soul mentor. “I didn’t really have to tell them any thing because the ones I was working with, they were scholars of the blues . . . they knew more about it than I did.”

In the decades since, Clark’s brand of Texas blues has penetrated the hearts of music lovers across the country on several releases, including the lauded “Texas Soul,” “Lover’s Plea,” and “From Austin with Soul.” As a much sought after session player, his Memphis soul stylings led to commercial success on his co-penned title ‘Cold Shot,’ featured on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s platinum selling “Couldn’t Stand the Weather.”  The W.C. Clark Blues Revue has been Clark’s musical focus for years and taken him down a road that’s earned him two W.C. Handy Awards.

His life is a bridge between the Austin of old and the contemporary commercial scene. His advice to players young and old remains constant: “This is the blues . . . you have to pick that cotton for at least four or five months, then you know.”