Shane Clark Experience
As a singer, guitarist, and songwriter, Shane Clark is known as a longtime performer in the Charleston area — a goateed trooper adept at entertaining (and dodging) game-night throngs and happy-hour crowds in the bar scene. With a gifted, soulful voice and professional, easy-going manner, it's easy for fans to forget that the 26-year-old performer has been almost completely blind since birth.
"I've pretty much been singing all my life," he says. "I even don't remember when I started, but I do know that I've loved music growing up. Back around 1998, my cousin took me out to do some karaoke, and he went, 'Wow, man, you're too good for people not to hear you.' I thought, 'You really think so?' We started doing more karaoke events and eventually I started playing out live."
Despite his visual impairment, Clark looks for the positive and sees the best — in people and in music. His raspy singing style on stage has a warm tone. It's refined in a way, especially the way he holds or bends a note, or builds a line, or accents with a trill. It's not overly dramatic. He avoids over-singing, as so many up-and-coming vocalists tend to do.
"I don't really know how to describe it," says Clark. "I just try to be myself when I'm up there. When I learn a song, I try to keep it as close to the original recording as possible while putting my own little twist on it. I try not to sing anything I don't really like. As an artist, you have to sing what's in your heart, no matter the song. A lot of people tell me I sing the country songs well, but I should do more blues and soul. I just like doing it all. My heart belongs in country, though."
Clark picked up piano when he was seven. He started strumming a guitar when he was 14. He listened mostly to country music in his teens, but gradually dove into some of the more rock-oriented material out of the South, like Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker, and the Allmans.
His first professional gigs were at the old Paradise Café, a northside venue formerly located at the spot where Club H20 currently operates. Soon thereafter, Clark assembled a small combo comprised of friends and local players who could hang with rock, country, and blues standards.
"In the last few years, I've stuck with some really tight musicians and friends, like my booking man Tim Schoenfelder — all of whom helped me out a lot and helped me develop a pretty unique sound," Clark says.
He calls his backing group the Shane Clark Experience. Originally from Baton Rouge, Ray Otts handles electric bass and backing vocals. Charleston native Kevin Campbell — a veteran sideman with such country stars as Trace Adkins, Daryle Singletary, and Johnny Paycheck — plays lead guitar. Drummer Nick Zoucha, a studio engineer originally from Nebraska, is the newest member of the band. Together, they're a versatile bar band, capable of jumping from a hippie-rock favorite to a vintage country-blues or Motown number. They can make Clark's vast catalog of country and Southern rock tunes move with bounce and confidence.
He brushed lightly with small screen fame when he auditioned for Nashville Star and American Idol (his a cappella version of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" from an Idol casting call in Aug. 2007 is worth searching for on YouTube).
While he names dozens of favorite artists, he emphasizes the influence of the late country singer Keith Whitley, best known for the hit song "Don't Close Your Eyes."
"He was the guy who made me stop, listen and take notice," Clark says. "He very much influenced me. Keith had a style of his own. When you heard his voice, you knew who it was. He sang with so much heart and emotion. That's how I try to portray my music. As an artist, if you can touch your audience and make them feel what you're feeling, you've done your job.
"But I love everything from Keith Whitley to Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles," he adds. "It's like what Ray once said: there are two types of music — good and bad. The music really is a universal language. It's gotten me through bad times and good times. It's something I'm blessed to be able to do."