Clarke was a master of the blues harmonica, particularly the chromatic harp, a type of harmonica with a much wider tonal range than a regular one. He was a protégé of the great Los Angeles blues artist and chromatic harp specialist George "Harmonica" Smith. Clarke thoroughly absorbed the Chicago Blues harmonica styles of folks like Little Walter and James Cotton, and then incorporated the influence of saxophone players such as Gene Ammons and David "Fathead" Newman to come up with his own darkly sophisticated, swinging sound. Clarke was also a powerful singer and a songwriter of great originality who carefully sidestepped the usual clichés inherent to the blues form. After twenty years of developing his sound, hard touring, and recording, Clarke died suddenly in 1996 at the age of forty-five.