Marcus King doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t around guitars.
“Going back to maybe 3 or 4, I always had a guitar with me,” the 20-year-old Southern-rock guitar phenom said. By age 6, King was already “really serious” about the instrument, jamming with other musical family members and singing gospel songs. He was 8 when he started gigging with his blues musician father, Marvin King, at clubs around their hometown of Greenville, S.C. At 12, Marcus King formed his first band.
“As far back as I can remember, music was it for me,” he said. “I just knew.”
King, who has put out two albums in a little over a year, now seems poised to become a bona fide guitar superstar — a virtuoso musician eager to share what he calls his “soul-influenced, psychedelic Southern rock.”
“That doesn’t quite cover what we’re doing, but it gives you an idea,” the soft-spoken King said by phone last week from Jamaica, where he was taking part in a music festival. “We don’t conform to any particular genre, but that’s the nature of bringing together six musicians from different backgrounds and with different interests.”
While the bandmates are all “good Southern boys,” as King put it, their musical experiences and interests are diverse: He and trumpet player Justin Johnson honed their skills playing at Pentecostal churches as teenagers, while drummer Jack Ryan grew up emulating the rhythmic intensity of Rush’s Neil Peart. King recalls being enthralled with everything from early blues to Lynyrd Skynyrd. One of his greatest influences is the Allman Brothers, whose music he was “spoon-fed from an early age, just like medicine.”
The resulting sound is a jarring mix of rock, soul, R&B, and straightforward Americana music.
Last year’s Warren Haynes-produced album, The Marcus King Band, showcases King’s skills not just as a guitarist (he plays pedal and lap steel, too), but also as a songwriter and singer. The 2016 tour to plug the record took the Marcus King Band all over the United States, including a buzz-generating stop at the XPoNential Music Festival in Camden.
"We got a lot of love up that way,” King said of the performance.
Describing his concerts as “a musical conversation between the band and our audience,” King said he still got preshow jitters all these years into his career.
“But that’s thrilling to me. It puts things in perspective,” he said. “I’m there to give my best.”