Welcome to another edition of The Art Of The Sit-In, where we mix it up with the scene’s most adventurous players and hear some stories from the road. For more, check out our recent interviews with Joe Russo, Oteil Burbridge, John Medeski, Marc Brownstein, Mihali Savoulidis and many more. (A full archive of more than 40 The Art Of The Sit-In features is here.)
Marcus King roared out of the gates in 2016 to kick off his red-hot band’s busiest year of touring yet, and closed it onstage at the Beacon Theatre in New York, belting out Prince’s “Purple Rain” as a guest of Gov’t Mule. These are the kinds of experiences that have highlighted the 20-year-old guitar and singing phenom’s career on a regular basis, ever since we all started hearing about him about three years ago and he became a protege of Warren Haynes, to whom the fiery-singing, fleet-fingered King bears more than a few similarities.
Last year saw The Marcus King Band — a blisteringly jammy outfit that marries psychedelic R&B and soul with Allmans-style Southern rock and roadhouse blues — break out at a national level, venturing out beyond its Southeastern U.S. stronghold and swaggering on to stages as far away as Europe. According to King, 2017 will be even busier, as the band rides a wave of critical and fan acclaim from its second full-length album, the Haynes-produced The Marcus King Band, which arrived in October and collects much of MKB’s best material.
King, a native of Greenville, South Carolina, grew up in a family of musicians and has music in his veins. We caught up with Marcus just ahead of a string of co-billed shows with the Eric Krasno Band, to put a bow on a successful 2016, look at what’s ahead for this year, talk through what he’s learned from mentors like Warren, and hear about some surprising influences.
JAMBASE: So congrats on a huge year. I saw you at the Cutting Room right at the end of 2016 and it looked like you guys were all feeling great.
Marcus King: We had a great time. It was our first time at that venue and they welcomed us with open arms, especially starting that late.
JAMBASE: Fair to say that was one of your bigger New York crowds since you started playing here?
MK: It’s the biggest one we’ve done there. All of our other shows have been in not too much smaller but definitely smaller places, that was the biggest. It was a great way to end the year.
JAMBASE: Do you guys feel pressure to keep the heat on right now, to stay out there and capitalize on the good notices from 2016?
MK: Honestly, our sanity is really based on our tour schedule. As long as we’re still moving and still making music, we’re all jolly fellows, you know? We don’t feel a lot of pressure to create; it’s when we’re not working that we start to get stir crazy. I love being on the road, man. I love meeting new faces every night. This past year was the most touring I’ve ever done personally, so we’re hoping to build on that.
JAMBASE: Can you pick a favorite night from 2016?
MK: The Cutting Room was really one of the best for me. But there were a lot of really good ones. Playing the Indigo at the O2 Arena in London was a big one, at the London Blues Festival.
JAMBASE: Will this be kind of an expansion year, with new markets, or will you be coming back to places you’ve played a lot already?
MK: This is going to be a little bit of both, including revisiting markets we introduced ourselves to last year with hopefully larger numbers coming back to see us. There’ll be some new spots on the map we’ll try to hit — some new places none of us have been before. But we’ll also be hitting the Southeast more. The idea of the past year was to take what we were doing in the Southeast and introduce it in other places, and now we’re kind of coming back to our roots, too.
JAMBASE: Did you accomplish what you wanted to with your new album?
MK: Yeah, I did. I really did. My goal for the record was to re-introduce the idea of the band. After our first release [in 2015], my drummer and me found ourselves without a band. At that time our bass and keyboard players both had to split, they were going back to school. So we set out and found all the guys you hear on the record, and we self-titled it for that purpose — it really is a re-introduction to the band and feels almost like a debut record for us in the sense that it’s our first one for Fantasy [Records] and it’s the first one with this lineup of guys. This is the lineup we’re happy with, from all the touring and all the time we’ve spent together. That’s what I wanted to show on the record.
JAMBASE: How did you decide on this lineup? Horns are an essential part of your sound and live show, for example, but other bands might have brought a smaller group on the road. You guys are six players onstage.
MK: I always wanted a big band growing up. And when you’re starting to get out there, you hear from old-timers and people who have been in the business for a long time, and they’ll warn you about the things you’re going to face. So you hear it from people and you trust their opinion, but for me, I know I wanted the horns and I know I want the Hammond organ and the Leslie [speaker]. I want them on the show, and that means we pull a trailer, which means it increases the gas price for us. It’s not as lucrative as traveling as a three-piece might be. But for me, our sound is better conveyed with the full lineup. I don’t want to cut corners.