As last names go, King has been a pretty good one for blues guitar greats, with B.B., Albert and Freddie.
The latest King on the block is the 20-year-old frontman for the Marcus King Band, roaring out Greenville, S.C., as a six-piece group of Southern rockers with a feel for blues and swampy soul.
The Marcus King Band released a 2014 debut that caught the attention of Gov’t Mule frontman and former Allman Brothers Band member Warren Haynes, who produced the outfit’s second album (released in the fall) and also brought in Derek Trucks to play on a track. Mr. Haynes noted in the bio, “Marcus is the first player I’ve heard since Derek Trucks to play with the maturity of a musician well beyond his age.”
Mr. King chalks that up to being part of a musical family, playing as a teenager with his dad, bluesman Marvin King. For the past two years, the Marcus King Band has been a big, unwieldy touring machine, playing notable gigs like SXSW, Mountain Jam and Austin City Limits Festival. On Saturday, the band returns to play the WYEP Summer Music Festival. Earlier this week, Mr. King checked in during a few days off at home.
Was it always obvious to you that you were going to be a musician?
Yeah, I never had any other aspirations as a kid. It wasn’t like a conscious decision where at one point I said, “This is what I’m going to do the rest of my life.” I just knew that already. Not in a pretentious way, I hope. It was moreso I never thought about what I was going to do.
Kind of nice to not have to worry about that kind of thing.
Especially, in high school, all my friends were freaking out. George Carlin said, it was the best line, “You got kids who have to ask permission to take a [leak] and then three months later, they’re supposed to decide what they want to do the rest of their lives.” I was glad I didn’t have to go through that kind of pressure.
Once your dad showed you some things on guitar, how did you go through the process of learning, and what guitarists did you look up to?
My dad still is my favorite player. Growing up, he and my grandad were my gurus: listening to their road stories, and learning about country from my grandfather, and rock and blues and soul from my dad. My early influences were Stevie Ray Vaughan, Warren Haynes, I really loved Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Hendrix. Then I started getting into [John] Scofield and Eric Krasno and John McLaughlin. After that, I don’t want to be a watered-down version of all my favorite players, so I made a decision to stop listening to guitar players in terms of influence and started obtaining a lot of vocal runs from Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding and Sam Cooke and using their vocal lines on the guitar, and also listening to more horn players like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy, trying to pull inspirations from anyone but guitar. There’s so much to listen to.
How did you hook up with Warren?
We had a lot of mutual friends, unbeknownst to me. I was writing with some folks and playing a lot of music in Greenville. I did my first record, “Soul Insight,” by myself in 2014 and I got a copy to my friends up there, and they were like, “Man, we gotta get our buddy Warren on to this.” I was like “Oh OK, Warren. You got a buddy named Warren.” They were like “Warren Haynes.” He really dug the music and we got together down in Athens, Ga., the Georgia Theatre, and we just hit it off right off the bat, and ever since then, he’s been Uncle Warren to us.
How would you compare the first two albums?
You can hear the growth. The first one was self-produced by me and the way of cutting a record for me was everything live, one-take kind of stuff. On the second record, we took that same approach with a little more knowledge of how things work, but at the same time, you still can feel the freshness of the group, because of it was a completely new lineup. Me and the drummer were the only ones left after the first record.
How did you find the replacement musicians?
We started scouring all the dive bars in Greenville, S.C., and finding our favorite players and we just approached them.
And they’re looking at you like “You’re only 17.” You must have spent a lot of time in your life having to prove yourself to older players.
When I was 13, 14, there were people in Greenville who were really like well-known, established musicians playing on the weekend, and you kind of learn this really reserved style of playing. If you’re the young kid, and you get up and start acting foolish, playing behind your head and stupid stuff like that and trying to play over everybody, that’s not fun. Music is a conversation and it was evident that I could get booted off that stage really quick. So, I learned how to deal with older folks like that. When was 15, all my friends were like ages 25 to 65. That’s my crew.
Why travel with such a big band, especially when you’re just starting out?
That was something everybody said: “You guys are never going to make any money with all these people.” First of all, it’s not about money, but obviously you need money because no one wants to say, “Hey, they’re cutting off our power today.” Me and my drummer, we’ve been renting a house for the past four years and we’ve definitely had a lot of those. We were on the road, like “Oh man, I think the water’s off. Pipe’s are gonna freeze.” My dad really helped us a lot. We have a really big band because that’s the sound I wanted. I wanted the Chicago intensity. I didn’t want to limit myself to what I could accomplish musically in live performance.
Do you sometimes go out smaller?
Yeah, sometimes I’ll go do an acoustic, and sometimes it’s fun to do a bass-drums-guitar trio set to get out some of my more Mountain influence.
So, knowing Warren, did you ever cross paths with Gregg Allman?
I did, but I was always scared [expletive] to meet him. I was like that with Warren till I met him and I was still scared to death. But, Gregg Allman, he walked by me a few times and in a lot of situations like that, I just clam up. I’ve had some bad experiences with heroes of mine that were kind of rude. I’m like, “I’ve been on the road for two years and I’m tired. He’s been on the road for 45! I’m not going to bother him, I’m going to let him to his thing.” I kind of [screwed] up, I think, honestly.
Seems like he was a big vocal influence on you.
He’s always been a huge vocal influence on that. That whole band, the [stuff] they went through, being an interracial group and everybody having long hair, in the late ‘60s in Alabama and Georgia and Mississippi. To hear about the tenacity of Duane Allman as a bandleader, that was a big part of how I started to operate. And people like James Brown. Their whole style of leading, like that phrase of “The leader needs to eat last.” Take care of those who take care of you, and treat each other with dignity and respect.
Austin TX – As a devout follower of the blues and specifically blues guitarists, I have spent the last few years waiting for a chance to see Marcus King play live. I recently got that chance in Austin, TX at an intimate performance at the Yeti Flagship store. Everything I had read in various music publications, talked about with other musicians, and heard for myself on his various recordings and live concert videos was confirmed by his masterful playing.
But what struck me the most at the end of his performance was that I had not been adequately prepared to witness his incredible talent as a vocalist.
Sitting down with Marcus after his set, our conversation quickly took a turn toward vocalists and the impact they have had on both his guitar playing and his own vocal styling.
“At a certain point I said, okay, I have to stop listening to guitar players because I didn’t wanna just sound like a watered down version of my favorite guitarists. So I started listening to, like, vocalists and [started] trying to apply their vocal cadences to the guitar.”
It doesn’t take long listening to Marcus play to hear exactly what he is talking about. Although his music is based in the blues, his lead work combines jazzy melodies, funky rhythmic structures and a masterful use of space.
“I kinda sold my soul to the drum kit before I was a guitar player so the rhythmic approach is always how I approached the guitar too,” he added, “I even take a lot from like Method Man and like Tupac Shakur, I like a lot of their rhythmic patterns with their rhyming.”
While Marcus’ path of discovery with the guitar has been long and adventurous, his journey as a vocalist was born out of a tragedy.
“When I was 13, I was only writing instrumental music at the time and, umm, I had a really close friend of mine pass away at that time, and I couldn’t really express myself any further just through the guitar, so that’s when I started singing.”
Having already spent so much time analyzing vocalists of various genres, Marcus was able to re-purpose that knowledge into his singing as well as his guitar playing. The result is a noticeably emotional and raspy tone comparable to the likes of Joe Cocker and Janis Joplin.
All in all, as if the guitar and vocal talents are not enough, I have to take a moment to also recognize what a humble, appreciative and all-around nice guy Marcus is. This year alone will see him touring both Europe and Japan in between dates all over the United States and he is loving and soaking in every moment of it. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to sit down with Marcus, I wish him all the best in his future and look forward to seeing him again!
Marcus will be performing a special solo Sunset Show at Panic en la Playa - January 26-30 in Riviera Maya, Mexico.
Returning Guest Pre-sale: July 10
Public On Sale: July 11 at 12pm ET
Soulive paid tribute to the Allman Brothers Band with special guest Marcus King on June 16, 2017 at Bowlive VII!
Marcus King had a busy weekend on the east coast! After two nights at the Brooklyn Bowl with Soulive in NYC, the 20-year-old guitarist, singer, songwriter took the Marcus King Band to Macon, Georgia for a sold-out show at the Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House. With the recent passings of Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks, the musical spirit at the Big House is especially heavy. Marcus King used the empty space to fill the air with his own being, undoubtedly following these southern rock pioneers while creating a sound of his own.
Since officially breaking onto the scene a little over two years ago with his debut album Soul Insight, King has become highly regarded as the heir apparent to the southern blues and rock throne. With the endorsement and support of veteran axe men like Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes (both artists appear on 2016’s The Marcus King Band, and the latter produced every track), King’s ascension through the ranks of the live music community has been swift. The young guitarist plays with maturity well beyond his years and a keen sense for showmanship that simply can’t be taught. With a well-oiled and polished machine backing him, the Marcus King Band have truly impressed all audiences that they’ve played before.
King’s natural ability to take deeply personal experiences from his own life and put them out into the universe in song form was especially evident on Saturday night, as he performed an impressive setlist of originals while also honoring the music of the Allman Brothers Band with covers of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Dreams.”
See the full gallery, courtesy of photographer Emily Butler.
via Herald Courier
Marcus King sings like an old soul son of the South.
Only thing, he’s 21, a ramblin’ man with a lot of room to roam.
Make welcome the Marcus King Band. Southern rockers whose style encompasses and exceeds their widely varied roots, they headline Thursday Jams in Abingdon on June 22. Presented by the Abingdon Music Experience, the show includes Asheville’s Get Right Band in support.
“Being considered a son of the South, I wouldn’t take offense to that,” said King by phone from his home in South Carolina on Monday near the midnight hour. “I certainly love my family and the South. It’s beautiful down here. You can feel it in your heart.”
Hear the South in King’s vibrant music. As with the Allman Brothers Band, he leads a Southern rock group that’s more than simply a band of rockers. They filter jazz, country, and generous helpings of the blues into the stewing mix.
“I think what Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi are doing is beautiful. They’re defying stereotypes,” King said. “That’s what we’re doing. It’s a Southern rock thing, but at the same time we’re staying out of the box. I want to hear what’s inside you.”
Speak with King. About music, he’s as apt to refer to John Coltrane as he is Gregg Allman or Son House.
“John Coltrane said you’ve got to be willing to die for the (music),” King said. “It’s all about attitude. You put it out there. Like, I would rather hear the right player play the wrong note, but I can’t listen to the wrong player play the right note.”
King broke out in 2015 with “Soul Insight.” Listen to songs including “Dyin’” and “Boone.” He sounds like a branch from the Allman Brothers’ family tree. The album cracked the top 10 of Billboard’s Blues albums chart.
“I was 18,” he said. “Shoot, I’ve never really been too keen on my voice. I think the reason I sing the way I sing, my grandfather had a rough hewn voice. He had a howl.”
Then there’s King’s guitar. Like another voice that strains from the strings, soul strips bare and runs naked and raw through his backbone rhythm and primal leads.
“I take a lot of inspiration from Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin for guitar purposes, to apply their voices to my guitar playing,” King said. “Unbeknownst to myself, I was taking them on as influences. Coltrane, Miles (Davis), Charlie (Parker). I love their saxophone playing. They liked to breathe on the sax. Yeah, I have to breathe on the guitar.”
King breathes fire and blues power on last year’s self-titled album. Produced by his mentor, Warren Haynes, the collection of originals scaled Billboard’s blues albums chart to number two.
“The first album, we did in San Diego. The second one in Connecticut,” King said. “We need to bring the next one back home. There’s something down here you can’t find anywhere else.”
In the days that precede the band’s next jaunt on the road, King’s been recording demos of songs he’s written that may appear on his forthcoming third album. Ask him. Clarity as to the album’s direction has yet to emerge.
“We were in the studio today, recording demos,” he said. “We’re getting ready to get back in to the studio this fall. Only thing we know for certain is we’ll do it in the South. I want a more vulnerable album, more personal.”
Therein and forevermore, King classifies as a musician on the run. In search of an ever-elusive sound that plays in his head, he’s Lewis and Clark with a destination in mind yet one that he hopes he’ll never quite find.
“I think that’s the most important thing,” he said. “We always want to strive to do a little better. Every day we get closer to that goal. I never want to see the day when we hit the goal. I don’t want to be that guy who says, ‘There it is. We did it.’ I always want to be looking for the goal I want. My sound.”
Like a flame in want of wood, the journey keeps King hot.
“I’m like a duck,” King said. “Up top, I try to stay composed. Down under the water, my feet are kicking.”
Last night Tom Hamilton’s American Babies and The Marcus King Band teamed up for a pre-Dead & Company show at the Fox Theatre in Boulder. The evening came to a climax when The Macrus King Band brought out Tom Hamilton for an extended take on the Grateful Dead’s “Fire On The Mountain.”
Tom Hamilton’s American Babies kicked off the action with a set focused on originals from the group’s last two studio albums and they had a guest percussionist on stage with them for the entire show. Near the end of the set, the Babies trotted out a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” with a hefty jam near the end that brought the house down.
Next up was a performance from The Marcus King Band and the 21-year-old guitarist commanded the stage with the force of a grizzled veteran. To say the Boulder crowd was stoked to see this young guitar slinger with the smokey blues voice would be an understatement. Near the end of the MKB’s smoking set, King called Hamilton out to the stage and two traded licks to the delight of the crowd. Tom and The Marcus King Band slowly snaked their way towards the previously-mentioned cover of “Fire On The Mountain.”
I shot most of the 10-minute jam from a prime spot and the interaction between Marcus and Tom is priceless! At around the 4:30 mark, Hamilton and King really kick things into high gear as the two hook up on what would best be described as an Allman Brothers-inspired dual guitar attack. Take a minute from your busy Friday to bask in the glorious jam: