Marcus King is about to celebrate his 21st birthday this March, one day before playing Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa, Fla., March 12. That means the young fella will have been touring for almost a decade now.
I think I started to tour around the age of 13 or 14,” King told Pollstar. “I started getting house gigs out of town. I’d tour about once or twice a week around the region, going as far as I possibly could and still make it back for school the next morning.”
King, who comes from a long line of musicians, is gaining a name for himself as one of the top blues/roots-rock guitarists in the country. The Marcus King Band’s self-titled sophomore album, which was released in October, features guests like Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, who also produced the album.
“Marcus is the first player I’ve heard since Derek Trucks to play with the maturity of a musician well beyond his age,” Haynes said. “He has one of those voices that instantly draws yo in, and his guitar playing is an extension of his voice and vice versa.”
“King is poised to be one of music’s next great guitarists,” the Washington Post wrote, “a virtuosic talent capable of playing blues, rock, R&B, country, soul and established as a songwriter, singer and bandleader.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer echoed that sentiment, saying King is “poised to become a bona fide guitar superstar.”
We called King as he kicked off a string of dates with Eric Krasno in Portland, Maine. We then proceeded to set the recorder aside and went to the Pollstar Live! conference and are just now getting around to putting the interview online. It’s still fresh though: King and his band of Jack Ryan (drums), Stephen Campbell (bass), Matt Jennings (keys), Dean Mitchell (sax) and Justin Johnson (trumpet) are lined up through April. Along with bars and theatres they’re hitting Tortuga Music Festival and Wanee Music Festival in Florida before going overseas.
In August they play Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado alongside Yonder Mountain String Band and Gov’t Mule (aka, Warren Haynes’ musical vehicle).
Do you see familiar faces at the shows? People who return and bring friends the next time?
It’s growing. We can certainly see that. We certainly feel the fanbase increasing at the shows. We see people in one state and then on to the next state! That’s why we try to keep the setlist fresh every night. We have a lot of people who follow the band. It’s a shame to have them listen to the same set over and over.
So what is the size of the crowd?
Right now we’re doing between 300 and 500, I’d say.
Where do you think you’ll be by the end of the summer?
Hard to tell, man. We’re just enjoying what we’re doing and we all just really do this for the love of playing music. As long as we can keep the lights on at our houses, we will continue to do what we love. That’s enough for me.
Where are you in the progression of tour vehicles?
We’re in a van and a trailer, as far as the evolution of band transportation is concerned.
But you’re beyond crashing on a fan’s living room floor though, right?
We’ve definitely done that. We just moved out of sharing beds. That was our latest feat!
What have been some of the more popular questions you’ve been asked lately?
I think a lot of people like to ask about my upbringing. I have a musical family. But even though this interview is about touring, it’s applicable as well because my father and my grandfather were both touring musicians for years.
So you grew up on the road?
Well, no. When my sister was born my dad kind of hung it up and got a “real” job, quote-unquote, when I was growing up. When I was about 4, he started working and playing again, which was good for his spirit. Same thing happened with my grandfather. When my dad was born in ’53, [my grandfather] decided he was going to hang it up and then around 1964 the stress just got to him, being a father. He was a staff master sergeant in the Air Force and the stress just got to him. He was having really bad stomach ulcers. The doctor asked him if he had any hobbies that he wasn’t doing any longer, and [grandpa] said, “Well, I used to play music.” The doctor said he should try playing music again and he did. That just took the ulcers away. There’s something to be said that we all get physically ill when we are not able to create. We need to get that emotion out in some type of way.
Is WME your first agency?
Yeah, it is.
We’re always curious about how an artist gets an agent. Were you just getting too busy to book your own gigs? Or did they just recruit you? Or did management work this out on your behalf?
Well, it was about three years ago. It was pretty overwhelming because it pretty much happened all at once for us. We didn’t know it would be a quasi-audition. All I knew is we had an offer to play a gig in Ashville, N.C., for the “Jam By Day” for Warren Haynes’ Christmas Jam. So all I knew is we were going to play 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the One-Stop Deli. We just went up and played a gig then afterward had coffee with Stef (manager Stefani Scamardo) and kind of talked about the idea of working together and being our management. Not more than a week later, we went to Nashville. We had a very good mutual friend at WMaine who introduced our music to them. They dug it and wanted to meet with us. We just met and had coffee. Everyone we’ve worked with, it’s always been a sense of mutual respect and nothing too official. It always starts with a cup of coffee. We just tried to sense each other out as people, first of all.
Any recent compliments – be it from a meet-and-greet or in print or whatever – that made you blush?
I have to think on that one. As far as compliments are concerned, we try not to cloud our minds with it. We just try to keep moving forward. But there are particular moments where people can make you blush. Honestly, it’s any time someone takes the time to tell me they enjoy our music or it makes them get from day to day. The other day, somebody wanted me to Facetime with their 5-year-old daughter who wasn’t able to come to the show because of, you know, [it being at a] bar. That really touched my heartstrings.
My buddy couldn’t stand the song “Turn The Page.” That was because every musician’s dream is to go on tour so it was difficult for him to hear a musician complain about it. Where do you stand on this?
Well, I think Bob Seger’s tune really speaks to a lot of traveling musicians. But, playing the devil’s advocate, one school of thought is he kind of sounds like he’s whining. But the other school of thought is that it does become a little difficult out here being so far away from your friends and family for so long.
But it’s something you all believe in so strongly to have to share beds together or be crammed into a smelly van. The most recent example was getting to Portland, Maine, about 12 hours from Ithaca. It took us that long because we broke a spring in our trailer and had to get that fixed, then with all the gas stops and eight different bladders there’s various pee stops. It can be really grueling sitting upright in a van for 12 hours, being cold, and missing your family. But when you get on stage you get to share even more about your day because music is just a representation of your emotions in a musical context.
There’s an old expression: You’re not paying me to play, you’re paying me for waiting around.
Yeah, it’s a hurry up and wait situation. We say we’re not paid to play music; we’re paid for all the other stuff in between.
Still, there are times on the road where things can get dangerous. There are times that are not Facebook worthy.
Yep! Life is all about perception, I believe. It’s 10 percent what life gives you and 90 percent how you react to it.