via Glide Magazine
He may be young but Marcus King has the fastest old blues fingers around today. With only three recordings under his belt, the just-turned 22-year-old from South Carolina has already made a name for himself in the blues/jamband scene, having shared stages with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Widespread Panic, Blackberry Smoke and Warren Haynes, who has become a sort of rock & roll godfather to the up & coming musician, producing his 2016 self-titled album and playing on the track, “Virginia.”
But as 2018 gets rolling, King has a lot more on his plate. Currently on tour in France with his band, when he returns to the States next month, he will be playing with Chris Robinson’s new outfit, As The Crow Flies, before summer dates opening for TTD and Drive-By Truckers. And amid all this action, he is planning on releasing a new album.
For those who haven’t discovered this young man, he has the genes for the blues. Both his father and grandfather have deep guitar-playing roots so it was inevitable that some of that passion for music would filter down into the third generation of King men. Just who knew it would manifest itself so early in Marcus King’s life. He was around eight when the talent really started showing and by his teens he was sitting in with his father’s band. In 2015, he released his debut, Soul Insight, followed a year later by the steamy, horns-a-blazing, guitar screaming eponymous album, which also featured Trucks on the very personal “Self-Hatred.” In October, King and his band released a 4-song EP, Due North, featuring a knock-the-wind-out-of-your-lungs barn-burner of a live jam. If that didn’t convince you to buy a ticket to his nearest show, you weren’t paying attention.
So with all this going for the shy young man who comes alive when the spotlight hits him, Glide spoke to King about the blues, expanding his exploration of music and the impact of Warren Haynes.
Your band has been evolving pretty fast in a short period of time.What have you seen as the major changes happening with you guys?
I guess overall our approach to the live show.Coming from playing a lot of smaller clubs where a lot of times people wouldn’t be paying attention to us really and then that started to change and it started to turn into more of a show atmosphere. We still continue to play for each other and try to outdo what we did ourselves the night before, but it’s also a time where we’ve been growing and trying to make it more of a show and play for the audiences there.
Not all bluesmen put horns in their music. Why was it important for you to start incorporating that element into your band’s music?
I always wanted to produce the largest sound possible for our music and our music has always just been a representation of our innermost thoughts and wants and concerns and desires, you know. I’ve always written what I’ve felt and that’s been interpreted often as blues but we just kind of see it as like a representation of our emotions and our musical context. And horns have always been a large part of that, just adding another layer of flavor to the cake we’re baking (laughs).
Who are some artists that take the blues and rock and put funk and soul and horns into it that you look to for inspiration?
There’s a lot of bands that we get a lot of motivation from, bands that we see on the road and friends of ours, like Soulive and Lettuce; we really love hearing Nathaniel Rateliff& The Night Sweats and Lukas Nelson & The Promise Of The Real and bands like Antibalas.We love that kind of stuff. So there’s bands all over the spectrum that just give us a lot of positive energy; like Naughty Professor is another group I forgot to mention.It drives us to work harder and harder.
Tell us what horns you have in your band
On the trumpet and trombone and auxiliary percussion, we have Justin Johnson, who is from Greenville, South Carolina. We also have on the tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone and the flute and another auxiliary percussion, we have Dean Mitchell from Asheville, North Carolina. They are tight, man, and pride themselves on being a tight section and add a lot of flavorto the mix.
Do you think in the so-called jamband scene today that it’s maybe moving too far away from its guitar base in favor of more like electronic-minded sounds?
Well, my opinion with that is I think music is just a spectrum, it doesn’t have to be guitar-oriented or electronic-oriented. It just is music and that’s, I think, the beautiful thing about the jam scene.A lot of bands that have had a hard time kind of explaining what it is they are or what they do, the jam scene has been a really good home for artists like ourselves and Umphrey’s McGee, for example; just bands that haven’t been really able to say, “We play THIS type of music.” We found ourselves at a lot of like country festivals where people scratched their heads and at a lot of blues festivals where people scratched their heads,cause we’re playing like “War Pigs” or something like that. Not to go too far off, but I guess I’ve never really seen it as a guitar-oriented genre.It’s an amalgam of genres, basically, is what it is.
Your dad is a musician. How early did he put a guitar in your hands?
There was always one around the house so I was plucking away at one from the time I can remember, three or four.
Which one did you gravitate to?
The first guitar that really grabbed me was a Gibson SG. I remember seeing that and just falling in love with everything about that guitar. And I still am (laughs).
Is that your primary guitar?
Yeah, Gibson is my favorite brand. They’ve been sweethearts to work with me. My primary guitar of choice is the Gibson 345. I saw my grandfather playing it all the time and I don’t take that one out of the house as much anymore cause it’s sentimental value. But Gibson was kind enough to make me one similar to my grandfather’s that I use so if it goes missing I’ll still cry but I won’t cry as long (laughs).
What was the toughest song you tried to learn to play on guitar when you started?
I guess the toughest one was either “Donna Lee” by Charlie Parker or “Twelve Keys” by Jimmy Herring. Just the way they played, you know, and the overall speed of it, trying to catch up with what they were doing made it difficult, I suppose.
What did the guitar mean to you?
I guess when I started playing the guitar it just became an extension of my mind, in a way, for me to really just describe how I was feeling without having to put it into words. I was always very introverted, and I still am as far as what’s bothering me, and I could put it into music.It just makes it a lot easier to say what I need to say without having to vocalize it as much. And now singing is a further extension of that.
You released an EP last year. Do you have some new music coming out this year?
Oh yes ma’am, we’re working on our record right now, our LP, to be released this summer. It’s going to be called Carolina Confessions and it’s going to be released on Fantasy Records as well and we’re hoping for a mid/late summer release of that.Half of it has been recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, and the other half is being recorded in Nashville, Tennessee. So we’re kind of taking it back home to our roots, to the south.
When you are songwriting, is there a method to your madness?
Well, you know, every now and then I’ll get a sudden jolt of inspiration and I’ll have to write it down just then, or things that stick with me throughout the day, and I often end up having a number of different ideas on a notepad or a journal somewhere.Then when I sit down and start putting all the ideas together and building upon all these little tidbits of song ideas I have on a voice recorder or in a notepad, I just build it from there. That’s kind of my method.
So when you go to the band, is the song pretty much done?
Yes and no. It depends on the style I am trying to go for. Oftentimes, I can’t really finish the writing process lyrically or musically without getting the full vibe of the band and its energy on the song. Certain songs for this record, I wrote most of it and then I’d take it to the group so they can put their spin on it.Then I’ll record it and be able to tweak it on my own later. Then there are other ones I can kind of finish and bring to them and they add their parts to it and there it is.
I understand this is going to be a pretty big year for you because you’ve got some big tours coming up. Can you tell us more about those?
Yes ma’am, I have the pleasure of going out and working with some really great musicians with As The Crow Flies. I’ll tour with them doing Black Crowes music with a friend of mine, Chris Robinson, which will be a great deal of fun. Following that we’ll be doing a tour of Europe and that will be our second time going overseas this year. Shortly after that, we’ll be going on the road with the Drive-By Truckers and Tedeschi Trucks Band. Those are just a lot of phenomenal people and phenomenal musicians so it will be a pleasure to share the road with them. Then the rest of the year I think we’ll have another European tour lined up and a full US tour promoting the new record once it’s released. I’m also really excited to have the second annual Marcus King Band Family Reunion in Black Mountain, North Carolina, in October. So it’s an exciting year and we’re really pumped to have the wheels rolling, as they say.
Derek Trucks played on the song “Self-Hatred,” from your last full-length. What made him the right guy to play on that particular song?
Well, Warren and I and everyone else had talked and said that we’d really love for Derek to play on a tune and he said, “If you find a song, then send it on over.” And he had one day off before they went to Australia that year and said, “If you’ve got anything, send it on over cause I got to fly out in the morning.” So we sent him that tune and he sent it back and it sounded just right, just what the tune needed. He’s just a hell of a nice guy and it’s a real pleasure to work with him, a real pleasure to have become friends with those guys.
And Susan Tedeschi is a wonderful guitar player as well
Oh absolutely. She is one of my favorite musicians all the way around. She’s well-rounded and they all are just really beautiful people.
They are kind of the leaders in the jamband blues genre. What do you think it takes to get to that level?
I think it’s just a lot of hard work and a lot of determination and a lot of not taking no for an answer; and tenacity and almost down-right stubbornness and hardheadedness, just going for it, you know, but in a tactful way, cause nobody likes you to be overbearing but you’ve really got to let your voice be heard. So it’s kind of a balancing act between that, making a lot of noise but making sure you’re saying something of substance with that.
Is that something you’ve always had?
That’s something I’ve always kind of had in my back pocket that I was blessed to have. Just from watching people like my grandfather, who played music for years, and was a very stern man and a cut right to the chase kind of guy. All the books I’ve read about my favorite musicians, like James Brown and Duane Allman, about the way they conducted themselves in a business way. Some of the things they did I wouldn’t recommend but the way they carried themselves with respecting themselves – if you don’t respect yourself nobody else will – and just putting everything you got into what you believe.
For you, what was your first big I can’t believe I’m here moment?
I guess the first time would be when I was at the Beacon Theatre and we were doing “Can’t You See,” which is a song that Toy Caldwell wrote. He’s from the Marshall Tucker Band and from a town right next to mine in South Carolina. Warren invited me to sing and play on that one. It was my first time at the Beacon and it was a big deal for me. I was such a big fan of that venue and playing a song written by Toy Caldwell from South Carolina put tears in my eyes, you know.
What’s the biggest impact that Warren Haynes has made on you?
It’s a profound impact that Warren’s made on us, just the way that he carries himself. I think he’s one of the most put together and honorable and down-to-earth, well-rounded people that we’ve had the pleasure of working with and knowing as a friend. We call him Uncle Warren cause he feels like family, especially since he’s from the same kind of Appalachia background that we both have.
What are some of the ways you want to see your band evolve even more?
We’d like to see the day when we’re not traveling by van. It makes the long drives a little bit easier when you’re NOT in a van (laughs). We’d like to see the tunes progress into songs, see the music evolve further and further. That’s our goal, just for it to grow.