Marcus King at The Grand Ole Opry in 2019
(June 28, 2020) In the midst of a Pandemic and social upheaval in an election year, there is still good news to report, in Rock that is. In my never-ending quest to find that next great musician or band, this year The Marcus King band has my vote so far. With his incendiary guitar playing and his passionate voice, Marcus King makes you feel the fire within his soul.
On an average of about once a year – I find a really good band or musician that tickles my ear. I first saw a Badflower video in 2017. Their mix of Punk and Hard Rock was unlike anything I had heard in recent years and it was good. I predicted good things for them and it has come true. They went from being third on the bill and playing thirty minute sets to headlining and co-headling club dates and outdoor venues. 2018 became the year of Greta Van Fleet, who created quite a stir with their Zeppelin-esqe sound. They showed that they were much more than a copycat band though, with four number one Rock hits and countless sellout shows proving that they had staying power. My gut feeling was that they would become huge and they have. In 2019 Dirty Honey burst on to the Rock scene with a sound that captured the energy of Guns and Roses but with a sound all their own. “When I’m Gone” became the first Rock single ever to reach number one on the Billboard charts from a band that didn’t have a record label. I had a feeling they would blow up and that also came true. The great thing about these bands is that they all sound different. I feel that’s a must for new Rock bands – to have their own sound. Part of the reason I believe Rock lost some of its appeal over the years is because it was hard to distinguish one band from another, starting in the late eighties. They are also young; if Rock is to survive and flourish it must have an infusion of new blood.
Enter 2020: Down on the west coast, I know someone who pays strict attention to any new music that catches her ear. There’s a brother-sister act in their early teens that are playing Rock with a hard edge and guitar riffs to back it up. They are young but they are already getting radio airplay on one of LA’s most well-known (and sadly few) stations that still play Rock. No, it’s not Billie Eilish (thank God.)
Here on the East coast, the latest guitar player to catch my ear in 2020 is a young flame-throwing guitarist out of South Carolina who is starting to turn heads with his fiery solos and soulful singing – twenty-four year old Marcus King. Marcus has been playing in clubs since he was eight years old. You heard me right – eight years old. His father and grandfather are well known local musicians in his hometown. He played on his father Marvin’s album at age eleven! Marcus started playing guitar at a very early age and new he wanted to be a professional musician as a young teen. He cites influences from musicians such as Duane Allman, B.B. King, Albert King, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard and even Robin Trower and his vocalist – James Dewar. While he may have been influenced by them, his playing is all his own.
So what kind of music does he play? Well, he’s a little bit Country, a little bit Rock and Roll (and even a little bit Jazz.) His band’s music is a blend of southern blues and jazz but with a horn section in addition to the guitar, drums, bass and Hammond B3 organ. King has studied jazz in addition to the blues and you hear it in his solos. It is rare to hear someone so young but yet so talented. I compare him to bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, who at the age of sixteen moved from Australia to the U.S. and within a few years was touring in Jeff Beck’s band. Marcus started his own band at fourteen. King has already appeared on the stage of Jimmy Kimmel Live, Conan O’Brien and The Grand Ole Opry; quite an accomplishment for someone so young. King sings as well as plays guitar, with a soulful edge and a range reminiscent of that of another of his influences – Janis Joplin. While his singing is quite good, I was totally impressed to hear a young guitarist that plays so well. Marcus plays solos in a way that I haven’t heard before. He sounds fresh and inventive with talent that you simply cannot teach. He plays with a fire and energy I have not seen since the days of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Music is in his soul and he has a unique connection between his soul and the guitar and people have taken notice. Marcus and his band have played on live on several TV broadcasts. When you’ve been on both Conan Obrien’s show and Jimmy Kimmel Live, you’ve officially arrived!
Here’s Marcus and his band rocking it up on Jimmy Kimmel Live:
Here he is with his band on the Conan show with the bluesy “Where I’m Headed”:
On the Country side of things he shows he is equally adept at different musical styles. Here is “Goodbye Carolina” – so good and the solo towards the end is brilliant!
For gear, Marcus primarily plays a cherry-finished vintage Gibson ES-355 that belonged to his grandfather. He plays other Gibson solid bodies and the occasional Strat™ as well. He uses an Orange amp and cabinet for his gritty Rock sound and Fenders for his clean sounds.
So young and yet so talented, all I can say is: I want to hear more, lots more!
What do you think of the Marcus King Band?