Their Own Sound
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Ask guitarist Marcus King about where he got his love of music and you will hear a story that sounds like it came out of an anthology of Southern literature.
“Music was always a really big part of my life from a very young age,” he said via phone. “Ever since I can remember, I was hanging out on my great-grandfather’s porch up in Blue Ridge, and everybody was making music with each other, playing guitars and banjos and fiddles and singing old gospel tunes. And everybody was really happy.
“No matter what was going on at that time,” King said, “everybody kind of escaped. I think it was very inadvertent to everybody. It was (inadvertent) to me for a very long time until I became aware that I was releasing my emotions through a musical context.”
These days, this Greenville, South Carolina native releases his emotions in a musical context for a living.
His band performs March 23 at C2G Music Hall.
If you knew no more about him than that he’s a Southern guitarist who grew up listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers, you might draw certain conclusions.
You might decide that he must be a blues shredder. Or an heir to the swamp boogie stylings of Gary Rossington.
But you’d be wrong. King is his own man. His horn-infused band is eclectic. Sometimes it sounds like Chicago, pre-Cetera. Sometimes it sounds like it came out of cities where it’s harder to find grits, like Memphis or Detroit.
King said he loves and is heavily influenced by Rossington, Duane Allman and those unrelated, but like-minded Kings: B.B., Albert and Freddie.
But eventually he started reaching out for other influences.
“I was taking stuff from these guitar players like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hendrix … Robin Trower,” he said. “And then my ear really started getting more drawn to the singers like Robert Johnson and Hank Williams Sr. – emotions in the voice – and B.B., Albert and Freddie as well.”
King said he made an effort to emulate the techniques of great singers in his guitar playing. He did the same with the organ playing of Jimmy Smith and the pedal steel playing of Buddy Emmons.
He ultimately came to the realization that he couldn’t fully express himself through guitar playing alone, so he decided to teach himself to sing. Otis Redding and James Brown were huge influences here.
He later studied Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin.
Given the breadth of these influences, it is not surprising to learn that King shies away from describing the band’s “style” in sound bite form.
“I want to avoid branding ourselves,” he said. “We made a decision early on to remain ambiguous. Throw people off the trail. I mean, they say what they want to say anyway. I have always thought it doesn’t do music any good to put it in a box or in a category. You don’t need any chains holding it back.”
King is an exceedingly self-assured guy. He seems driven by an unpretentious search for artistic purity, a quest to fully manifest the music he hears in his head and the music that he will one day hear in his head.
He quit school after his junior year in high school with the full support of his parents. They knew how ambitious and motivated he was, King said.
“It wasn’t like I was quitting school so I could be a drain on society for a while,” he said. “I had gigs lined up. I was ready to go. [School] was only going to be in my way.”
He later earned his GED.
In 2015, the band collaborated with Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Hayes on the album Soul Insight.
Young bands often tell horror stories about their first encounters with seasoned industry professionals, but King said his band’s artistic partnership with Hayes was a meeting of the minds.
“We were nervous,” he said. “We’d never done anything on that scale for a major label. We were as green as can be. But Warren made us feel really at home. He was easy to get along with and not pushy in any way. He was very patient with us.”
Going forward, King said the only constants in the band will be a Hammond B3 organ and its accompanying Leslie speaker.
King said he adheres to a definition of success articulated in the mid-1990s by Lauren Hill.
“I always thought success was like ‘Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder,'” he said. “[Hill] was talking about how she was successful because she had a happy marriage and a happy son. Her success was not defined by money.”
“As long as we’re able to create music every night and keep the lights on in the house,” King said, “we’ll feel successful.”