The Marcus King Band performing at the Orange Peel on December 3, 2015
Standing at the corner of Biltmore and Hilliard in front of the Orange Peel where Marcus King and his band would later play, a white van towing a trailer begins veering closer to my position as I flick a few ashes of my first cigarette of the day toward the concrete walkway.
The vehicle slowly drives past me taking a wide right onto Hilliard when a mane of flowing golden brown hair pops out of the passenger’s side window and out bellows this singular word, “Bob.”
The individual behind this street corner drive by shout out turns out to be Marcus King himself, welcoming me in his own unique way, as he had invited me to the band’s sound check for their headlining performance at the 14th Annual Make-A-Wish benefit concert.
The van parks curb side and one by one King and his fellow band mates in the Marcus King Band, Jack Ryan (drums), Justin Johnson (trombone/trumpet), Matt Jennings (organ) and Stephen Campbell (bass) stumble out, each greeting me with a variety of handshakes, hugs and head nods as they begin to unload their gear and the process of hauling it into the belly of the Orange Peel.
A short amount of time passes before King and the remainder of the band take to the Peel’s stage. King himself is heavily involved with the process of arranging the band’s gear and the sound checking of each and every instrument.
He’s methodical and deliberate, patiently thinking out each move as if he’s playing a game a musical chess in his own head. At one point, prior to the full fledged band sound check, King makes his way over to Jennings and the two share a few words as King plays a few notes on Jennings instrument of choice, the organ.
This interaction provides a moment of levity while also seemingly being an integral part of King’s primary mission, to make sure he’s personally doing everything possible to ensure that the band puts on a performance worthy of the audience paying to see the band later that evening.
Following sound check I find myself immersed in a musical oriented conversation to the side of the stage about drumming with local musician Christopher Chappell Pyle, son of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and drummer for Lynyrd Skynrd, Atrimus Pyle, both of whom will be performing later that night as well. To the right of Chappell Pyle and I King is seated atop a bar stool strumming what I think may be a 1973 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe.
While fiddling around on the instrument King mentions to another individual how the brand’s quality greatly declined following the sale of the company back in the early 1970’s. King is referring to Gibson being taking over by Norlin Musical Instruments in 1974, which coincided with a widely held industry opinion that Gibson Les Paul guitars would never be the same following this transition.
Normally I might take this kind of musical observation coming from a nineteen-year-old as aberrant, however, as it pertains to King’s playing and the man himself both come off as old soul oriented and wise beyond their years. The fact that King knows the history of the Gibson Les Paul company thus comes off to me as entirely appropriate.
Following a brief conversation with his girlfriend outside of the Orange Peel King agrees to walk me north towards Nightbell, the Asheville eatery I had chose for our sit down.
Marcus King is what most would refer to as a prodigious talent. The sheer mastery of blues, soul, R&B and rock guitar is something that even the vast majority of the greatest players on this planet today spend a lifetime honing.
However, for a select few, their talent seems destined from the womb, seemingly passed onto them genetically via tiny musical specs of DNA. Count King among these individuals as anyone that bares witness to King performing will surely walk away with the opinion that this man was literally born, if not preordained, to wield an axe on stage.
Those facts not withstanding it comes as no surprise to find that King is a direct descendant of musicians. His father Marvin King, a respected blues guitar player in his own right and his grandfather Bill King, who played guitar as well, were both instrumental in King’s musical journey.
“The first guitar I ever really owned was a Squier Stratocaster that I got from my dad on my seventh birthday but prior to that I think I was playing a miniature scale Les Paul,” said King.
King continued while laughing, “I remember vividly most of my friends wanting to play outside when I was a kid but all I ever really wanted to do was play that guitar.”
It’s not entirely uncommon for relatives and parents when they see children having a knack or a talent for something at a young age to push them a bit as youths. King explained that his experience was quite divergent from this line of action.
“They (King’s father and grandfather) were never pushy, they just strongly motivated me,” said King.
King further mused on topic, “I think they saw what I saw, that music could be a positive thing. Kids go through some hard times and for me adolescence was a real bitch and having an outlet to put all of that into was really great. I think that they saw I wanted it as much as they did when they were young.”
King’s grandfather passed away a few years back but when King spoke about him it was apparent that the man was still very much in the forefront of King’s thoughts.
“My grandfather was really influential in my life. He taught me how to be humble and how to listen rather than just being another guy that was playing on top of everyone else. He really helped me become a more well rounded musician,” said King.
King further went on to talk about his musical lineage, “My father was really the same way. He schooled me on the “Three Kings” (Freddie King, Albert King and B.B. King) the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and all that great stuff.”
Marvin King did not push his son towards the lighted stage as it’s something King seemed to have known he wanted for himself even as toddler.
“I think I was two when I first went up on stage with my dad with this fake guitar strapped around my neck. I was on stage with my dad my whole childhood but I didn’t start actually seriously playing with his band until I was about eleven years-old,” explained King.
One would think based on King’s talent as well as his familiarity and comfort with live performance at such a young age that at some point he’d seek to carve out his own musical path.
King would end up starting his own band at the age of thirteen called Simultaneous Groove. Simultaneous Groove over time would eventually slowly morph into the Marcus King Band fans see on stage today.
King said, “I think the first time the band that exists today played together was at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta in October of 2014. We only played in front of like seven or eight people that night but the chemistry on stage was really fun.”
King hails from nearby Greenville, South Carolina and it’s somewhat widely known that he and the band consider Asheville a sister city. Considering King’s relationship with Asheville and some of its local musicians I’m not surprised to learn that it was through mutual acquaintances that Warren Haynes, of the Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule fame, was eventually introduced to King’s music directly.
King went on to talk about how his and Haynes relationship came to fruition.
“We played the Jam by Day at the Christmas Jam last year and at that time I didn’t realize that performance was going to be kind of a live audition. Ever since then we’ve been working together and Warren’s been a really great friend and mentor and it’s such a great thing to have,” said King.
Fans won’t have to wait too long before they get a taste of new music from the Marcus King Band as they plan to go back into the studio this upcoming January with Haynes himself producing the band’s sophomore release. The band’s debut LP, Soul Insight, was just recently released this past October by Haynes’s own label, Evil Teen Records.
King at the wise old age of a nineteen is both reticent and unpretentious as well as one of the most gifted musicians you’ll ever have the pleasure to come across. I’m guessing King is what all of us at some point in our lives wished we would or could aspire to, talented, appreciated, humble and honest.
Another thing that helps to separate King from countless musicians who see their star on rise is that when speaking he won’t go too long without expressing an immense sense of gratitude and praise for his family and the people he’s surrounded by that have and continue to help him and the band move forward.
I would think this sense of genuine humility ingrained within King will not only help to keep him grounded but it’s something that I’d bet his grandfather and father are as much proud of as they are of his extraordinary talent.
Renowned guitar player Gary Clark Jr. has a single, “Bright Lights”, that contains these lyrics, “You’re going to know my name.”
I’m not sure that I could write any words that would be more applicable to King himself because I feel beyond confident that it won’t be very long before millions of fans around the globe are going to know the name Marcus King.
Seasons greetings and don’t forget to check out the Marcus King Band and many other great acts taking part in this year’s Christmas Jam by Day being hosted by the One Stop and the Asheville Music Hall this upcoming Saturday December 12th.
Who: The Marcus King Band
When: Saturday December 12, 2015 / Afternoon 12 PM – 5 PM
Where: Asheville Music Hall / One Stop
Additional Performances by: Andrew Scotchie and The River Rats, ChessBoxer, Jahman Brahman, Love Canon, Lyric, Red Honey, Travers Brothership, Trouble ft. Shane Pruitt & Aaron Wood and Urban Soil.