Photos by Lou Montesano
The Marcus King Band is a six-headed musical monster led by Mr. Marcus King, a young guitarist and singer-songwriter from Greenville, South Carolina. King also happens to be a protégé of another son of the South, the ubiquitous Warren Haynes. An early MKB supporter, Haynes has now produced the band’s eponymous second album, due out October 7th.
Haynes has praised King with some of the highest accolades an up-and-comer could want to hear. “Marcus is the first player I’ve heard since Derek Trucks to play with the maturity of a musician well beyond his age,” Haynes has said. “He’s very much influenced by the blues, but also by jazz, rock, soul music and any timeless genre. You can hear the influences, but it all comes through him in his own unique way. And he has one of those voices that instantly draws you in.”
King and his band most definitely drew in the audience during their electric two-hour set at Rockwood Music Hall. With King out front on vocals and guitar, the rest of the septet is Jack Ryan on drums, Stephen Campbell on bass, Matt Jennings on Hammond B3 organ, Dean Mitchell on tenor and baritone saxophones and Justin Johnson on trumpet, trombone, percussion and backing and occasional lead vocals. As challenging as it would have been for a lesser ensemble to pull off, this talented crew easily – nay, joyfully – covered the enormous territory of their leader’s musical tastes.
In person, the similarities between King and Haynes are impossible to overlook. The two could be “fam,” to borrow King’s phrase. They’re both big-boned, with long, shaggy hair that falls mid-back. Next is their singing – rich, bluesy, from-the-gut voices. And both men’s musical tastes are as broad as Haynes described: anchored in the blues but venturing everywhere music can go.
And that’s precisely where the Marcus King Band’s Rockwood set ventured – moving effortlessly from guitar jams to Stax-style soul to Tower of Power horn work spiced with New Orleans funk, veering into Hendrixian psychedelic wah-wah and tastes of jazz-rock fusion. Sprinkled among the jammed-out selections off the new album were chestnuts from the Temptations (“Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”), the Beatles (“Dear Prudence”) and jazzman Les McCann (“Trying To Make It Real Compared To What”). Amidst the funky opening chords of Allen Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down,” Brooklyn-based guitar slinger Eric Krasno strapped on his axe and got down to trading licks with King before the two locked into a harmonic groove.
Given the huge impression the Marcus King Band made at this Rockwood performance – and given that the new album features guests like Derek Trucks and Haynes himself – it seems a safe bet we’re going to hear a lot more from these cats in the months and years ahead. Catch this crew while you can still say you saw them when they were almost famous.