The Marcus King Band Carries The Blues Rock Torch Forward

Performs for growing following at Mr. Smalls

The Marcus King Band jams while bathed in red light, (l to r.) Simon Thomas George; on platform with horns (partially visible): Justin Johnson and Dean Mitchell; Marcus King; Jack Ryan; and Stephen Campbell. (photo: Rick Handler)

The Marcus King Band jams while bathed in red light, (l to r.) Simon Thomas George; on platform with horns (partially visible): Justin Johnson and Dean Mitchell; Marcus King; Jack Ryan; and Stephen Campbell.

The Marcus King Band played a sold-out concert at Mr. Smalls Theatre Saturday night. The band’s most rabid fans, some of whom had seen the group over 10 times in concert, got there early to stake out the best spots in front of the stage. As members of the band strode onstage, the crowd started applauding, and when King followed them on, the applause reached a fever pitch. 

And rightfully so. King, who hails from Greenville, South Carolina, is a rising blues rock guitarist. He and the band’s first three albums, Soul Insight (on former Allman Brothers’ band member Warren Haynes’s Evil Teen Records), their self-titled second album (produced by Haynes), and Carolina Confessions (produced by Grammy Award-winner Dave Cobb) all reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. 

King is the son and grandson of talented guitarists and has been playing the instrument since the age of three. He was performing concerts with his father, Marvin King, before he even reached his teens. 

Marcus King’s Guitar Versatility

Marcus King.

Marcus King.

King conducted a guitar clinic for the entire show. The man is super versatile and showcased several different styles on his six string. He can give you blues rock riffs reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan, the deep neck notes of certain Allman Brothers’ songs, and the frenetic fingering of Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarists performing “Free Bird.” For the concert, King played several guitars, including a black Les Paul, red Gibson, and an acoustic. King also used some guitar pedal effects and the whammy bar several times during the show.

His vocals are equally impressive. Rich, soulful, and jubilant, they are distinctively his own. However, on a few songs, his vocals sounded amazingly like a male equivalent to Janis Joplin’s. That’s not surprising; for a young man in his early 20s, he seems to have an astute knowledge of the history of popular music. One of the songs on Saturday’s set list was Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young’s “Ohio.” While he showed respect for the song, he turned it into his own with long jams by his top-notch band. During it, King jammed with keyboardist Simon Thomas George, as he did so on several other songs throughout the night.

A medley that the band played had The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” in it, which had good brass parts. Another cover was The Marshall Tucker Band’s Southern rock classic “Fire on the Mountain.” Marcus King and the band did a splendid job with the song and its melodic vocals and steel guitar.

Quality Originals

Several original highlights included “Virginia,” “Homesick,” and “Goodbye Carolina.” On the last song, from Carolina Confessions, King demonstrated that he has the essence of a blues man, singing the song’s melancholy lyrics about how, “The hero doesn’t always get his girl,” and playing traditional electric blues guitar riffs. Near the end of the song, he showed his skill in using a finger slide guitar technique. 

King and band ended the encore set with his new song, “The Well.” His guitar sound turned a little crunchier and fuzzy. The song is from the upcoming January 17 album release El Dorado, produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.

He seemed to enjoy the concert just as much as the fans. At one point, he told the crowd, “We’re gonna give you everything we got. We’re gonna leave it all there on the dance floor.” And they did. The Marcus King Band performed for almost two hours.

King showing his skills on the electric guitar.

King showing his skills on the electric guitar.

To be a top jam band, you need great jammers, and The Marcus King Band has them. Other members are the powerful bottom battery of drummer Jack Ryan and bass player Stephen Campbell. And providing added fine musical accoutrements were trumpeter/trombonist Justin Johnson and saxophonist/steel guitarist Dean Mitchell.

After seeing The Marcus King Band for the first time in concert, I understand why some in attendance have seen the band numerous times. King and the band produce a joyful concert experience based on authentic, high-quality musicianship and a bond between them and the audience. He is a charismatic person, who even told the crowd during the show to get along with your brothers and sisters. 

Opening was Ian Noe, a talented singer/songwriter in his own right. It was the first night for him and his group opening for The Marcus King Band. Noe, from Beattyville, Kentucky, and his band are playing the next few weeks on the tour. Noe sang and played acoustic guitar; his band was highly talented too. All were well-received. 

Story and photos by Rick Handler, executive producer of Entertainment Central.