Marcus King Shares his Influences
Marcus King is one of the most dynamic and talented musicians working today. He has a voice that resonates like honey-soaked napalm while his fingertips are the refuge of musical genius. His virtuosic abilities are truly unique, not only due to their capacity for greatness, but because they are so far reaching. As he states, “There’s all these different inspirations that I kind of take and try to put together into my own…It allows me to kind of be a quasi-chameleon of all these different styles that I grew up listing to.” At the age of 26, King is already a generational artist. A major reason why is because of all the generations he absorbs. These are the many influences of Marcus King.
“It’s such a big part of who I am, the guitar. I often feel like a mutt of a guitar player…I just like to pull from all these places and create my own path…I was heavily influenced by a multitude of guitar players starting at a young age. My father was really big into Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, and I later got into Robin Trower quite heavily. Albert King was a big influence as well as Freddie King and B.B. King. I really like listening to old Black Sabbath. Tony Iommi was really quite fun to listen to. John McLaughlin was a big influence of mine as well as Jimmy Herring and Wes Montgomery. It’s a long list”.
Grandfather (Bill King):
“By the time my grandfather got older, in his older age, it had become like a job to him…it became less therapeutic to him, and that saddened me to see. But he always loved it so deeply. When we would listen [to music], it would be the music that brought him the most joy. Which would be George Jones, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson. He loved Charley Pride…Charley came to play for the Air Force over at Ramstein Air Base back in the ’60s. It was my grandfather’s duty at the time to plan those types of events, so his band would back up the artist if they came over solo. Charley Pride came over, and they backed him up… he was very proud of that”.
Father (Marv King):
“I was lucky to have my dad [Marvin King] to study under. He was a great bandleader, and my grandfather [William King] as well. They knew the importance of dressing the part, playing the part, and just being a good front man…The Allman Brothers, that was my dad’s groove. He spoon fed me the Allman Brothers, and early Lynyrd Skynyrd…My father always played slide, he was a real big Duane Allman fan and Sonny Landreth. We’re both big Elmore James fans and both really love Derek Trucks”.
“When I actually started out playing guitar my intention was to try to emulate the female vocal cords with my guitar through my amplifier…I was trying to copy Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and Janis riffs and what they were doing vocally…If you get a Marshall stack to sing just the right way you can almost emulate a Tina Turner or Janis Joplin. But it doesn’t quite get there. That was when I started singing at that age, about 13 or 14.” Those phenomenal female influences include the incomparable Karen Carpenter. Marcus pays homage to her with this dazzling cover.
“Being a real student of stand-up comedians, I always admired the way they could handle a crowd. It’s a delicate practice to be able to perform, an ongoing battle…I have a deep bench of stand-ups I like. [laughs] The cats my father was into — Cheech and Chong, Robert Klein, Richard Pryor. Then, closer to my generation, Dave Chappelle, Tom Segura who’s a good buddy of mine, Bert Kreischer, Christina Pazsitsky. Older comedians — Sam Kinison, the original rock ’n’ roll star of comedy, and Bill Hicks”.
“I’m really just creating a space for people who are like me, who like different styles of music but really just enjoy real music…I will say, on the whole tip of categorizing something, that the moniker of ‘southern rock music’ wasn’t even a term before Duane Allman passed away. So, he created a style of music and then he left us—way too soon, I might add. He didn’t even know that he was ‘southern rock’ because nobody had told him yet. So, I mean, there’s no reason to put a stamp on people’s forehead. Just let people be…I never sit down and say, ‘I’m going to write a country song’ or ‘I’m going to write a rock and roll tune. The song will tell you what it wants to be”.
“All I can say is that Duane Allman played at the Fillmore East when he was 23, 24 years old. He passed away when he was 24, and these are the same people that multiple generations still look up to. 70-year-old men waving their finger at me, but also looking up to someone that was my age at the prime of their career…I’m not comparing myself to that musician. He’s my idol, but I feel he felt the same things that I did as a young man…Duane Allman, among my father and many others, lit a fire underneath me that couldn’t be put out”. In 2016, King stopped by The Big House Museum in Macon, GA, the official museum of The Allman Brothers Band and got the chance to pick up Duane Allman’s Gibson Hummingbird. He used it to give his take on an ABB classic:
“I was thankful and lucky enough to be accepted into the Fine Arts Center in Greenville, where I’m from. Then for 2 years I studied collegiate level jazz theory and performance…It was humbling. To be able to study that material with my instructor, Steve Watson, at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville, South Carolina, where I grew up. It was kind of a way for me to learn the guidelines and the rules, and then to learn the proper way to break them. I was really inspired by my couple of years there, learning jazz theory. Really, just getting a better melodic vocabulary and a deeper understanding of music, which just furthered my appreciation for it.”
“I never called myself a blues artist…I’m an admirer of the craft. Someone like Eric Clapton really holds the title because he’s such a reservationist to the music and he goes through his fair share of shit as well. Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Kimbrough, those are blues men to me, and I don’t hold a candle. The way I see it is, I’m an American musician and blues happens to be an American artform. For me, I’m encompassing all these different styles of music and just hoping somebody will listen”.
“I started digging into soul music, because that was the one genre that wasn’t really lying around the house…I grew up on country and western music with my grandfather, and Southern rock and blues with my father. But the discovery I made on my own was soul music, artists like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, James Brown. Artists like that were the ones that jumped out at me and that was my discovery. It was the music that I sought out and chased…Soul music was a big part of my childhood and adult life”. One can discern a distinctive soul influence in many of King’s tunes including the 2020 song “One Day She’s Here.”
King refuses to be categorized or pigeonholed. His genre characterizes America itself, a melting pot. And although Marcus is more than exceptional in a myriad of diverse styles, he cannot be defined by one. As he states, “I’m creating an atmosphere at my shows and on my records for people who like a lot of different things”. No one is quite sure what direction Marcus King will take his music next, but it’s a safe bet people will like it.