New Music To Know: Quinn Sullivan, Blues Torchbearer & Buddy Guy Protégé
Buddy Guy may be many things — blues legend, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Kennedy Center Honoree, GRAMMY Award winner — but he may not be the first to mind when you think of mentors for up-and-coming artists. However, he’s had 14-year-old blues prodigy Quinn Sullivan under his wing for quite a few years now. Today, he seems like the next artist in the wave of blues traditionalists keeping the art form alive. Along with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, Gary Clark Jr. and the Black Keys, Sullivan seems like he’s going to be one of the standard-bearers for some incarnation of the blues for decades to come.
He’s certainly learning from the best: Guy and Sullivan have been touring together, with Sullivan opening for and joining his mentor on stage. The younger artist has just released his second album, Getting There, produced by Tom Hambridge, who also produces Guy’s albums. Hambridge also wrote and co-wrote some of the songs on the album, including “Buddy’s Blues,” a song that tells the tale of the first time the young gun met his idol.
“My world turned upside down, when I first saw the master, Buddy Guy,” he sings. “We traded licks all night, he gave me that Buddy Guy grin/he asked me who I was, I said my name was Quinn.”
Bluesmen historically self-mythologize, but in Quinn’s case, the evidence of their first meeting has been viewed over three million times on YouTube. He told Radio.com the behind-the-scenes story about their first meeting.
“I met Buddy in 2007 [when] I was 8 years old,” Sullivan said. “He played at a little theater in my hometown. I asked my dad to take me to the show — and he knew people who worked at the theater. They got us backstage to say hi to him. I knew that he does bring up kids [onstage] if he knows that they can play. So we went backstage and I had my little electric guitar with me, and I asked him to take a picture and asked if he could sign my guitar and he did. And he asked me if I could play some licks, and I played something and he said ‘Be ready when I call you.’”
That call came later that evening, in the middle of the concert: “He said, ‘Where’s that kid I met backstage?'” Quinn brought his guitar onstage and started to jam. “We played ‘Sweet Home Chicago.’ It was an incredible night, and ever since then he’s been helping me out. He’s really been the best.”
Guy later introduced Sullivan to the blues world by giving the then-preteen a guitar solo on a song on his 2008 album, Skin Deep. The song was titled “Who’s Gonna Wear These Shoes,” and Sullivan seemed to answer that question with his searing fretwork on the song.
But it wasn’t actually Buddy Guy who gave Quinn his first national exposure. That would be Ellen DeGeneres. When Quinn was just six, he was a guest on the Ellen show, performing the Beatles’ “Twist And Shout” and a blues instrumental. Sullivan told Radio.com that his dad was persistent in pitching his son to the show.
“I don’t know how my dad found the contact at Ellen, but we got in touch with them,” he said. “They probably got thousands of emails a day, but they [read ours and] said ‘We’d love to have you.’ It was my first plane ride and my first trip to California. It was a great thing that happened. Really fun.”
Of course, not all 8-year-olds ask their dads to take them to see Buddy Guy in concert. Sullivan says that he became a fan of Guy’s after watching his performance on the Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival 2004 DVD. So it meant a lot to the young guitarist when he performed at Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival earlier this year. He played one set with Buddy Guy and Robert Randolph, but also took an extended solo during the final night’s all-star finale.
“The finale was really cool: Derek Trucks, Gary Clark Jr., Jimmie Vaughan, Warren Haynes, Eric Clapton, Los Lobos, Buddy Guy [and Sullivan]. It was definitely the highlight of my career so far, playing that festival.”
During his solo Clapton, Guy and all the other established guitar-slingers watched and beamed, knowing that their blues-based guitar style will live on for decades in his hands. It looks like he may well, in fact, be one of the the people to wear those shoes that Buddy Guy was singing about.