Young six-string virtuoso and songwriter Marcus King’s debut album, Soul Insight, which arrives on October 30 via Evil Teen Records, displays his stunning command of rock, blues, psychedelia, funk, soul and improvisation — all with a distinctly Southern musical accent. It also brings the 19-year-old a step closer to his musical destiny.
“I guess I knew I was born to play guitar when I was seven,” King says. “That’s when I got my first electric guitar, and while all the other kids were outside playing, I’d be inside on that guitar. When I got in trouble in school, my daddy said I could choose between a spanking and getting my guitar taken away for a week. I took the spanking.”
Soul Insight is the explosive result of that dedication, magnified by another dozen years and more than a thousand nights playing in clubs — initially alongside his father, bluesman Marvin King — since the age of 11, just two years before Marcus formed his own group and stepped into the role of leader.
King’s talents and trajectory have already led his band across the country, and he’s opening shows for the Foo Fighters, Johnny Winter and, of course, Gov’t Mule and its leader, Warren Haynes. King emerged from his native Greenville, South Carolina, and its sister city Asheville, North Carolina, where Haynes was born. King hit Haynes’ radar thanks to the reputation the young artist has earned with his incendiary live performances. In December 2014, King and his band were invited to perform as part of Haynes’ annual Christmas Jam benefit, which occurs in Asheville’s U.S. Cellular Center Arena, the prestigious club the Orange Peel and other rooms around the musician-and-artist-heavy mountain city. A few months before that, the Marcus King Band had recorded Soul Insight at the Compound Studio, just south of Los Angeles in Signal Hill, California.
“Recording the album was a really organic experience,” says King, who also produced Soul Insight. “Whether I wrote the song or, in the case of the instrumentals, we developed them together as a band, we’d played them long enough so we were really comfortable with the material. And we lived at the studio while we were recording, so it was really laid back and comfortable. That let me relax and play my best.”
How good is King’s best? Good enough that Haynes picked up the album for his Evil Teen label and has signed on to produce its follow-up.
The proof of King’s developing virtuosity and vision is in the tracks. Soul Insight opens with “Always,” a riff-driven rocker about a spurned lover that brings King’s big burnished tone to the fore. “Boone” displays King’s acoustic side and reveals his talents as an arranger, opening with his singing slide resonator guitar and voice, and building to an explosive crescendo that echoes the influence of his own guitar heroes, including Haynes and his Allman Brothers Band foil Derek Trucks, and Jimi Hendrix. Soul Insight’s first single and album’s closing song, “I Won’t Be Here,” also echoes the Allman’s in King’s gorgeous, arcing vocal melody and the blend of King’s acoustic and electric guitars as he sings about the bittersweet experience of moving past an old romance into a new relationship.
“Warren and Derek were big influences on me,” King relates, citing the 2003 Allman Brothers’ album Hittin’ the Note and Trucks’ Grammy-winning Already Free as particularly inspiring. “That’s the level I aspire to with my own music,” King adds.