‘The blues is an ocean’

learning from the best: Quinn Sullivan says meeting legends like Buddy Guy, BB King, Hubert Sumlin and James Cotton inspires him to do his best.

learning from the best: Quinn Sullivan says meeting legends like Buddy Guy, BB King, Hubert Sumlin and James Cotton inspires him to do his best.  

Child prodigy guitarist Quinn Sullivan is just about 18 and has several musical accomplishments to his name

He’s not even 18 yet and the young and handsome Quinn Sullivan already has the following under his belt: he’s been mentored by Buddy Guy, he’s opened a concert for BB King, shared the stage with Eric Clapton, and released three albums.

At a time when many teenagers are listening to electronic dance music, hip-hop and metal, Sullivan has come to be recognised as a blues prodigy. His current mission is to get into the singer-songwriter space, creating a sound that uses the blues, pop, rock and soul. The young lad will be one of the star attractions at this year’s Mahindra Blues Festival. This will be Sullivan’s second appearance at the festival and his set list will include covers and songs from his new album Midnight Highway. In 2015, he played an individual set and later joined Buddy Guy in the all-star jam session. “I remember the amazing people, the great food and the enormous amount of love and support I got from everyone,” he says.

Hailing from New Bedford, Massachusetts, Sullivan attributes his career progress to “cool parents” who got him on to music at a very young age. He adds, “They have been very supportive and helped me keep a level head. I also have an incredible girlfriend, who has backed me a lot.”

The American musician first heard the Beatles when he was three, and slowly developed a fondness for the Allman Brothers Band, Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy. “I saw a DVD of Buddy Guy playing at Clapton’s Crossroads festival, and I was blown away,” Sullivan recalls. He then pursued learning the guitar at age five. Once he learnt the basic chords, things moved forward, but the real moment came when he was eight. “I met Buddy Guy at this small venue called Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford. He told me to show what I had. I played for a bit and I think he was shocked I could play quite well.”

Sullivan, who normally uses a Fender Stratocaster guitar, says Buddy Guy steered him in the right direction. “I owe everything to him. His perseverance and natural ability were a huge inspiration, and through him, I learnt that hard work pays off in the long run. That’s something I live by every day.”

Soon, the concert offers started coming in, and Sullivan had a chance to interact with greats like BB King, Hubert Sumlin and James Cotton. “When you meet legends who have touched people’s lives with their music, it inspires you to do your best and also learn from their genius.” He also had a chance to meet the another teenage blues prodigy, Jonny Lang. “He’s a very dear friend and inspiration, a great guy and fabulous musician.”

How did he deal with the teenage challenge of his voice changing texture? “I’ve spent a lot of time with various people who have helped me in that aspect. The approach is different, but I think singing is as important as playing the guitar. Studying with people helped me gain knowledge I didn’t have before taking voice lessons. It’s important to know your voice.”

Besides music, Sullivan loves photography, travelling and checking out fashion trends. On the academic front, he shall be graduating in a few months. “I will be free after that,” he quips. But his main priority will be to create good music. “The blues is an ocean. The traditional form consisted of music created by originators of the genre. Today, artistes like Gary Clark Jr. and Tedeschi Trucks Band are giving it a new direction. The way I think about it is to stay true to what you believe sounds good at feels right.”

Sullivan thinks of the blues as something pure and natural and ultimately he wants to be known as a singer-songwriter and guitarist with a very strong blues backbone. Surely, his efforts will go a long way in attracting the younger generation to the blues.

The Mahindra Blues Festival will take place this weekend at Mehboob Studio in Bandra. Check for details.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 8:51:22 PM |

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