14-year-old Blues guitarist wows the masters
Quinn Sullivan on stage in Lowell with Buddy Guy. Photo by Tory Germann.
By Nick Tsui
He’s barely old enough to drive but at 14, Quinn Sullivan can already steer a six-string with the skill of a seasoned bluesman.
Leaning back on a Lowell stage, his hands do all the talking. Hotshot picking to slow burning slides. Rock riffs shift to bluesy strums and back again. Watching Sullivan in action, it’s no wonder that blues legend Buddy Guy took this kid from New Bedford, Mass. under his wing.
Aside from the likes of B.B. King, there is arguably no other blues artist alive who is more revered than Buddy Guy. His fiery and wild on-the-edge playing has directly influenced the styles of Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Jimi Hendrix even blew off one of his own shows to see Guy play.
When Buddy moved to Chicago in the 1950’s from Lettsworth, Louisiana, he became the young apprentice of Muddy Waters, who taught him everything he knew. During those days, Muddy’s name was as big as it got. Legend has it that when Muddy was on his deathbed, he told Buddy to “never let the Blues die.”
Guy has kept his promise. He owns his own club in Chicago — the famous Legends — and has never stopped playing.
Amazed by what he heard when he saw Quinn play for the first time, Guy unplugged the amp while Quinn was in the middle of a blistering set, just to make sure it was really him.
The two have become inseparable. Since flying under the wing of Guy, Sullivan has soared to new heights, appearing on Ellen, The Today Show, Oprah, and has had more success by age 14 than most musicians could hope for in a lifetime.
Quinn Sullivan. Photo by Tory Germann.
He has played Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits and holds the record as the youngest person to play both the Montreux and Crossroads Guitar Festival hosted by Eric Clapton.
Howl caught up with Buddy Guy’s young protégé recently, to chat about the blues and rubbing elbows with living legends:
Howl: You’re still young enough to take up any kind of field or trade you want. Is music what you want to do for the rest of your life?
Quinn: Yes it is. I’ve been doing it since I was three and it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do.
Howl: You got to meet Eric Clapton and then you got to play the Crossroads Guitar Festival hosted by him. How did that feel?
Quinn: Meeting Eric was an honor because he is one of my heroes and I never thought I would ever meet him but I did and it was so cool! A moment I will never forget.
Howl: Was that your career high point so far?
Quinn: Yes, I think playing Crossroads 2013 was the highest point in my career.
Howl: You’ve had the privilege of studying under Buddy, played on stage with B.B. King, met Hubert Sumlin before he passed away and attended his tribute show. You’ve rubbed elbows with some of the most seasoned and legendary musicians. Did any of them offer up any advice to you?
Quinn: Not so much advice, but getting to meet them is just enough for me. Buddy has given me many forms of advice, one in particular — “Never hold back. Give them the best you got, there will always be people who don’t like you, but if that one person in the audience didn’t like you they can say, ‘well I wasn’t crazy about him but he gave it his best.’ ” And that’s what I always try to do every time whether I’m playing for 100 or 10,000 people. I always give it my best.
Howl: What other kinds of music influences your style of playing?
Quinn: I’m not just a blues player. I play rock and pop and even a little bit of funk so I think for me the music I play is a mixture of all of that stuff.
Howl: You played a show in Lowell in 2007. It was your second gig with Buddy. How was the 2013 show at Boarding House park different?
Quinn: I got to play my own set which is always nice and I have my new CD, “Getting There”, which came out on June 18th and was available by the merch table. Because of that I got to meet a lot more people.
Howl: How do you plan on keeping the legacy of the blues alive?
Quinn: I think me and many other people can keep this great music alive. People like Derek Trucks, Joe Bonamassa, and Gary Clark Jr. are key figures in the contemporary rock and blues scene, so I think I’ll follow their footsteps but maybe have my own spin on it.
Howl: You are standing in the same shoes with Buddy now just as he was with Muddy Waters years ago. What is that like?
Quinn: It’s really a feeling that you can’t describe. What Buddy’s done for me since I met him in 2007 has been very extraordinary and it really is an honor to be on tour with him, and to have done what I’ve done in my 14 years has been all because of him. I can’t thank him enough.
Nick Tsui eats, sleeps and breathes music. With his acoustic Takamine in tow, over the past eight years he has traveled the country in search of some of the greatest guitar legends of all time including Bo Diddley, Les Paul, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck and BB King — just to name a few. Today, Nick’s guitar is tattooed with the signatures of more than two dozen of his guitar heroes. He lives in Dracut and attended school at UMass Lowell, where he studied psychology. Besides collecting music and interviewing the players, Nick provides food for the music-lover’s soul at Howl and also writes for The Blues Audience Newsletter. Give him a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org