Note: The below story was written by Karen Valentine. We would love to add a few links to places you might be able to find her on the Internet … but she doesn’t have a website, Twitter account or Facebook page, and for that, friends, she should probably be commended.
Good lord! Just how many young music prodigies are there on the planet? You have the blossoming Yo-Yo Mas (cellists) and the 21st century Mozarts (pianists) that we’ve seen perform on daytime talk shows, delighting us all and blowing our minds. These extremely gifted young musicians hail from around the globe, and all of them are equally amazing with their talent. (Visit YouTube if you want to confirm this for yourself).
Then there are the guitar prodigies. Who knew? (As if I needed yet another reason to leave my guitar packed away in its case forever.) There are a number of them (a large portion of them girls, babeee!), and some websites even rank them. I had the good fortune to catch the performance of one such prodigy recently. His name is Quinn Sullivan, he’s been around for a while, and he’s all of 16 years old. I saw Sullivan this past Saturday evening at the Weinberg Center when he returned to Frederick with his band for a one-night only engagement at the venue.
Young man’s got skills! For nearly 10 years, he has been the protégé’ of the great Buddy Guy, the iconic Chicago blues guitarist and singer who has influenced some of the greats in rock, including Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. I first saw him on TV when he sat in with the Roots on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” in 2013. I knew then that if he had been invited to sit in with the Roots (badasses in their own right), then this was a musician to watch. Sullivan is more than proficient on his chosen instrument. It’s as if he and his guitar are fused together. I’m not exaggerating here. When I closed my eyes to groove with his flow, I heard a mature musician who had mastered his instrument and could make it do whatever he wanted. He sounded as if he’d been recording in studios for decades.
Then I opened my eyes, and I saw a high-schooler who looked like any teenager you might pass on the street. The youth in his face startled me when he stepped into the spotlight from time to time, such as when he would step to the mic to sing. Folks, he’s young.
Did I mention that he’s a pretty good vocalist, too? He has a strong voice and a commanding presence on stage. His band was comprised of full-grown men, and yet young Sullivan led the set like a conductor of the philharmonic. I’m not sure what I was expecting. I thought he’d be good, but man, he was beyond good. Even better, Sullivan has played and is playing with some of the best.
I’ve only recently been introduced to this young phenom, so I’m not familiar with his discography, and I don’t listen to a lot of blues. But a lot of the music I love (rock, R&B, progressive/fusion) borrow from traditional blues, and I can tell you what I heard during his performance. I heard notes of Lynyrd Skynrd and Jimi Hendrix (heard a few riffs that reminded me of “Bold as Love”). I heard good, old early ’70s rock-funk that brought Funkadelic and the Isley Brothers to mind. I even heard a little late ’60s Joe Cocker.
But Sullivan was totally doing his own stuff and he was on point. He performed “My Sweet Guitar,” an original from his 2011 CD “Cyclone,” which was good-time rock’n roll peppered with a little Pink Floyd (think “Money”). For me, all of these diverse artists came to mind (as well as my feet, which were tapping, and my head, which was boppin’ in my seat) while he played. I couldn’t pin down his specific musical influences because this young man seemed to defy categorization. He does place his roots in the blues, however, and seems to hold a sense of responsibility to ensure that this purely American form of art lives on. As the concert was coming to a close, he rendered a beautiful composition he called “Buddy’s Blues” that he dedicated to his mentor, the great Buddy Guy.
I was holding my breath hoping that he would go into full-blown Hendrix before the set ended, which I’m pretty sure he could do with relative ease. Perhaps that might happen when he visits Frederick again.