Quinn Sullivan found his love of the blues early—really early
The blues world has produced its fair share of guitar-wielding child prodigies. Growing up with family connections to the Allman Brothers, Derek Trucks scored his first paid gig at 11. And Kenny Wayne Shepherd took up guitar at the age of seven, shortly after being mesmerized by the sight of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The latest young whippersnapper to draw the attention of blues-rock fans is 14-year-old Quinn Sullivan, who started out real early. He was still a toddler when he discovered the joys of the six-string.
“My parents always had a broad collection of music in the house,” explains Sullivan from his home in New Bedford, Massachusetts, “and one Christmas when I was three they bought me a little First Act acoustic guitar. So from then on I’ve been kickin’ it; I just always had a passion for it.”
It wasn’t until he reached the ripe old age of six that Sullivan first heard the blues, via his dad’s DVD of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, the inaugural event from 2004.
“A guy by the name of Buddy Guy came on and played “Sweet Home Chicago’,” he recalls. “And from then on I was just like, ‘Wow, who is this guy that walked on-stage and was just so good—almost terrifyingly good.”
That first Crossroads DVD included performances by a slew of legendary pickers, including B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin, Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin, and, of course, Slowhand himself. But something about Guy’s style captured Sullivan’s imagination.
“The first time you see him play, there’s nobody like him,” he raves. “Being so young and seeing someone doing something that no one else is doing, it was just like, ‘Oh my god!’ ”
A couple years after his visual introduction to Guy, Sullivan got to meet him in the flesh. His father took the eight-year-old to see the blues master perform in New Bedford, and backstage access led to the kid’s musical dream coming true.
“He signed the little Squier Stratocaster that I had at the time,” recalls Sullivan, “and then he asked me to play a few licks, just to see if I could actually play it. I played a few licks for him and he said, ‘Be ready when I call you’.
“I got to go up on-stage with him that night,” he adds, “and ever since then he’s been mentoring me and helping me out. He showed me the world, basically.”
Sullivan recently released his second album, Getting There, produced and co-written by Buddy Guy drummer and collaborator Tom Hambridge. He’s currently performing material from it while opening for Guy on a North American tour that sees him jamming with his idol on whatever tune the 77-year-old legend sees fit to play.
“Buddy’s such a great showman,” notes Sullivan, “that he doesn’t carry a setlist at all, so it’s really his call of whatever we do. It’s kind of a mystery.”