Lita Ford once told me that guitarists who spent their whole show looking down at their fretboards to see where to put their fingers drove her nuts. That is something you will NOT see at a Quinn Sullivan concert. The young man starts to play and before you know it he’s throwing his head back, feeling every ounce of the music coming out of him. The trance can last several minutes before he comes back to Earth but the whole time you are flying along on the journey with him.
A protégé of Buddy Guy, whom he will be opening for on some of his summer dates, Sullivan picked up a guitar as a child and never let it go. He released his first album, Cyclone, at eleven in 2011, while his third offering, Midnight Highway, appeared in January this year. In between, Sullivan has been cultivating his blues-soaked guitar sound, while recently adding a youthful pop spin onto new compositions. “The goal that I have as an artist is to translate music in different ways,” Sullivan explained to me in an interview earlier this year. “And to also just always put on a great show. I think that’s probably the most important thing out of all of this is to be able to go onstage and give people what they’ve paid for because that to me, if you don’t do that then it’s kind of just blowing smoke. If you have a good record, it’s good, but if you can’t do the same thing live, I don’t feel like it’s worth doing.”
Or worth seeing. Any guitar player can translate Hendrix or Clapton or Winter but it’s the ones who feel inside the notes and can turn them into a meatier, emotional realm who will never bore you during a concert. Sullivan not only put the pedal down on classics by the masters but on his own songs as well. And the audience was wanting more.
Making his June 17th debut appearance at Baton Rouge’s cozy Manship Theatre, Sullivan rattled up some smooth guitar chords and led his band through an hour and a half of good for the soul music. Not one to jump around, windmill or show off some death-defying leaps off his Fender amps, Sullivan simply gives you a cosmic whirlwind of guitar-driven songs, four of which appear on his latest album.
Opening with the Memphis Slim/Eric Clapton instrumental “Steppin’ Out,” “Getting There” and his “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming,” Sullivan then eased into a hypnotic “Little Wing,” going deeper than Hendrix chose to do on his original recording, culminating with an excellent crowd cheering solo. On the new “She Gets Me,” Sullivan and his bass player Tommy MacDonald went into a give & take that kept building into a hot tamale frenzy while drummer Tom Hambridge (who has produced not only Sullivan but Buddy Guy and Susan Tedeschi, among others as well) and keys/organ player Colin Bradley edged them into a jazz fusion-like rhythm. That fusion veered them into the Frank Zappa instrumental, “Black Napkins,” allowing for Sullivan’s guitar to soar tranquilly like a hawk and Bradley’s organ to move the piece into a much moodier atmosphere.
Before wrapping up his show with a killer two song encore, Sullivan and his band kicked through a rousing song he co-wrote with Hambridge called “Going.” With Hambridge using brushes and Sullivan supplying just the right amount of longing on his guitar intro, he summoned the crowd into shouts of “go” until he took off into a roaring solo.
Oftentimes Sullivan’s hands were moving so fast that they became a blur, especially on “Got To Get Better In A Little While” and “Buddy’s Blues,” where he finished by looking skyward and mouthing “Thank you.”
If you are looking for a youthful, modern spin on the blues by someone who still has respect for the traditional chords, then Quinn Sullivan is definitely your guy.