SARATOGA SPRINGS – Quinn Sullivan was in the second grade when legendary bluesman Buddy Guy pulled the 8-year-old guitar player onto the stage in his native New Bedford, Massachusetts to show what he could do.
“I'm like, "There's no way in the world you can play these notes,” Buddy Guy told Rolling Stone, regarding the performance. “He was hitting Eric Clapton, he was hitting me, Stevie, Jimi Hendrix. I couldn't even play a radio when I was seven or eight years old! Players like him come along once in a lifetime. I said, 'I need to let the world know about you.'"
A decade later, the guitar prodigy has shredded six-string licks in front of the TV cameras for Oprah Winfrey, Jimmy Kimmel and NBC's The Today Show, performed at music festivals alongside Dave Matthews, Sonic Youth, and Pearl Jam, and received a standing ovation while on stage at the Crossroads Guitar Festival at Madison Square Garden with his mentor Buddy Guy. Surreal, he says.
“The musical influence came right from the time when I was a little kid,” says Sullivan, who celebrated his 18th birthday in March. “My parents bought me a First Act acoustic guitar for Christmas – one of those kids’ guitars - when I was about three years old. That was my first encounter. They also played me all different kinds of music, from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers band. In my house, the music was always playing and I would just sit down, and absorb it all.”
Sullivan released his debut album, “Cyclone,” in 2011. His latest, “Midnight Highway,” was released last year. Sunday afternoon, local fans can catch the blues phenom on the big stage during Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The event, which takes place on two stages Saturday and Sunday, features nearly two dozen acts and is headlined by Chaka Khan - on Saturday night, and the Gipsy Kings – who close the festival on Sunday.
A living contradiction of the classic Alice Cooper tune about teen angst, Sullivan is 18 and he knows what he wants.
“There are the normal things that are great about becoming 18, but I think I’ve grown up in such a good environment with really great people in my life and a support system that has always been there and surrounded me. My main focus now is to just put on the best show I can,” says the guitarist, who performed nearly 100 shows last year and will certainly top that number in 2017.
“I’ve been able to evolve; Playing with the guys I’ve been playing with for years now we’ve reached this level on stage where everybody is jelling and the chemistry is very good,” Sullivan says. “I think the future of music – real music anyways - is live music and live performances, more so than records. I love the recording process and making records, but to me you need to have that same level of confidence on stage,” he says. “I think that’s what a true artist does, and that’s what I’m trying to do: to better my live show, and to not be afraid to take chances. Life in general is about taking chances especially when you’re in the music industry. I’m all about learning more and more every single day. “
With a bright future ahead of him, Sullivan says the musical path is without restriction, or limit. And while some may try to tag him strictly a blues artist, the guitarist says he won’t be pigeonholed into such fine a category.
“I don’t think of music as one thing, six different genres. I think if you’re putting out music that touches someone, that helps someone feel something, that’s the key to great music. I have so many different influences that I take from and I want to put that into what I do,” he says. “The sky’s the limit.”
If he wasn’t a touring musician, Sullivan says he imagines he somehow would have found his way into some segment of the arts. And at the age of 18, he’s not so far removed from his initial inspiration of what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“When I was a little kid, it was funny, I wanted to be a police officer. That was my first love,” recalls Sullivan of an age when the guitar was still a hobby. “I had a cousin who I used to play cops and robbers with all the time. I was totally down for that.”
View Quinn Sullivan at various stage of his musical life:
- The 8-year-old guitar prodigy tears it up on the B.B. King classic, "The Thrill is Gone," at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHoO3JHnn3Q.
- Performing Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing,” a sunburst Strat draped across his lithe torso, his chest be-spotted with a Sex Pistols “T-Shirt, on stage at the Western Maryland Blues Festival, June, 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMl7FYVz8x8
- Sullivan’s latest, “Something for Me,” featuring noise-infused blues on the cobblestone streets of downtown Manhattan: https://youtu.be/C1oIzzxtOUQ
Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival will be held Saturday, June 24 and Sunday, June 25 at SPAC. For more information about artists performing and tickets to the festival, go to: http://www.spac.org/events/jazz-festival.