Singing his way to success

Singing his way to success

teen sensation

If you ask Buddy Guy who embodies the future of blues guitar, he will point to a 14-year-old boy from Massachusetts named Quinn Sullivan. “Remember that name,” Guy said in a recent interview. “He sounds like Eric Clapton, B B King, me, Hendrix, everybody, man!”

Sullivan is just graduating from middle school, but at a time when most teenagers are getting ready for summer vacation, he’s getting ready to tour to promote his new album, Getting There (SuperStar Records), a set of blues, rock, rockabilly and Beatlesesque pop songs, sung in his sweet, guileless voice.

Sullivan began playing the guitar at 3, and his remarkable ability came to national attention at 6, when Ellen DeGeneres, who often showcases child prodigies, invited him to play on her show. But his career did not truly take off until 2009, when Guy, the Chicago bluesman, invited him on tour after meeting him backstage at a show. Guy also produced Sullivan’s first album, Cyclone, which peaked at No 7 on the Billboard Blues Chart in 2011. In April, Sullivan impressed a sold-out crowd of blues-rock fans at Madison Square Garden, appearing with Guy at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival.

“I got to go up for the finale,” Sullivan said. “You look down the line — there’s Derek Trucks, Gary Clark Jr., Jimmie Vaughan. There’s Clapton — my heroes.”

Sullivan has a mellifluous voice and a sweet, mildly awkward bearing, but onstage his guitar bucks, wails, screeches, crunches and soars. He was in New York recently to appear on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and talked about his first guitar and feeling the blues. Below are excerpts from their conversation.

How did you get interested in the guitar?

My parents had a lot of music in the house, from the Allman Brothers to the Beatles, and all those old rock ‘n’ roll bands playing on the stereo. I fell in love with that whole thing. One Christmas — I was 3 — my parents bought me, because I was craving and dying for one, a little First Act guitar. I started taking lessons when I was 5.

What was the first song you learned?

Blackbird by the Beatles. I was in love with that song from the start, because I was a huge Beatles fanatic.

When did you first hear the blues?

My dad had Eric Clapton’s first Crossroads Guitar Festival on DVD, the 2004 one. I saw Buddy Guy come out and do Sweet Home Chicago. It was something else with his stage mannerisms, just his whole thing — something I had never seen in my life. The first time you listen to the blues, you feel something towards it. You can already feel a story behind it. You can feel history. For me, it was listening to Buddy and feeling where he’s been in his life.

When did you meet him?

I met him in 2007 at a little theatre in my hometown, New Bedford, Massachusetts, called the Zeiterion Theater. My dad knew some people at the theatre and got us backstage to see Buddy. I had a guitar with me, and I asked him to sign it. Then he said, ‘Can you play a few licks?’ I played and he said, ‘You be ready when I call you.’ He’s been my mentor since then.

Do you read music?

Nope. I probably will branch into that a little bit, because I want to have some theory behind what I’m doing. But for now it’s always by ear.

Do your friends get what you do?

They look at it more like, “That kid’s been on ‘Ellen’,” or “That kid’s been on ‘Oprah’.” The highlights.

What’s it like playing in blues clubs when you’re not old enough to drink?

I just try to ignore the drunk people.

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