Although Marcus King‘s name can be found on billboards spanning from Los Angeles to New York City his seemingly overnight success has been anything but rapid. King has been plying his wares in the music industry for over 15 years now with his career beginning in middle school when he’d often join his father Marvin King, a veteran blues guitar player himself, on stages scattered across the Southeast.
As a teenager, King recorded his first studio effort, Soul Insight, as part of the Marcus King Band with the album re-released in 2015 under his mentor at the time, Warren Haynes‘ label, Evil Teen Records. Strangely enough, Soul Insight‘s soundscapes lean heavily toward the exact same type of Southern rock sensibilities and incendiary lead guitar playing that is at the heart of King’s latest release, Young Blood.
Following Soul Insight, King continued to record alongside the Marcus King Band where he filled out the group’s roster with additional players including keyboards and a robust horn section. The record that followed, the self-titled Marcus King Band, saw King switch gears musically away from the guitar-driven rock of Soul Insight and more towards a jazzier, jam band-driven focus.
Horn solos and extended, spaced-out moments that align much more closely with acts such as Gov’t Mule, Widespread Panic, and even Phish to some degree were the order of the day at the time. King’s final release, to date anyway, with the Marcus King Band was 2016’s Goodbye Carolina.
Continuing with his tendency to change the direction of his recorded music, Goodbye Carolina shifted things more toward a radio-friendly, Southern rock lite kind of sound with a bit of country mixed in for good measure. The title track from the record seemed to be a harbinger of things to come as the straight-off-the-Nashville-radio-airwaves-sounding “Goodbye Carolina” ended up bleeding into the veins of what was to come next from Marcus King.
Whether it was his intention or Nashville simply came beckoning, King moved himself and his career to Music City when the tour cycle for Goodbye Carolina came to a close. Shortly thereafter in 2020, the Southern fried guitar hero released his debut solo LP, El Dorado, albeit with once again, a much-altered direction and sound. El Dorado, an Americana-meets-Nashville alt-country radio amalgamation did not sound like anything King had put out with the Marcus King Band previously.
The musical recalibration worked to plan as King’s solo debut outsold all three of the Marcus King Band records combined while also landing the young musician his first ever Grammy nomination. Fast forward to 2022 and the Greenville, SC guitar hero has gone back to the future with his second solo record Young Blood, as at its core, it shares many of the excitable elements from King’s debut record with the Marcus King Band, Soul Insight.
Back again are the fiery, Southern guitar rock leads and the type of blues-driven stomp and bombast that made legends out of bands such as Led Zeppelin, Free, and ZZ Top back in the 1970s.
King brought his new record and his virtuosic guitar riffs to the House of Blues Boston on Sunday as part of the recently launched Young Blood Tour. Several holdovers from the Marcus King Band era still perform with King onstage including drummer Jack Ryan, horns player Justin Johnson, and bassist Stephen Campbell.
While they may still share the stage, for all intents and purposes the Marcus King Band no longer exists as the guitarist has taken his latest artistic leap alone. It’s worth noting that none of them were a part of the recording process for either of King’s solo records, Young Blood and El Dorado. When 2022 comes to an end, King will have gone over seven years since he put out recorded music with the Marcus King Band and it seems increasingly unlikely that he ever will again.
King’s Boston performance highlighted the transition he has made both musically and career-wise and the positive, as well as negative, effects those things are having on his live shows these days. Just a few years ago, the vast majority of Marcus King Band show attendees were older with a good many of them being between the ages of 30 and even 50-plus. King’s show in Boston, however, saw this demographic deviate more toward the millennial side of the age pendulum and it showed.
Whenever newer songs such as standouts from Young Blood were played such as the catchy bass line driven, “Lie Lie Lie,” the riff soaked, “Hard Working Man”, and the blistering lead track from King’s new record, “It’s Too Late,” the Boston audience was engaged, mesmerized and frothing at the mouth for more. Conversely, when King swung the show back to elements that were reminiscent of the Marcus King Band era and anchored by longer, drawn-out jams, horn solos, and extended spaces, the crowd seemed to get a bit lost and some, even disinterested.
This is where the divide between the types of music fans and the ages of King’s own fan base these days seemingly comes into play. Again the vast majority of the audience in Boston was under the age of 30 with a large percentage of them only appearing to connect intimately with the Young Blood material.
Bear in mind, however, this is the exact direction King pushed himself toward with Young Blood. Interestingly enough it’s also the direction he began his recorded musical career with via 2015’s Soul Insight and based on his time in Boston, it sure as hell seems like it’s the musical zip code his ever-growing and younger fan base wants King to continue to reside in.
Whether Marcus King continues to keep his fans and the industry on their toes by going in another direction when it comes time for him to record new music, only time will tell. For now, King has established himself as one of the most talented songwriters, guitar players, and singers under the age of 30 in this country, and by all measures his new album Young Blood has positioned the Nashville via Greenville, SC musician for global domination.
Supporting King on the Young Blood Tour were Ashland Craft, yet another South Carolina-born and bred singer and songwriter, as well as Chicago’s own Neil Francis. Craft, who first found fame on season 13 of The Voice, bewitched the Boston audience with her unique blend of Gretchen Wilson-meets-Miranda Lambert-meets-Lynyrd Skynyrd brand of music. Affable, talented, and unique aptly describe Craft both musically and personally.
Despite very few audience members knowing who Craft was, within just a few minutes the songstress had the attention of nearly every soul inside the confines of the House of Blues. Craft’s music could not swing further away from the sanitized Nashville pop sound that dominates country radio these days and that’s a good thing. Her whisky-soaked rasp, rock-inflected attitude, and raw lyrics are the stuff superstars are made out of, thus it’d be rather shocking if Craft’s star does not exponentially rise in the years to come.
Marcus King also invited out the genre-bending Neal Francis to help provide support for the first leg of the Young Blood Tour. It’s hard to exactly pinpoint who Francis is musically as there are elements of everything from funk, soul, pop, R&B, yacht rock, prog, and ten other genres seemingly wrapped into the musician’s sound palette. Like King’s Young Blood, Francis’ sophomore effort, In Plain Sight, leans heavily on ’70s influences while at the same time sounding like something entirely new.
Francis seamlessly connected with the crowd in Boston with the audience going into a prolonged state of bliss and euphoria when the bandleader brought the House of Blues to a boil with an inspired and Pink Floyd-flavored version of “Prometheus,” one of the standout tracks from In Plain Sight. Francis invoked thoughts of Leon Russell, Elton John, Billy Joel, The Flaming Lips, and even the likes of Steely Dan, which is another way of saying it’s almost impossible not to find something to like about him and the audience in Boston seemed to wholeheartedly agree.
King also enlisted Los Angeles-based comedian Dean Delray to serve as emcee for the Young Blood Tour. Delray, most widely known for his popular and acclaimed podcast, Let There Be Talk, had what could only be referred to as an up-and-down night in Boston. Early on in the show, the Northeast audience had a few chuckles with Delray as he did a few minutes of material ahead of both Craft’s and Francis’ sets.
But as the night grew in length, the alcohol kicked in, and fans became more and more restless waiting for King to take the stage, the proverbial rope the audience had with Delray seemed to get reduced to a broken shoestring. Delray’s final minutes onstage ahead of King’s set in Boston were met with a myriad of boos and even some heckling.
Had the seasoned comedian been performing in his more accustomed environment, Delray likely would have engaged with the audience in an attempt to win them back or at the very least, stick up for himself. Instead, Delray chose to keep things professional even when he eventually found himself having to grab for a life lie by just trying to get the Boston audience to have a moment of silence to remember the victims of 9/11.
Being a comedian is not an easy job so kudos to Delray for finding a way to stay positive onstage even when the crowd starting to reach for their pitchforks.
The first leg of Marcus King’s Young Blood Tour continues with Ashland Craft, Neal Francis, and Dean Delray through the end of October. For all things Marcus King including tickets and a full list of tour dates visit his website. Check out a gallery of photos from House of Blues courtesy of photographer Robert Forte and a collection of fan-shot videos from Amy Karibian.
Marcus King – “It’s Too Late”, “Virginia”, “Hard Working Man” – 9/11/22
Marcus King – “Blood On The Trax” – 9/11/22
Marcus King – “Many Rivers To Cross” (Jimmy Cliff) – 9/11/22
Marcus King – “Aim High”, “Rescue Me” – 9/11/22
Marcus King – “Trouble Man” (Marvin Gaye) – 9/11/22
Marcus King – “Goodbye Carolina” – 9/11/22
Marcus King, Neal Francis – “Hey Bulldog” (The Beatles), “The Well” – 9/11/22
Neal Francis – “Changes, Pts. 1 & 2” – 9/11/22
Setlist: Marcus King | House of Blues | Boston, MA | 9/11/22
Set: It’s Too Late, Virginia, Hard Working Man, The Whisper, One Day She’s Here, No Good, Blood on the Trax, Many Rivers to Cross (Jimmy Cliff), Blues Worse, Aim High, Rescue Me, Trouble Man (Marvin Gaye), Pain, Good N Gone, Drum Solo, Wildflowers & Wine, Lie Lie Lie
Encore: Goodbye Carolina, Hey Bulldog (The Beatles) , The Well 
 w/ Neal Francis