T here’s a two-year-old video on YouTube of Marcus King playing guitar with his band at a downtown Greenville club. At 15, he’s not old enough to be a customer, but he’s onstage, playing blues-inspired Southern rock with the confidence of a seasoned musician. His wavy hair is pulled back in a long ponytail, and his flannel shirt is untucked. His shape is what mothers in the ’70s used to refer to as “husky.” What’s amazing about this video is not just the raw talent of Marcus King but his casualness in displaying it. At one point following a blistering lead, he shrugs his shoulders and breaks into a smile, as if to say “no big deal.” But for 17-year-old King, playing guitar is a big deal, and he’s looking to make it even bigger.
I really started playing when I was about five,” says King, “but my first gig was with my dad’s band when I was eight.” King’s father Marvin is a lifelong musician who’s played in a variety of bands over several decades, resulting in two separate record deals. He occasionally joins the Marcus King Band onstage and appears in the video mentioned above, grinning proudly at his teenage son as if watching him pitch a no-hitter. King’s grandfather was also a musician and played country and bluegrass with a keen sense of timing. “My grandfather taught me a lot about meter and not being so busy,” says King. “And also about keeping good pocket, you know, keeping that steady beat and not getting all over the place.” Despite being surrounded by musicians, King swears there was never any pressure to play. “They never pushed me into it,” he says. “You see, where I grew up, there weren’t many kids my age around, so I’d just hang out with my grandpa and my grandma and my dad and sit on the couch and play guitar all day. You could say most of my childhood was spent playing guitar.”
The years of “no pressure” playing have given King a natural confidence that will no doubt lead the Marcus King Band to much larger stages. “Right now we’re playing around Greenville,” he says, “but this fall we’re going to branch out and get out into some different cities and get out on the road.” But even when discussing his future, Marcus’s thoughts are never far from his roots, and his father’s and grandfather’s influence. His most prized possession is his grandfather’s guitar, a 1958 Gibson ES345 that King handles with kid gloves. “My grandfather was a big part of why I got into music and that guitar symbolizes him,” says King. “It’s beautiful, but I don’t like to take it out, man—I would hate myself if anything happened to it.”