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Catching Them Young: Quinn Sullivan

Fifteen-year-old American guitarist, who will play at the Mahindra Blues Festival this weekend, on getting life advice from Buddy Guy and his India debut

Anurag Tagat Feb 09, 2015
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Credit - Chuck Lanza

Quinn Sullivan. Photo: Chuck Lanza

 

Among the “11 things I Won’t Forget,” 15-year-old Massachusetts blues guitarist Quinn Sullivan sings about are hanging out with greats such as Buddy Guy and B.B. King. But once you talk to Sullivan, it’s clear that he’s never got carried away with fame, so early in life. Sullivan, who started learning guitar when he was three, was invited on stage to jam with Buddy Guy in 2007, when the blues great was in Sullivan’s hometown of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Sullivan, who has regularly jammed with Buddy since then and will join him on stage at the Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai this month, says it’s the greatest learning experience any musician could ask for. Says Sullivan, “It sounds crazy to think about when I’m actually playing with him but he’s helped me out in so many ways. I really can’t thank him enough. There’s no one like Buddy.”

But Sullivan has been progressing on his own as well, releasing two albums ”“ Cyclone in 2011 and Getting There in 2013 ”“ and performing across the world at festivals ranging from Lollapalooza to his favorite, the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. Sullivan recalls jamming with Buddy for the first time at Montreux in 2012 and then returning to the festival in 2014, jamming with Buddy and the Tedeschi Trucks Band to close the festival. Says Sullivan, “It was my first time in Europe, so that was cool in itself. Just to be invited to that prestigious festival was such an honor.”

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Since Sullivan has been touring for the last seven years, his school life has been an experience unlike any other teenager’s. Sullivan says he’s not exactly submitting leave permission slips. “I did public school for nine years and it worked out great.”

The teenager has signed up for online classes and does homework while he’s on the road. He says, “Last year, I missed two weeks of school because I had to go on tour, but now it’s easier. It’s working. I try to get as much done as I can before I go on the road, but yeah, there are times when I’ve had to hit the books [while touring].”

Touring with Buddy’s band has also given him a chance to learn about everything from the ropes of the music business to songwriting and production. Producer and drummer Tom Hambridge, who performs with Sullivan and worked on his second album Getting There, will also join the guitarist in India. Says Sullivan of Hambridge, “He’s such a sensible songwriter. He can write a song in 10 minutes. It’s the craziest thing. Buddy actually calls him the White Willie Dixon.” The guitarist adds that he’s going into the studio to work on new material just before he heads to India, and that he wants to make each record better than the last. That won’t be a tall order, considering how many critics and fellow blues musicians have called him a prodigy, a term he doesn’t exactly like, but won’t disapprove of. Says Sullivan, “I don’t especially like the word ”˜prodigy’. I mean, I get called that, I embrace it because you really can’t do anything about what people say.” Of course he’s got advice from Buddy about the matter. Adds Sullivan, “Buddy always says this, and he actually got it from B.B.King. He said, ”˜As long as you make the paper [newspaper], you know?’ You try not to think about it too much. You try to do what you love.”

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Love for the blues is certainly why Sullivan will be in India for the Mahindra Blues Fest. Says Sullivan, “I never thought I’d go to India in my life, you know? When I got the call to play this festival, I was like ”˜I gotta leave.’ It’s gonna be so cool.”

 

This article appeared in the February 2015 issue of ROLLING STONE India.

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