The annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam is known more as a showcase for established talent than a training ground for up-and-comers, but that doesn’t mean that young talent doesn’t get noticed. Just ask Marcus King.
King played the Jam By Day event last year, rocking out the tiny One Stop music venue on College Street. The daytime concerts lead up to the official Jam, led by Asheville native Warren Haynes, one of the best rock guitarists on the scene.
The two have mutual friends in town, including musicians Jeff Anders and Rocky Lindsley, “cats that I write with and collaborate with, and they got some of our stuff to Warren and Stef (Warren’s wife),” King says.
“They listened to it and really liked it and we played the Jam by Day, and that’s when Stefani and I started talking,” King says.
It didn’t hurt that King, just 19, is a straight-up guitar prodigy. His father, Marvin King, and grandfather, Bill, are both well-established in the Greenville, S.C., area where Marcus King grew up. At age 11, Marcus joined Marvin King & The Blues Revival. At 15, The Marcus King Band opened for legendary bluesman Johnny Winter.
After connecting with King, Haynes wasted no time in signing The Marcus King band to his record label, Evil Teen Records. “I’m really grateful to be working with those folks. They’re great,” King says.
In September 2014, King released 12 original tunes on a record called Soul InSight. King’s voice screams soul, and his guitar playing has critics comparing him to greats such as Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
It’s all a bit much for the somewhat shy King, who references a Hendrix quote when asked about the glowing compliments.
“Compliments are distractions. My grandfather felt the same way and he told me never to get the big head. I always appreciate compliments and I’m very gracious, but I’m always trying to work harder to get to the next level,” King says.
“I talk to my musician friends about it, and in my opinion, I think you should never be satisfied and always try to be better than you were the night before.”
All the attention is also a bit off-putting for King, who admits to a bit of social anxiety. “I’ve always felt more comfortable on the stage than off,” he says, adding that music is his own personal therapy.
“It’s always been something I do to express my emotions, just in a musical context. It gives me peace of mind. I’d be crazy without it. I’m not only speaking my issues, I’m screaming them,” he jokes.
“It’s about relating to people on a different level and letting them know they’re not the only ones going through what they’re going through. Nobody wants to hear somebody belly aching about their problems, but when you put it in that musical context, it’s something beautiful,” King adds.
King says he’s enjoyed the past year, touring with his band and dialing in a chemistry. “The band’s evolved. We’ve all had the chance to bond and grow as real friends. When you play for a room out in the room in the middle of nowhere, that’s where you find some of the most beautiful moments.”
“We always try to play like nobody’s watching,” King adds.
A year after his discovery at the Christmas Jam, people are most certainly watching.
Christmas Jam by Day
Bands include Andrew Scotchie & The River Rats, Love Canon, ChessBoxer, Jahman Brahman, Lyric, The Marcus King Band, Red Honey, Travers Brothership, Trouble featuring Shane Pruitt and Woody Wood, Urban Soil./Asheville Music Hall and One Stop/ Sat. Dec. 12, noon to 5 p.m. $10 or Warren Haynes Christmas Jam VIP pass
Kevn Kinney Jam
This year’s lineup includes Bobby Miller & The Virginia Daredevils, David Earl Tomlinson, Granpappy, Jamie Dose and Dorsey Parker, Jason Daniello, Jeff Santiago, Josh Daniel/Mark Schimick Project, Kevn Kinney, Leigh Glass, Liz Wright, The Pond Brothers, Ray Sisk, Toph Oneal with Chris Kew, Aaron Woody Wood/ Jack of the Wood/Fri-Sat. Dec. 11- 12, noon to 5 p.m. $10 at the door or VIP pass.
Christmas Jam Art Show at Satellite Gallery in downtown Asheville