About fifteen years ago, I purchased a CD by Chicago blues man Willie Kent called Comin' Alive. If you've never heard it, I recommend it highly......it's a great set of Chicago blues. The highlight for me was the guitar work from Kent's band leader/lead guitarist, who was listed as Haguy F. King. I wrote in Blues Bytes that King's guitar had to be smoking after that session and that his fretwork was highly reminiscent of Albert King. It was just a textbook example of guitar playing, in my opinion, and more or less summed up everything that I enjoyed about listening to the blues.
Fast forward about 6 1/2 years.......I receive a CD in the mail from a young guitarist named Guy King. It's his debut release as a solo artist, called Livin' It. Like the Willie Kent CD, it was recorded in Chicago at Twist Turner's House of Sound and featured that same stinging, piercing fretwork, though King mixed traditional blues tunes from the likes of T-Bone Walker with some classic old-school R&B and soul/blues tunes from Jimmy McCracklin, Percy Mayfield, Little Johnny Taylor. He also wrote songs of his own and displayed a fine singing voice.
After I reviewed Livin' It, I contacted King via email and we have remained in contact off and on over the past decade, via email and Facebook. He's a really cool guy and was always nice enough to take the time to correspond. I have to admit that when I decided to start the page, one of my original ideas was to do a Ten Questions post with him, but it never materialized until now.
I was pretty excited when I found out that King had an upcoming release with Delmark Records, and that it would be produced by FBF friend Dick Shurman. When I got to listen, I was not disappointed in the least. Truth is one of the best releases, if not the best, that I've heard this year. It's loaded with 15 stellar tracks, 4 originals and 11 covers, and there's plenty of great guitar work, as might be expected, along with some outstanding covers of tunes by some of King's musical idols.
After the album's release, I asked Guy if he'd be interested in doing a Ten Questions post for FBF, and he graciously accepted and took the time from his busy schedule to do so. We at FBF thank him for his time. I strongly recommend that you check out his new album, Truth, right after you check out Ten Questions.......With Guy King.
Ten Questions with Guy King
Friday Blues Fix: You were born and raised in Israel…….what exposure did you have to the blues during your early years?
Guy King: My first instrument was the clarinet, which I played as a child since about 7 years of age. As I also played in an orchestra/big band, my Blues exposure was more of the Jazz/Blues and Big Band type. I remember the radio playing early in the morning before I went to school and in the afternoon when I came back from school and at times, hearing Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong songs on the radio. I guess you may say it was the “more orchestrated Blues” that made it on the radio when I was a child in Israel. Later on, when I picked up the guitar, and through more popular guitarists such as Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughn, I was made aware of some of my main influences on the guitar: B.B. King, Albert King, Albert Collins, T-Bone Walker, Robert Johnson and more.
FBF: How popular are the blues in Israel? I’ve met a few fans online from Israel, but are they more the norm or the exception? What other genres did you listen to while growing up?
GK: I think that today the Blues are more known in Israel. I wouldn’t say popular, but more known. But for your question, it is still more an exception than the norm. When I was coming up it was probably even more of an exception: it was not very much known or talked about. I remember traveling from my small country town to the city to find an Albert King CD and having to get there only to learn that they will order it for me, and coming back about three weeks later to pick it up. I will say that it was well worth the wait. I did listen to Pop, and some Rock as well. I enjoyed listening to popular and older Israeli songs which often had a wonderful sense of melody and harmony and which opened my ears up to Brazilian Bossa-Nova as well. I sang before I played an instrument, so I believe that anything heartfelt and that had a nice groove and caught my attention was what I went for; either listening to, or trying to perform. I also remember listening to Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Dire Straits, Queen, Elton John, Billy Joel, Ray Charles, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder. There was a lot of music being played and that I had the pleasure of being exposed to through friends and family.
FBF: Who were some of the artists that you listened to when you were growing up? Did you listen to various styles of music?
GK: When I think of this, I did listen to various styles of music: My parents enjoyed Classical music, and Opera as well, and playing the clarinet in the big band, I played classical music, some orchestral Jazz and even Klezmer. I heard certain Soul and Pop based music that I liked a lot as well. When the Blues came in with its power and “simplicity”, things changed for me, and I felt that I was getting closer to the source. I spoke about a few artists I was listening to at the time in my previous answer, but really, I always was drawn to the combination of a beautiful melody, the harmony that comes with it, and the beat-the groove that makes it click, that makes things move.
FBF: Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to be a musician? Was guitar your first instrument? How old were you when you first started performing and what were your first public performances like?
GK: I knew that I wanted to sing and play. I started out singing, then playing the Clarinet. When I finally picked up the guitar at about 13 years old, it felt very comfortable and natural. My first performances were playing recitals and concerts with the orchestra I was a member of as a child and it was nice. I remember being a little excited and a bit nervous. My first performances singing and playing guitar were already with a teenage band, playing original material and even some Blues based material, and it was more involved and satisfying! We worked on our music and our sound, and we were looking forward to performing it in front of the public, hoping that people would enjoy it as we did at the time.
FBF: You came to the U.S. to perform as a teenager, but came back to stay at age 21…..What was your first experience like in America?. When you came back, did you start out in Chicago, or did you work other places before coming to the Windy City?
GK: My first experience was “wow”… Everything was so big, the roads, the cars, the land. I grew up in a small country, and in a small village in that small country, so the size of the US was very shocking to me. I also remember appreciating and loving the fact that the Blues and Soul music that I already loved very much at the age of 16, was so easy to hear, listen to and experience firsthand.
When I came back to the US at 21 years of age I first came to Memphis, Tennessee. From Memphis I continued to New Orleans, Louisiana, and then came north to Chicago. I spent time in Memphis and New Orleans going out and listening to music, both live and on records, observing sounds and experiences that helped me shape my own sound.
FBF: You have a very distinctive style on guitar….that’s what grabbed me the first time I heard you on disc……but I hear others in your playing as well. Who are some of your influences on guitar and how difficult was it to incorporate your own style in with other blues guitarists who influenced you?
GK: Thank you very much! I do have quite a few musical influences that I learned and still learn things from. I learned a lot from Albert King, B.B. King, Albert Collins, T-Bone Walker, Robert Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Ray Charles, Wes Montgomery, count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Erroll Garner, Nat King Cole, Joao Gilberto, Jimmy McGriff, George Benson and a few more whom I listened and still listen to today. I listened to other wonderful players who opened my ears and influenced my playing. Johnny Guitar Watson, Otis Rush, Freddie King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown were guitarists that I also listened to after arriving to Chicago. There were also the musicians that I enjoyed seeing live since moving to Chicago, whether on the Jazz or Blues scene.
About incorporating my own style: I think that I already had my own touch, my own feeling for the music, but after coming to Chicago, learning more and absorbing more influences, I remember being a little frustrated and thinking that I sound too much like others. This was when I was still playing with Willie Kent. One night Willie smiled and told me: “You sound more like you every day that I hear you. Just keep doing what you’re doing, be patient, let things take their course”. He was right, and this is a memory that makes me smile today.
FBF: You also have a very natural, warm quality to your vocals, equally suited for blues and R&B. Who are some of your influences as a vocalist?
GK: Thank you again! I must admit that I am probably influenced by more things and people than I am aware of. This being in music in general, singing or playing.
I love and enjoy a lot of music, but some of my biggest vocal influences are: Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Joao Gilberto, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Percy Mayfield, and Johnny Guitar Watson. There are many wonderful vocalists that I listened to and still do, who influence me and I try to learn from.
FBF: I first heard you with Willie Kent about ten or twelve years ago. Who else did you play with while coming up the ranks? What are some of the lessons you learned from the musicians you worked with coming up? Are there any interesting stories from your career that you would like to share with us?
GK: When Willie got a hold of me, it was shortly after I came to Chicago: I played a few shows with Little Mac Simmons and Aaron Burton before I joined Willie Kent’s band. Willie played a lot of shows, as you know, so I did not feel the need to play for other bandleaders. You can probably say that I am a little “old school” in that sense: I felt that I need to be loyal and give what I need to give to the person who I choose to play with.
Playing in Willie’s band, and forming my own after his passing, I had the pleasure of traveling and performing with many wonderful musicians. I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do, things to cherish and things to try to avoid when you are in the music business.
You know, when you play music and get to travel and perform there are many stories to tell, many wonderful people you encounter, beautiful (and less beautiful) situations and scenarios. It is really a constant story, and hopefully the best part still lies ahead.
FBF: To me, your latest release, Truth, is your best yet and one of the best I’ve heard this year. It has some marvelous original songs, some co-written with author David Ritz. Can you describe your songwriting process, and how some of your originals on this album came to be? How long have you and Ritz collaborated?
GK: Thank you Graham, I as well think that Truth is my best recorded work today.
“King Thing” is an instrumental that I wrote for the album; I actually had the melody in my head for years, but finally finished it and featured it on the album.
David Ritz and I met in Chicago a few years ago when he was in town co-writing the autobiography of Buddy Guy. Buddy had told him about me as they were upstairs at Legends working on the book, and they came downstairs and watched the show. David enjoyed my music (I remember singing “Georgia on My Mind” that night), and we met the next day and started writing together! Things happened very naturally and David and I had a wonderful understanding very quickly which made it very comfortable to talk and write.
As far as the songs writing process; there is not really a formula: Sometimes I have a melody or harmony in mind and the story (lyrics) will come to match it, and sometimes the idea is the lyrics, and then the composition needs to come in and complement it.
David is a wonderful writer and writing together was a pleasure. We are looking forward to writing more songs together soon.
FBF: Who are some of your songwriting influences?
GK: Probably the same names I mentioned above as my musical influences, but by listening and being exposed to different shades of music (I had the pleasure of listening to a lot of different music since I was a child): the songwriting can take different forms at times, but in my opinion, as long as the soul of the music is there, this is what matters most.
FBF: There are some great cover tunes on Truth as well……How do you decide which songs to cover on an album…..are these some of your personal favorites or did you work from a list of suggestions from (album producer) Dick Shurman, or a combination?
GK: We wanted to tell a story- that being my story, do songs that I love, that I enjoy and that fit me. Dick introduced me to a few of the songs and thought it would be good for me to give them my rendition. He wanted to see what I though and felt. A few of the songs I sent to Dick and told him that I wanted to rearrange and record. We got together at Dick’s house, talked and listened to music, until, along with the original songs, we knew that we had the material for Truth. There were actually more songs that almost made the session but due to time limit stayed out and didn’t make the album.
It was great to have Dick produce Truth. It was really a pleasure working together during all phases of the album and I hope we will have the opportunity to continue doing so.
FBF: What are your essential blues recordings (song or album)?
FBF: What are your essential blues recordings (song or album)?
GK: The BLUES… There are many so it is difficult to name only a few, but I will name a few that left a mark and come to mind first:
Albert King – Born Under A Bad Sign as well as the early recordings
B.B. King – Live At The Regal
Ray Charles – "Georgia On My Mind," "Drown In My Own Tears"
Louis Armstrong – "I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues"
Robert Johnson – The Complete RecordingsWes Montgomery – "The Thumb," "D Natural Blues," "Nap Town Blues"
Guy King Discography
Livin' It (2006)
I Am Who I Am And It Is What It Is
"Are You Thinking of Me"
"Love Me Now"
"Where Do We Go From Here"