Meet Quinn Sullivan, the blues prodigy with friends in all the right places

Quinn Sullivan
Quinn Sullivan (Image credit: Griffin Lotz)

Blues sensation Quinn Sullivan doesn’t envy his former classmates. “They’re struggling to come up with what they’re going to do when they’re out of school,” he says. “But I’ve decided this is what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life.”

Since appearing onstage with the legendary Buddy Guy as a fresh-faced eight-year-old with a talent for pulling notes from the guitar, Quinn Sullivan has built himself something of a reputation amongst the blues cognoscenti. He’s appeared onstage with the likes of Guy, Eric Clapton, Los Lobos, The Roots, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and Joe Bonamassa, and under Guy’s tutelage has come to know many more, from Keith Richards to Jeff Beck and Ringo Starr.

Eventually the twin novelties of teenage and talent must translate into something more substantive, and new album Midnight Highway (out now on Mascot Label Group/Provogue) might just do the trick. Recorded in Nashville with a cast of stellar musicians, it marks a step forward for Quinn, away from the pure blues that dominated his two previous albums. “I wanted to see how far we could get musically on this album,” says Quinn. “I had a lot more creative input on this one and was more active in writing, so it’s something of a mixture.”

The album’s producer is Tom Hambridge, who’s worked with everyone from Chuck Berry to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bo Diddley, BB King, Johnny Winter and beyond, so he knows a thing or two about a thing or two. “Quinn is a sponge who soaks up everything that’s around him,” he says. “He’s listening all the time, and he just so happens to be around great artists. Every time he plays, it’s a little deeper.”

Once you count up “everyone around him”, it’s quite a list. From onstage blasts to backstage handshakes, Quinn is one helluva well-connected young musician, as the pictures below show. The descriptions come from Quinn himself.

1. Quinn and Buddy Guy
Buddy Guy is my mentor and someone I’d like to call my best friend. Buddy has been in my corner since the beginning and is the reason I’m doing what I am doing now. I owe everything to him.

2. Quinn and Eric Clapton
I first met Eric Clapton at Apollo Theater during a tribute to Hubert Sumlin. I sat in with Buddy Guy on Goin’ Down that night. I met him again in 2013 at Madison Square Garden during the Crossroads Guitar Festival. It was a true honour to be in his presence and to be able to meet my greatest hero and get introduced to him by my other greatest hero, Buddy Guy.

3. Quinn and Billy Gibbons
I played with Billy recently in India at the Mahindra Blues Festival (Feb 2017) with Supersonic Blues Machine. But I first met him in New York at the Rock Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary show and then again at Montreux Jazz Festival in 2016. He is a brilliant guitarist and singer and he was the coolest guy you’ll ever meet. There’s no one like him.

4. Quinn and Keith Richards
This was at Madison Square Garden for Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival, and he couldn’t have been any nicer. He really is a class act and you can just tell he has so much respect for guys like Buddy and BB King, so it made it even more special that he took time out to talk to me.

5. Quinn and Derek Trucks
Probably my biggest role model and favourite guitar player. I have developed a really good friendship with Derek over the years having hung and played with him a few times. The greatest guy you’ll ever meet and the nicest, too. His guitar playing I think is just on another level, and his attitude is real and inspiring

6. Quinn and Eric Johnson
Eric is a great guy and an insanely gifted guitar player who I admire a lot. We’ve spent some time together on the Experience Hendrix tour and he’s always been cool.

7. Quinn and Zakk Wylde
I’ve met Zakk a few times on the Experience Hendrix Tour. He’s absolutely down to earth and a very nice guy. It’s very cool to hang with him on those tours, and he’s always killing it.

8. Quinn with Dave Grohl and LL Cool J
It was so cool hanging out with Dave and LL Cool J. This was at the Foo Fighters Fourth of July festival at RFK stadium in Washington, DC in 2015. Both of them are amazing guys; Dave especially was a down to earth, really nice guy.

9. Quinn and Ringo Starr
When I met Ringo he told me I was a “well dressed lad” which I couldn’t believe because THE Ringo Star was saying I had nice style. A memory I will never forget!

10. Quinn and Jeff Beck
I’ve run into Jeff on many occasions, most recently this summer on his Tour with Buddy Guy. We spent some time together at Buddy’s 80th birthday party in Chicago (where this photo was taken). I have always wanted to play with him but haven’t had the chance… yet! He’s one of the best and always will be.

11. Quinn and Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Kenny is another great guy,and it’s been brilliant to hang with him on the Experience Hendrix tour over the years. I really admire him for having a major impact on making blues/rock guitar playing popular.

12. Quinn and Joe Bonamassa
Joe and I have developed a great friendship recently. I sat in with him in late 2015. We’ve hung together a few times including September of 2016 when we played together along with many other incredible artists at the BB KIng Tribute presented by the Grammy Foundation. He’s a fantastic guitar player and vocalist and seems to have everything figured out business wise, which I admire and respect a lot.

Midnight Highway is out now on Mascot Label Group/Provogue.

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