by A.J. Wachtel
How many teenagers have toured the world with a blues icon or have appeared a number of times on national TV? When I was sixteen years old, I just wanted to graduate high school and sleep late. But not many youths have the talent, focus, and maturity to find themselves on the top of the world at such an early age. Quinn Sullivan lives a life of Shakespearean proportions. Check out what this accomplished adolescent has to say.
Noise: You began taking guitar lessons when you were only three years old. Were your fingers too small for a normal sized guitar, what did your lessons consist of, and do you remember the lessons themselves today?
Quinn Sullivan: I started with a First Act kid’s guitar. It fit my hands perfectly. After a few lessons, my parents got me a slightly bigger guitar. My first teacher, Brian Cass, showed me some simple chords at first, then we jumped right into The Beatles. I was obsessed with The Beatles.
Noise: The first original song you co-wrote was “Sing, Dance, and Clap Your Hands.” How old were you and who did you write the song with? Did you contribute more of the music or lyrics in the equation and do you ever still play that song in concert?
Quinn: I was about eight when I wrote that song with Chris Waters (a friend and band mate of my Dad’s). We wrote it together on a trip to NYC to see a Beatle tribute band. I haven’t played that song in years! Writing today, I usually come up with the music first, maybe a simple lick or chord progression. These days, I send ideas to my producer, Tom Hambridge, and he comes up with most of the lyrics.
Noise: At six, you gained national attention by appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. How did this happen and can you give me a quick story about meeting her?
Quinn: My Dad sent a DVD to The Ellen Degeneres Show of me playing and being interviewed on a news program in Boston. They invited us out to L.A. for the show. It was so much fun. Ellen was very funny and nice. She invited me back on the show in 2014 to play my single “She Gets Me” and it was great to see her again. We reminisced about my first appearance. Lots of fun!
Noise: Buddy Guy asked you to come onstage and play during his performance at The Zeiterion Theater in New Bedford, MA, in 2007 when you were eight years old. How did this happen and what was your first gig with Buddy like? Also when did you first start listening to the blues and when did you first realize this is the type of music you wanted to play?
Quinn: I had seen Buddy on the DVD of Clapton’s Crossroads Festival from 2004. This was my introduction to the blues. When we found out he was coming to New Bedford, we bought tickets and my Dad asked the promoter if we could get in to see Buddy before the show, and maybe get him to sign my guitar. We went in to see him and he was just the nicest guy. Just before I left the dressing room, he asked if I knew how to play. I played a few blues riffs and he said: “Be ready when I call you out tonight”—I could not believe it! He called me out and we jammed for about 20 minutes.
Two years later after a few more times sitting in, I began opening for him when he came close to home. Soon after that, he started bringing me out on tour with him during summers and vacations from school. I’ve traveled all over the world with him – across the U.S., Europe, Canada, and just this past February, we did a show in India.
Noise: You’ve played onstage with Buddy Guy and with B.B. King. Do you have different roles onstage with the different icons? Care to share a quick story about playing with B.B.?
Quinn: When I sit in with Buddy, he just keeps throwing the solos back to me… it gets pretty wild sometimes. After opening for B.B. in Lynn, MA, last year, he invited me onstage just before the end of his set. I couldn’t believe I was sitting onstage with him. he shook my hand and then actually took “Lucille” off and handed the guitar to me and let me solo on his prized guitar. I’ve been told that that has only happened a couple of times, if at all. It was a moment I will NEVER forget. I was able to spend some quality time with him after the show as well. He’s shared many words of wisdom and is a great man.
Noise: In 2008, you appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and in 2009, you were on NBC’s The Today Show. More recently, you performed on The Jimmy Kimmel Show in 2011. Do people ever recognize you walking down the street from these national shows, and where is the strangest place you’ve ever been recognized?
Quinn: I was also fortunate to be on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 2013 and also sat in with The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (before he took over the Tonight Show). It’s always fun. I sometimes get recognized—recently, I attended the very last Allman Brothers show in N.Y. at the Beacon Theater, and somebody yelled out: “Hey Quinn, is that you?” It was kind of cool.
Noise: You did a guest appearance on Buddy’s Grammy Award nominated album Skin Deep released in 2008. Your solo can be heard on the track “Who’s Gonna Fill Those Shoes?” Can you tell me about making that recording and looking back all these years later? If you had the chance, would you change your solo at all?
Quinn: I went into a studio in Massachusetts with Tom Hambridge to cut the solo, as Buddy had requested I give it a shot. I ran through it a few times and that was it. I could probably play it a little better now, but I’m happy with the version on the record. I was only nine, so it was the biggest thrill of my life to play on a Buddy Guy record.
Noise: Your single, “Summer of Love,” was released in 2009 and your debut album, Cyclone, came out in 2011. How were these received, and do you like playing live or in the studio better?
Quinn: “Summer of Love” was a single from Cyclone 2011. I love playing live but also love the studio. Cyclone reached number seven on Billboard‘s blues chart.
Noise: In January 2014, you returned to The Ellen DeGeneres Show to perform “She Gets Me” from your 2013 second album Getting There. Is it difficult to play for an audience whom are hand-picked to see Ellen, and is your second album different from your initial release in any ways or are the two pretty much similar music from a great young artist?
Quinn: The audience was great and seemed to like the song. I don’t worry about who is in the audience. I just perform and hope people enjoy it. The second album was a big leap forward—both in playing and singing.
Noise: Ellen signed the number one 60th Anniversary Stratocaster that was given to you on her show. Where is that guitar now and have you ever autographed anything for HER?
Quinn: I play that Strat onstage… it is one of my favorites… and I gave her a signed CD before the show.
Noise: What are the short and long term plans for your career as you approach your 17th birthday?
Quinn: I just turned 16 in March, so I’m going to enjoy being 16 for now. I have been in the studio recently and a new record is on the way soon. I want to continue to be a touring recording artist, and continue to see the world and meet new people.