Quinn Sullivan got his first guitar when he turned 3. Kind of. Noticing his deep love for music and his affinity for the guitar, his parents bought him a toy guitar — but that wasn’t enough for Quinn.
He worked on chord progressions and single-string picking on his own, he says in a phone interview from his New Bedford, Massachusetts, home, all while begging his parents for a real guitar. By the time he was 6, he had a full-sized guitar and was performing regularly around the New England region.
Then Ellen DeGeneres called. To see the full significance of that call, we cut to the last conversation Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy had with his mentor, the inventor of the amplified Chicago blues and one of the last of the great generation of blues masters, Muddy Waters. At that time, Muddy was terminally ill, as was the blues. Muddy asked Buddy Guy to keep the blues alive. It was a request that Buddy Guy got from all of the dying generation of bluesmen, he told Rolling Stone magazine. “They all told me that if they left here before I did, then everything was going to be on my shoulders. So as long as I’m here, I’m going to do whatever I can to keep it alive.”
One of the things he could do was to take on the mentorship of Quinn. That happened when Quinn was 7. Already aware of Guy’s importance, Quinn says, “It was something else with his stage mannerisms, just his whole thing — something I had never seen in my life. The first time you listen to the blues, you feel something toward it. You can already feel a story behind it. You can feel history. For me, it was listening to Buddy and feeling where he’s been in his life.”
He got an opportunity to meet Guy when the legendary bluesman played a show at a theater in Quinn’s hometown. Making his way backstage, he asked Guy to sign his guitar. Guy countered by asking him to play a few licks. When he did, the master said, “You be ready when I call you.” That call came soon. When Quinn was 7, he toured as Buddy Guy’s opening act and Guy has served as his mentor ever since.
Like his mentor, Quinn, now 16, feels a deep responsibility to the blues as an art form. “The blues has to be incorporated into whatever I do. It has to reveal the way to rock, soul, whatever the form of music is, the blues has to be its foundation. The blues may be a dying form but it has to survive by being the basis for American music.
“It’s possible that we’re saving it by killing it. I know a lot of people whose work is called blues but really isn’t. … You have to love what you’re doing, have to want to do it all the time, every time you’re on stage. That’s the attitude we’ll be bringing to Frederick. We’ve been touring a lot behind the new album. So we’ll be doing a lot of those songs and some of my favorite covers.”
The band is comprised of drummer Tom Hambridge, who doubles as Quinn’s producer, George Thorogood, Delbert McClinton, Tommy Castro, Johnny Lang and Tommy Hendricks.
Because Quinn is still in school, they tour more during the summer. During the school year, they get out on the weekends and occasionally during the week.
“My teachers are good at working with me to put together my school work, which I’ll do while we’re on the road,” Quinn says. “No matter what you’re doing, your first task is getting an education.
“I live day to day,” he goes on. “What I want is to carry on the blues, to keep it alive, like Buddy. The most important thing is that I always want to be happy, doing what I want whether it’s for a thousand people or for 100 people.”