Monday, June 12, 2017

Soulful blues guitarist Guy King to perform at Blues on the Fox in Aurora


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

One probably wouldn't think that someone born and raised in a small rural town in Israel would be schooled in the blues.

Guy King has been a growing force on the Chicago blues scene. He served as the lead guitarist and band leader in Willie Kent’s band for six years, until Kent’s passing in 2006 and then started a solo career.

King will perform as part of the Blues on the Fox festival on June 16 and 17 at RiverEdge Park, 360 N. Broadway, Aurora.

Gates open at 6 p.m. At 7 p.m. June 16, three-time Grammy nominee and international blues favorite Shemekia Copeland will take the stage, followed by Chicago’s own living legend, Mavis Staples, at 9 p.m.

Gates open at 2 p.m. for the second day of Blues on the Fox on June 17. "The Voice" veteran Nicholas David will take the stage at 3 p.m. He replaces Devon Allman, who has stepped away from touring in the wake of the passing of his father Gregg Allman. King will perform at 5 p.m., followed by Blues Hall of Famer, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Grammy nominee Elvin Bishop at 7 p.m. and Jonny Lang at 9 p.m.

Tickets are $20 each per day. Children 12 and under are admitted free to Blues on the Fox, but must be accompanied by an adult 18 years or older. For tickets and information, visit RiverEdgeAurora.com, call the RiverEdge box office, 630-896-6666, or stop by in person at
RiverEdge’s satellite box office, the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays.

The RiverEdge box office will also be open on-site both days for day of
sales, beginning at noon. All tickets are general admission. Ticket fees are not included.

I had the chance to talk to King about the upcoming show.


Q - You are part of the bill at Blues on the Fox. As far as playing at a festival versus playing in a club, which do you prefer? Or do you like both experiences?

I like both, I have to admit. I think everyone that came up playing the regular way, the normal way or the old school way, played more in clubs in the beginning.


It's a great intimate feeling, [compared] to when you play a larger venue, like a theater or a hall or an outdoor stage. It's a different type of feeling, but I try to convey that intimacy that I experience playing at clubs with a larger outdoor audience.

Q - You do kind of have an unusual back story. You came from Israel, so do people ask you about your background and how you fell into the blues?

Yes, I get that asked a lot. I understand that it's not traditional, that it's a different story than your common one. I understand that. I respect that.

I was exposed to a lot of things on the radio. I remember hearing Michael Jackson and David Bowie. I was playing clarinet at a very young age, so I was exposed to classical music and big band.

And I picked up the guitar mostly by ear when I was 13 years old. Through my brother, I was exposed to musicians like Eric Clapton, which lead me to Stevie Ray Vaughan. 

In Israel, it was very difficult to get a blues album back then. Like when I came here, I feel very fortunate that I was able to go to a store and pick up a T-Bone Walker album.

Q - Are the blues catching on in Israel?

I don't know. I don't know. The truth is, I haven't performed there much. I came here at a younger age.

I think there's more exposure now to the blues, and more knowledge than when I was growing up there. It's not to the point where it's being played nightly in the club.

Q - It's been a good year for you. Your latest album, "Truth," which was released in February 2016, is getting rave reviews, and was nominated for a 2017 Blues Music Award in the category of "best emerging artist album." You've been around for a while. Does it feel strange to be called an emerging artist?

A few people have asked me the same thing. But I understand how it goes. Sometimes the definition of emerging artist is not like this new artist. Maybe I was not traveling stateside that much, even when I was playing with Willie Kent. We were really performing a lot more in Chicago, and doing a few hit and run shows elsewhere in the United States.


Most of our travel was overseas, so I understand why I went unnoticed maybe a little bit. But I was very glad to receive this nomination. It's great to know that the album "Truth" did very well.

I'm still performing material from it, and I'm looking forward to performing it at Blues on the Fox as well. It was a great year, and I'm looking forward to hopefully an even better one.

Q - What were your goals for "Truth" and do you think you accomplished them?

I think we achieved what I wanted to do. Really, the goal was pretty simple - to stay focused around the feeling of the music and the way I sound and feel it right now.

Right now, meaning when we recorded it. I think the album reflects who I was then. So I was able to get my message across.

Most of the things I had done before were for my own independent label, and "Truth" was done for Delmark, so I hoped that we'd get more notoriety and more people noticing what I do, which it did, so we achieved that.

I kind of wanted them to know some of what I do, kind of like, 'Hello, I'm Guy King.' It's like a business card.

Q - Of course, "Truth" was your first album for Chicago's Delmark Records. Are you pleased that it made such an impact, seeing it was your first album for Delmark?

Yeah, very much, very much. I'm very glad of that. I was happy with the sonic quality of it. And then when people started responding to it, then of course I was happy about it.

Q - I've had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Marie Young and I was wondering how you hooked up with her for the duet on "Truth."

Sarah is now my wife and the mother of our firstborn. We got married April 2, so it's fresh.

Even before that, we were already spending time together. I knew that Sarah was a wonderful vocalist and a great singer.


We talked, and she said she would love to sing background with my background singers on the album. And then I asked Sarah what she would think about doing a duet, to kind of break up [the album] a little bit and add a female voice.

She said it would be a pleasure and an honor. We were looking for a number, and I wrote this tune - "My Happiness" - originally for me to sing. We tried, at first with an acoustic guitar, just her and I, and it sounded great. 

I came up with the arrangements for the horns, and it was quick and natural. 

Q - So are you guys going to collaborate more, now that you are married?

Time will tell. We will probably, but there's no date as far as an album or any duet or any performance yet, but we do enjoy each other's work a lot and do enjoy performing together. 

No promises, but I think I speak for the both of us when I say we would love to do more together.

Q - A person can't call you a strict blues player, because you kind of weave in and out of blues and jazz and big band as well. But it seems like you are comfortable in all those genres and it seems like you are trying to bring all those genres together.

The way I look at music is maybe a little bit different than as you say, "purists." When I play the blues, I think I play as bluesy as anybody who plays blues. My influences are probably some of the most wonderful blues players that ever lived - I'm talking about B.B. King, Albert King, Robert Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins, T-Bone Walker or many others that I can name.

I listen to a lot of them and I appreciate and admire a lot of their work. Being self-taught mostly, I call them my teachers. But I also understood early on that the feeling of the music is what makes music great.

That feeling can be a part of what people call jazz, or a ballad, or standards or rhythm and blues. I'm always going to play bluesy because I believe in it.

It's a deep feeling, and I try to bring it to everything I sing or play. This is my goal.

Q - Of course, you were Willie Kent's lead guitarist and band leader for six years. As far as what you learned from him, what were the big lessons that he taught you?

He taught me a lot of stuff. We were playing a lot of blues, what people would call blues, but even Willie would throw in a rhythm and blues number, a soul number or some ballad.


He taught me that the feeling of the music is what gets the message across. I saw that on a nightly basis. He delivered. He sang with conviction and meant what he said and said what he meant on stage on a nightly basis.

I had to play my best behind him to try to keep up. I would like to think that I'm giving my listeners and my fans the same piece of my heart and my feelings when I perform.