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Teacher And Prodigy Play The Blues


Guitarist Quinn Sullivan has had a number of high profile gigs. He's played at the Hollywood Bowl, Madison Square Garden and Red Rocks and he's been a guest on the "Tonight Show With Jay Leno," "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live." Big deal - a lot of rockers can say that, right? Well, here is the kicker - Quinn Sullivan is 15 years old.


QUINN SULLIVAN: (Singing) Mr. Gloom came knocking, knocking on my door.

WERTHEIMER: When Quinn Sullivan was 7 years old he met blues legend Buddy Guy backstage at a concert. Guy was so impressed that he invited Sullivan to play on stage with him. They've performed together many times since and in the coming week they're playing at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York and Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago.

Quinn Sullivan joins us now from the studios of Rhode Island Public Radio in Providence. Welcome.

QUINN: Hi. Thanks for having me. How's it going?

WERTHEIMER: Fine with me. Buddy Guy is in the studios of WRKF in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and welcome to you.

BUDDY GUY: Well, thank you and thank you for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Buddy Guy, let's start with you. What was the first meeting with this young person like? What impressed you?

GUY: Well, you know, I had ran into several young people, you know, young ladies and young men and if I see you with an instrument, I'll give you a shot at it and you know and some of them, you know, may hit two or three licks and I'll say OK, you strutted your stuff, you know? And when I saw Quinn, he came in and he wasn't excited. I just said can you play? And he was like yeah, to me that's nothing, you know (laughter).

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter).

GUY: So I called him up and after he started playing, I just threw both of my hands away from my guitar because I didn't want the audience to think it was me playing. He was so amazing so I just told his parents, I said, you know, I've got to take him somewhere and let someone else see him besides me because they're going to be just like I was, that's unbelievable.

WERTHEIMER: Quinn Sullivan, do you remember that occasion, meeting Buddy Guy?

QUINN: Oh absolutely. Yeah, that was at a local theater in my hometown. I live in New Bedford, Massachusetts and it was definitely a moment for me that of course changed my life forever.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you wrote a song which is about that first meeting. You call it "Buddy's Blues."

Let's listen to some of that.

QUINN: Cool.


QUINN: (Singing) We tried our licks all night and he gave me that Buddy Guy grin. He asked me who I was and I said my name is Quinn. I picked up the guitar at the age of five.

WERTHEIMER: That is very nice. That's from a show that the two of you played together in 2009 and you are trading licks. Now, your voice was very high there.

QUINN: (Laughter) I was just going to say that.

WERTHEIMER: You still sing like that?

QUINN: No, actually, no not really. My voice obviously changed and stuff so that was at least four, five years ago now so it's deep now so...


QUINN: (Playing guitar). Thank you.

GUY: I was saying to myself the whole time this young man was playing, you know, at his age I don't think I could even play a radio, you know?

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter).

GUY: You just turn that on and it be just a natural talent, that kid was born with that and I just hope he keeps it up and never gets disappointed because nowadays, this business is just like any other business now. It's kind of hard to hold onto, but if you love it as well as I did, he'll be there for a while and finally somebody's going to listen to him.

WERTHEIMER: Quinn, how did you, when did you, where did you learn to play like that?

QUINN: I started playing when I was 3 years old. My parents had a whole bunch of music in the house and the first band I remember listening to and being like, so drawn to was The Beatles and I think one Christmas, my parents bought me a First Act acoustic guitar. Pretty small guitar, I still have it today. You know, that's what I started on. I really didn't start taking lessons until I was about 5.

WERTHEIMER: Buddy, has he ever shown you anything that you were sort of thinking, well, yeah I might pick that up?

GUY: Of course, every time I hear him play. You know, sometimes he's on the show with me and my manager will come back and say Quinn's coming on. I say, I don't want to see him - I want to hear him so I can see what we call in my earlier days - still call it today - is stealing licks, you know? So every once in a while he'd find something at his age that I never found on the guitar and I'm like saying now all of these years I've had out here, I didn't find that. So I needed him to play it so I can go looking for it and I just did an interview with a guy and I tell it like, I was looking for a dime but I found a quarter.


QUINN: (Singing) Trading licks and hanging with the Joker. Meeting Paris Hilton in LA.

WERTHEIMER: I wonder, how can you be a rock star and go to school, get an education, do the kinds of things that somebody your age ought to be doing?

QUINN: Of course, I do, obviously, regular school. I mean, actually this year we started to do this virtual high school thing. It's called K/12 and I've been doing that. But for nine years - I mean, I went to regular high school last year and middle school and elementary school and did all that stuff. And I'm still continuing to do that, just on a little bit of a different path.

WERTHEIMER: Before I let you go, I'd like to take us out with a bit of the title track from your most recent album. It's called "Getting There," released last year. Let's listen to this.


QUINN: (Singing) I've been out to Red Rocks in Colorado. Spent many nights up in sweet home Chicago. No, I ain't been everywhere, but Lord knows I'm getting there.

WERTHEIMER: So Quinn, last question.

QUINN: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: Getting there - where do you want to go? Where do you hope to end up?

QUINN: Obviously, just to continue what I'm doing now but maybe on a higher level, just continuing to play music. You know, I think if you can make a living doing what makes you happy, I think that's obviously the ultimate goal in life.


QUINN: (Singing) Lord knows I'm getting there. I'm coming to your town.

WERTHEIMER: Quinn Sullivan. He's going on tour with Buddy Guy. Quinn Sullivan, thank you very much.

QUINN: Oh, thank you so much.

WERTHEIMER: And Buddy Guy, thank you very much.

GUY: Thank you so much. And, you know, blues - they tell you blues is like whiskey. They have to stay in the barrel for a few years before you go on our side. That's what I keep telling Quinn.


WERTHEIMER: BJ Leiderman wrote our theme music. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is back next week. I'm Linda Wertheimer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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