Blues guitar virtuoso Marcus King has been touring the U.S. in support of his recently release second album, Young Blood, and the road has found him to be in good form indeed. 

“I feel really good now,” he told Raina Douris on NPR’s World Café Words And Music Podcast. “It feels akin to going in and confessing your sins and being absolved. It feels a lot like that to do a record like this, to get that off your chest. 

“It’s a fully cathartic release of energy every night and the audiences have been so receptive and so warm and kind with the material. I’m really blessed. I’m in a very good place.”

Cathartic is the word. King’s debut album, El Dorado, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2020 and while things looked promising going forward, the pandemic shutdown changed his landscape. 

“At first I think it was a much-needed break from the road,” he told NPR, “but after a while as artists we began to feel a lack of validation. Particularly myself I’m talking about here, you kind of crave that validation, any kind of nod of approval that you get from an audience. 

“That was gone. So that drove me deeply into this depression. It was really an over-indulgent period.”

King revealed that he has struggled with his mental health for much of his life. Added to the lowness of pandemic isolation he was in the midst of the breakdown of a relationship that went on to break up. As he approached the recording of his second album, he sincerely felt it would be his last. 

Love Blues Roots & Soul?

Get the latest Blues Roots & Soul news, features, updates and giveaways straight to your inbox Learn more

“It was a combination of just being fully broken hearted and also suicidal apart from that, it made me feel like it would be my final record because I wasn’t going to make it to the spring. Not because that’s what I wanted, but because I was just pretty confident that would be the case.  Thank God it wasn’t, it was just a very dark period.”

Near the end of the relationship, following on from yet another drunken argument, King took a walk through the deserted streets of Nashville. Lost in the fog of his own depression, he spotted a homeless person with a shopping cart full of cans but sensed something entirely more ominous. 

“They had a sweatshirt on with a hood,” he recalls. “I looked at them and inside the hood there was just no face, nothing. It was just devoid of light, just darkness. Completely black. I freaked out. I recognised it was some foreboding creature and I felt the energy it was giving to me and I started yelling at this thing from the street – ‘don’t be a coward. Come get me if you’re gonna get me’. It was like, ‘I’m ready!’ 

“I recognised it as death, and I accepted my fate. A scarier thing happened is that it didn’t move or say anything, it just stayed completely still. I was like, ‘I’m getting out of here.’ So I split.”

Whether it was the Grim Reaper or not, the incident shook King and inspired the song ‘Dark Cloud’, which now features on his second album. Even so, there was a road to go until this blues guitarist was truly feeling any better.

At the time King had been listening a lot to ‘70s rockers Free, whose guitarist Paul Kossoff died at the age of 25 from an embolism during a flight from Los Angeles to New York in 1976, as a result of his long-time drug use.

“I was 25 at the time and it really felt like a sign that it was going to be my fate,” King said. “It was really eerie and really intense. It didn’t make me turn my life around, but I went deeper into it and I guess I just decided, ‘I love playing music and I love doing drugs and drinking, so I’m just going to have to do those three things as much as I can, until I just die.’

“That was my plan. My master plan… but I ended up meeting my wife-to-be and she kind of pulled me out of it. She’s just a no nonsense kinda girl. She pointed out the obvious things and made me realise why life was worth living. I put the drugs away, which was really important for me to do.” 

By this time King was recording Young Blood with Black Keys vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach – whom he considers a friend “and who I look up to as a person,” – in the producer’s chair. At this point King was just as much a work-in-progress as the album, but his priorities were all lined up.  

“I wasn’t going to sacrifice the music because that was the most important thing to me,” he said. “I really was convinced it was going to be my last record so I wanted it to be everything I could make it. Dan has such an acute sensibility for production, and he knew the right guys to bring in and play on these tracks. That chemistry was palpable in the room. And it was immediate.”

Now that Young Blood is released and he is back out on the road, King is revelling in playing to live audiences once again. It goes to show the healing powers of music… and yes, love.

“It’s given me a lot of hope,” King noted. “The songs I’m writing now give me a lot of hope for the future. I’m excited for the first time in my life to grow old because I have someone that I love next to me. And someone that loves me for me. And deeply. I look very much forward to growing old with her and having a family, becoming parents… and grandparents.”   

Listen to Marcus King’s warm and revealing NPR interview here

YouTube VideoPlay


Marcus King with Vintage Trouble perform on April 6th, 2023, at Byron Bay Bluesfest; April 10th, 2023, at the Enmore Theatre, Sydney, and April 12th, 2023, at the Northcote Theatre, Melbourne. 


Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine