Guy King has built a reputation as one of the greatest blues and jazz artists to come out of Chicago in recent history and his newest album, Joy is Coming, establishes him as much more than that. The autobiographical album sees King showcase his songwriting chops bringing to mind Bill Withers, Eric Clapton and Steely Dan while presenting King’s true artistic voice. His unique approach to the guitar has been compared to Jazz legend Wes Montgomery and Blues legend Albert King. As he has graced stages around the world, he has captured the attention of fans and guitarists everywhere.
Joy is Coming is a soulful and inspiring compilation of songs, straight from the heart. Seven of the songs were co-written with legendary author/songwriter David Ritz (“Sexual Healing”) and on Joy is Coming he and King collaborated to tell a truly unique and inspiring story. Against the backdrop of immaculate production and arrangements, King’s story is front and center with room for his undeniable guitar and vocal prowess to shine – this is King’s true voice and a break through artistically. Joy is Coming was produced by Guy King and co-produced by guitar great Josh Smith.
The single and music video “Devil’s Toy” features the great Joe Bonamassa. The intertwining of Guy’s masterful guitar, breathtaking vocals, creative string arrangements and heartfelt songs make Joy Is Coming an album everyone should have — available on vinyl, CD and download.
Can you talk about your new record Joy Is Coming and what makes it so autobiographical?
I feel that this was the first time I was able to put my music all together into one package; consisting of everything I have heard since I was little to what I now specialize in. I was able to put early and late influences into everything. The whole album is original material – I wrote or co-wrote every song on the album, which is somewhat of a chapter in my life story.
Everything is real and all me. The album is also available on vinyl which is a big deal to me as I have always wanted to make a vinyl record. With this one from the beginning, I wanted to tell my story within a certain amount of time. I didn’t want it to be a double album and I didn’t want to waste too many notes. I feel that I was able to express myself vocally and instrumentally with my guitar in the right amount of time. The vinyl is so special and important to me. We recorded the record in Chicago. I am honored to have Joe Bonamassa on the record.
He’s really great, a real gentleman and plays incredible solos on the record. I love the way the Joe’s guitar and my guitar added to and told their own story to complement the song “Devil’s Toy.” Joe was really so nice and kind, and I am honored to have him on the record! Vanessa Bell Armstrong sings on “Up Up Up” and it was an honor to have her on as well, she’s so great! We recorded most of the record in Chicago. Steve Wagner and Fred Breitberg recorded it at Riverside Studio. I traveled with the music to L.A. to Josh Smith’s Flat V studio.
Josh brought in Alan Hertz. Alan mixed the album masterfully and Josh came in with great advice and ideas and co-produced it with me. Eric Boulanger mastered it at The Bakery in L.A. I am really proud of it and can’t be happier with the way it came out. I am very thankful and glad for that. Lacquers were cut at the Bakery as well and the album is now available on vinyl! I think it sounds great digitally (CD and Downloads), but the Vinyl edition is extra special to me. You should check it out. I’m really happy with it and I feel that this record really captured what I was going for.
The album is being sold on my website at www.guyking.net. Shipping prices in Europe and other regions outside the states are about the same as domestic costs here in the U.S., which should be great for my international fans.
Can you talk about collaborating with David Ritz?
David and I are really close. I loved reading the autobiography he wrote on Ray Charles and B.B. King. I never reached out to him as I just knew his name from reading his books. He co-wrote “Sexual Healing” with Marvin Gaye. When he was in Chicago writing the autobiography of Buddy Guy, he told me that one night Buddy Guy told him, “There’s a kid I want you to see play” and brought him to see me play. I was signing cd’s and he came to me with a business card. He was very complimentary and told me to call him. I reached out to him the next day and we got together. We wrote four songs within two hours. It was something crazy like that.
We are really close. Anytime I go to L.A. we get together and spend time in his studio. We write, eat, and talk about life. We started collaborating and became really close and we talk often. David is really wonderful and our collaboration feels very natural. That’s the best way I can describe it. Also, there is never a system when I write songs. Sometimes I will have a certain melody in my head. Sometimes lyrics will be in my head that will lead to melodies. Sometimes a certain line will come to me. David is real and true. When I write with David, everything is in the moment about real experiences and real feelings.
What was the easiest song to record and which one was the hardest?
I wouldn’t say anything was easy. My band and I prepared before going into the studio. We were very prepared and knew the songs. But, this time, I had a little bit of a different approach as I wanted to leave some improvisation room. I wanted us to create some in the moment and let the magic happen so I left a little bit of room to let things breathe and to create magic with the band on the spot.
You sing with a lot of soul on this record. How do you train your voice and what does your vocal warm up consist of?
Thank you very much. The way I am playing and singing is some of what makes the record feel autobiographical to me. A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I sang before I played guitar. But then, when I started playing guitar, the instrument captured me and I started paying more attention to the guitar than to my singing, as I wanted to master my instrument… You never master your instrument. As you develop you are going to find your weaknesses and you try to improve constantly. When you do this, you realize there is more to unravel and get better at. When I discovered the electric guitar in my teens, I really wanted to play more leads. I almost left the vocals aside to try and master the guitar.
After playing in the states and Chicago, I didn’t give my voice as much attention. At the beginning, I was a better singer than guitarist. I then wanted to be the best on the guitar and I concentrated on that. In recent years, things have changed and I have realized the vocals are very important to me and I wanted to make it all become one. A lot of my biggest influences are wonderful vocalists. I have to give credit to my wife Sarah (Sarah Marie Young) who is a known vocalist and an amazing singer. The things that she does with her voice and her accuracy are really amazing.
I sing and play by ear and when I hear something I like, I soak it up like a sponge. Hearing her sing so well, accurate, and precise has had a huge effect on me. Singing has brought me back to my childhood. I am giving the listeners a part of myself that I have never given before.
What is your favorite song from Joy Is Coming?
It changes daily. When we released the first single, “Devils Toy,” that was my favorite. When the full album “Joy Is Coming” was released, that was my favorite. I wrote that song when my wife Sarah was pregnant with our first born. She was the joy that was coming. Thank God, we just had another baby born three weeks ago. Another joy came right at the time of the release of this record. Also, one night I was sitting and feeling blue and a “Prayer For Me” became my favorite. “Devils Toy” was one of my favorite songs for a while because it was the first one written for the record.
“Joy Is Coming” is another favorite because it was conceived early on. These two songs gave me the picture of the album. Everything on the album is somewhat autobiographical so it is hard to say… “Hole In My Soul” and “Sanity” mean a lot to me. They all tell a personal story and there is a strong connection to me. Long-story short, I do not have a favorite.
What does your Gibson 1983 ES-335 guitar mean to you and why is it special?
That is the natural one that you see on the record and hear on the recordings. I have another one made in the same year a few serial numbers apart. The natural one is the one on the cover and the one that I am playing on the recordings. I went through a lot of changes after getting married and having a baby. I used to play a Fender Telecaster for many years. I was playing it exclusively and it was the guitar I was known for. I started hearing a different sound in my mind.
I still think that the Telecaster is one of the best guitars ever made but I was feeling like I was working too hard to get the sound that I was hearing from that guitar. I was “bending” it to do something that wasn’t natural for it to do. At that time, I couldn’t believe I was going to Gibson because I never really played a Gibson guitar. But when you think of it, it made perfect sense: A lot of my musical inspirations played Gibson guitars: B.B. King, Albert King, Wes Montgomery, T-Bone Walker, and Robert Johnson all played Gibson guitars. I jumped in the water to see… I was at Norman’s Rare Guitars in L.A. and I was initially going to switch to a Les Paul. I figured the Les Paul was a lot like the Telecaster but just a little wider sounding. I was looking for one and was about to pull the trigger but the one I liked at Norm’s sold so I kept looking when I returned to Chicago.
The guitar I am playing now “called me” from the wall. I knew the moment I saw it, it was the one. I started connecting with it and writing songs on it. It was what I was looking for and it matched my voice. It was very comfortable to sit with; Bending notes, running lines, and executing my ideas is very inspiring every time I pick it up. My daughter loved crawling in the case of the guitar every time I took it out. I knew the guitar was special.
Are your solos usually very thought out or do you do a lot of improv on recording?
Most of what you hear was the initial take with the band. Most of the solos are takes played live. I practiced the songs a lot with the band during rehearsals, I knew the songs and I knew the structure. I believe when you know what you are doing, you can be spontaneous on the spot. There is no stress because you know what is going on. You can improvise in the moment.
If I do other takes, I find I usually like what I do in the initial take. From a guitar standpoint, I like this record so much because I didn’t want to necessarily play on all the chord changes. I wanted to play like I am singing, to be led by a melody. The feeling is more important and most of it was cut spontaneously.
Do you have a consistent live band or are you always playing with different musicians?
The band in the studio recording of the album is my band. They are the touring band and my regular band. On the piano is Tom Vaitsas who also co-produced the record with me and the great Josh Smith. Joshua Ramos is on bass and Samuel Jewell is on the drums. Marques Carroll is on trumpet and flugelhorn – Marques has been with me for about ten years. Anthony Bruno is on tenor and baritone sax. That is the band.
On the recording I have background vocals: my wife Sarah Marie Young, Devin Velez, and Tina Jenkins Crawley. The Kaia String Quartet is also on the record and it is the first time I’ve had strings on my recordings. Violins are important to me because I grew up listening to songs with strings and my parents loved strings on recordings. John Elmquist and I got together and wrote the string arrangements. John also conducted the string session.
Any upcoming shows?
On July 15th, we are going to play the album live at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, Illinois. I don’t have many live shows unfortunately, but as things open back up I’m looking forward to being on the road with my band and performing live more again.
What else do you want to accomplish?
There is a lot I want to accomplish. I’d really love people to listen to ‘Joy Is Coming’ and I’m excited to share it with everyone. I would love to play at The Royal Albert Hall… I have always wanted to perform there since I have been little. I would love to play at other theaters of that sort. I want to take my show on the road but I know these are challenging times. Before Covid hit, I was playing a lot more. I want to bring my music to the people nationally and internationally. I want to take my music everywhere I am accepted, and I hope the people will enjoy listening to my story through music.
*Feature image: Ted Beranis