Last summer, Greenville’s fast-rising blues-rockers The Marcus King Band capped off an incredible run that saw them release a self-titled album produced by Warren Haynes, create their own music festival, and tour around the country with a performance at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. Shortly after that, keyboardist Matt Jennings, who anchored the band alongside singer and blazing guitarist Marcus King, left the band.
Since his departure, Jennings has been planning his next musical move (more on that in a bit), and he’s been playing shows periodically around town. He’ll be sitting in with the West Virginia blues-rockers Revelator Hill for a couple of dates, including one at Gottrocks in Greenville on Friday night, and one in Asheville, N.C.
“I met Matt when we opened up for Marcus King,” says Revelator Hill’s singer, bandleader, and guitarist Bobby Thompson. “I hit him up and asked him to play with us and he said yes.”
Thompson reached out to Jennings because of his old-school keyboard setup and playing style. “Matt had that throwback feel,” Thompson says. “I saw the way his gear was set up that night, and I’m a huge keyboard fan even though I don’t play, and he had everything I’d want a keyboard player to have: electric piano and organ. I think that’s where it’s at for me. There’s something about the sound that you can’t replicate.”
The admiration between the two musicians was mutual. “I dug them,” Jennings says. “They were one of those acts that stood out. It’s really cool music and it’s a good fit for me.”
Perhaps one of the reasons that Revelator Hill’s, and indeed The Marcus King Band’s, guitar-heavy blues, were such a good fit for Jennings is because he started out as a guitar player. “I started playing when I was 11, and artists like Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, those are my roots,” he says. “When I hear bands that have that groove and heart, it’s fun for me to play that role.”
Jennings didn’t switch to the keyboard until he went to the College of Charleston and found himself surrounded by a LOT more guitar players.
“Everybody and their mother played guitar down there,” he says with a laugh. “I wanted to go out and play, but that’s hard to do when you’re the fourth or fifth guitarist in a jam. There were some keyboard players in the family, and I eventually just gravitated toward it. I spent a lot of weekends in my dorm room turning what I knew about guitar into something I could do on keyboards. There’s certain parts of my style, certain phrasings or chord voicings, that I do like a guitar player does. Stuff that wouldn’t normally fit on keyboards.”
As for Jennings’ own next musical move, he’s planning something for later this year that’s more improvisation-based than anything he’s done recently.
“The group is going to be called Almost Improv,” he says. “It’s not going to be the same set of musicians every night because we have such a wide range of talent to choose from. The night will consist of three, maybe four songs and everything in between is where the magic happens.”
After a long, grinding tour with the same musicians, Jennings says he welcomes the chance to change things up.
“The musical conversation with different people is fun,” he says. “You can have a great conversation for months on end, and if you bring in another person you’re going to talk about different stuff.”
Where: Gottrocks, 200 Eisenhower Drive
When: Friday, March 9, 9:30 p.m.
Info: 864-235-5519, http://www.gottrocksgreenville.com