If you know Sullivan, you know the basics: At age 7, Buddy Guy put him on stage at the Zeiterion Theater in New Bedford. What was supposed to be, perhaps, a pretty lark, instead launched a career.
In that 2006 episode of “Ellen,” DeGeneres gave Sullivan a Gibson ES-335, which he later got BB King to sign when he was 9, after a gig with Guy and King. At 14, he performed “The Tonight Show”. He joined Guy on stage at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC, and Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival at Madison Square Garden. Along the way he met Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, LL Cool J and Joan Jett.
The Guy-Sullivan relationship is now the subject of a Jim Farrell film, “The Torch.”
Sullivan has “has got to be one of the best guitar players I’ve ever heard. I don’t know if it will be as good, or maybe it could be better.”
That Sullivan has a natural talent is obvious. But rather than burn out like some who become celebrities at an early age, his star shines all the brighter.
“Buddy Guy probably looks at him and says, here’s the heir apparent,” blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa says in the film. “There’s going to be the next superstar.”
Around 2015, Farrell began filming “The Torch.” It premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2019. Due to the pandemic, it was put on hold until theaters reopened. It’s now in limited theatrical/VOD release and available on demand. It will air this summer on AMC+.
“I was fascinated by Buddy’s dedication to maintaining blues music for future generations, but it was his interest in Quinn that intrigued me the most,” Farrell said via email. “Blues music has always been a collaborative effort, but it felt like a special moment in time. There was a tremendous amount of knowledge transferred from generation to generation. I wanted to immortalize it.”
Sullivan says the film is about “passing the torch [but] I personally don’t think I could be the only one. It’s hard for one person to do that. There are many people who make the blues in their own way. I like to think of myself as one of those people.
In conversation, Sullivan seems remarkably humble for a young man who has been praised for as long as he can remember.
“I’ve heard of kids who struggle as they get older,” he says. “I think I’ve mastered it well. If you have the right people around you, it goes a long way, especially in this industry.
Growing up in New Bedford, “I always had very normal friends who didn’t smoke [butt]”, he laughs. Touring on and off since February, including his first appearance at SXSW in Austin, Texas, Sullivan is back home to play a show Friday at the Narrows Center in Fall River.
Sullivan first picked up a guitar when he was 3 years old. He still remembers this first contact: “It was in my hands. I can’t describe the exact feeling. Around the age of 5, I started taking lessons. I just kept doing it. I mean, I’m still obsessed with it.
In “The Torch,” Guy tells a crowd, “When I first met him, I was down there in New Bedford, Massachusetts, ladies and gentlemen. . . . When he started playing notes, I said, ‘Wait a minute. It can’t be you.
When Guy played a show at Lowell that summer, Sullivan met him there as well. “That’s when it really clicked because it was more of a personal hit,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan has been playing guitar for 20 years now, most of it under Guy’s wing.
“Buddy has always been a dear friend of mine. He’s someone I will cherish as one of the greatest human beings to come into my life,” he says. “He’s this incredible mentor.”
But Sullivan knows there comes a time “when you have to do your own thing and be your own artist. You can’t be under someone’s wing forever,” he says. “A lot of people know me as the son of Buddy Guy. My goal now as an artist is to be known as Quinn Sullivan.
At the Narrows Center for the Arts, Fall River. May 20 at 8 p.m. $33. quinnsullivanmusic.com