Hearing the guitar licks of local musician Quinton Randall, it’s hard to believe he’s just 25 years old. Besides his impressively raw talent on guitar, there is old soul in Randall’s bluesy, gritty voice. On the heels of releasing his first EP in March, Randall and his band Echelon will be performing at Artscape on July 18.
We sat down with the West Baltimore native to talk about how a Pepsi commercial started his music career, why the blues scene in Baltimore needs to get younger, and his dream scenario at this year’s Artscape.
How did you first start playing guitar?
Well I grew up in the arts scene. I first started out trying to be a poet—I thought I had something to say—and there was an open mic called Organic Soul on Howard and Saratoga. Everyone I know now I know through that scene. In 2005, I met a teacher by the name of Kevin Robinson. He recorded me doing some poetry stuff, and one day I asked him, ‘If I bought a guitar, would you teach me?’ So we went to the pawn shop and bought an amp and guitar and he taught me at the rec center near James McHenry Elementary in my neighborhood.
What musicians influenced you while you were learning?
Weirdly enough, the first time I first heard guitar and just said, ‘Wow’ was that old Pepsi commercial where that little black boy with an Afro has to choose between a Coke and Pepsi machine and Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” starts playing. Then I got into Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Stevie’s music is blues all day, everyday. Hendrix is more blues with an edge. Santana helped me find my voice in my guitar. He inspired me to have my personality come through when I play. I’m really open and friendly and all that kind of translates into guitar.
How would you describe your sound?
If anything, I’m blues and funk. “Round Bout Midnight” is the most standard blues song on my EP. But none of it is your typical grandaddy’s blues. My voice is bluesy because it’s gritty and husky, but my composing is where the funk comes in. In my band, we have a trombone and a violin. We want people to dance.
Where do you usually play around town?
Mondays I usually play at Teavolve. Tonight is Wednesday, so I’m going to be at the Blues Jam at the American Legion on Fleet and Ann. There are Acoustic Thursdays at Peace & A Cup of Joe on MLK and Pratt. Every third Friday, there’s an open mic called the Bolton Hill Open Mic Series (BHOMS) and, every last Friday at the Eubie Blake Center, there’s a music and spoken word show.
Wow, that’s almost every night of the week. How do you feel about the blues scene in Baltimore?
The music scene here in general is huge now. There’s a groundswell going on. The blues scene here is good, but there are a lot of older folks that plays blues, of course. All these cats are like 40 and up. There are not a lot of people my age who, at least consistently, plays blues. Sometimes it gets a little lonely because I don’t have many people to jam with. Brooks Long is the closest thing. We’re actually playing a show together at the 8×10 on July 10. The scene changed a bit three years ago when Brooks started playing a lot more. It changed when J Pope finally got a solid band. I’m starting to use the hashtag #BaltimoreBlues and people are becoming a little more aware.
Your first EP The Cleanse came out in March and I know it was partially funded by an IndieGoGo campaign.
That damn sure helped [laughs]. But I put all my money into it. I picked up a job and all of that money went into studio time. I think it took about 4 to 5 months to make, and we never went a week without getting in the studio. We recorded with a guy named Don Frunk at a studio Dream First. The album is raw and real, there’s a lot of passion and a lot of pain.
You’ve got to be really excited about performing at this year’s Artscape.
I performed last year, but them asking me back kind of let me know that my music was accepted. I won’t be really excited until I’m on stage. I can say all this stuff, but I want to honor the opportunity and give one hell of a performance. I take that really seriously.
How will your Artscape performance differ from normal gigs?
Any other year, I’m by myself with an acoustic. The fact that I have a band means that I have more leeway to be open and do different stuff. I’ll be changing my setlist a lot and adding more originals and less covers. It will probably be 80-20 originals to covers. I will do my usual covers of Gary Clark Jr.’s “When My Train Pulls In” and it will be special to do [George Clinton & the Parliament Funkadelic’s] “Maggot Brain” since they are playing Artscape the night before. My dream would be to get up there and sing it with him.
I bet you can make it happen. Anything else we can expect from the performance?
I wrote a song about everything happening in Baltimore called “What’s Going On?” It started with Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, but the death of Freddie Gray made me finish the song. I can’t see an artist not speaking up on what’s going on. Have an opinion about something, and then turn it into a positive. I wasn’t born in the ’40s or ’50s, I was born in this generation. And it’s my responsibility to speak up.
Be sure to check out Randall’s Artscape performance on Saturday, July 18 at 2 p.m. on the Sound Off Live festival stage.