One thing Marcus King can guarantee fans that come out for his concerts promoting his current solo album, “El Dorado,” is they won’t hear strict reproductions of the studio versions of the songs from that album, or for that matter, from any of his previous releases.

“My least favorite thing is to hear someone basically put a cassette player on when they get on stage,” King said in a phone interview. “That’s no fun.”

In the case of some of the “El Dorado” songs, King and his band have been pretty much forced to divert from the studio versions. On the ballads such as “Break” and “One Day She’s Gone,” King prominently incorporates strings, while thick retro-styled female backing vocals are a big part of the song “Beautiful Stranger.” These elements are not in the instrumental/vocal arsenal of the Marcus King Band, which includes King (guitar and vocals), Jack Ryan (drums), Stephen Campbell (bass), Justin Johnson (trumpet/trombone) and Dean Mitchell (sax/steel guitar). But before the pandemic hit, King felt like he had come up with live versions of the songs that worked in a more economical setting.

The ballads on “El Dorado” have a lushness that King had not brought to the three previous Marcus King Band albums.  Meanwhile, other songs, like “The Well” (a full-on bluesy rocker), “Turn It Up” (whose percolating textures and driving tempo create a welcome tension) and “Young Man’s Dream” (which shifts from a gentle acoustic opening to a full-bodied country-tinged tune), bring a nice musical range to the “El Dorado” album.

The latter song is one of several on which King sings in falsetto – something he had never done before. King discovered his falsetto range quite accidentally during the recording session for “El Dorado.”

“I was just a little tired one night, and the concept of the microphone, think about it, they can turn it up as loud as you want to go,” King explained. “Some of my favorite singers whispered their (vocal) tracks pretty much. It doesn’t sound like that (on album). So I did that (falsetto) just because I was a little tired one night and I just took that approach of my voice is tired. I’m sure as hell glad I did.”

Along with introducing strings, horns, female backing vocals and his own falsetto vocals into his sound, something else makes “El Dorado” different for King.

It’s the first Marcus King solo album. Although the Marcus King Band is very much intact – as the current tour dates demonstrate — circumstances led King to step away from his group to make the new album.

“The opportunity availed itself to be able to work with some legends, like (drummer) Gene Chrisman and (keyboardist) Bobby Wood,” King said, mentioning two musicians who were original members of the Memphis Boys, the house band at Chips Moman’s famed American Sound Studio (they played on Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” and many other famous songs). “I had to make a decision, and I’m glad that I did it. I feel it’s important to step away from the norm every now and then. It refreshes you in all senses of the word.”

It makes sense that King would have been well aware of Chrisman, Wood and the production work of Moman.

Growing up in Greensville, South Carolina in a family where his father had a band and his grandfather was a musician, King, 25, was introduced to a wide range of blues, soul, country and rock and roll as a kid and has built a deep knowledge of those genres. By age four, King had his first guitar and was learning to play. He did his first performance at age 8, and by age 10 or so, King had joined his father’s soul-rooted band, which taught him key lessons about music, performing and running a band.

King didn’t waste time striking out on his own, forming his first band at age 14. But it wasn’t until 2014 that he got his big break. That’s when he met Warren Haynes, guitarist/singer in Gov’t Mule (and previously the Allman Brothers Band), who was impressed enough by King to sign him to his Evil Twin Records label. That label in 2015 re-released the first Marcus King Band album, “Soul Insight.” That album, originally self-released in 2014, featured a substantially different lineup than the present Marcus King Band. 

That current edition of the group came on board in time to make the 2016 self-titled “Marcus King Band” album – the group’s first release on Fantasy Records. Produced by Haynes, the self-titled album reached No. 2 on the “Billboard” magazine Top Blues Albums.

Then for the 2018 album, “Carolina Confessions,” King worked with Dave Cobb, one of today’s most in-demand producers, who helped the Marcus King Band create a more song-focused album that flowed smoothly between blues-tinged rockers, songs with some Memphis soul and more acoustic fair that had a country accent.  

For “El Dorado,” King teamed with another in-demand producer in Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. 

            “Well, we started writing together a couple of years ago. He (Auerbach) called me out of the blue, or his manager called me out of the blue and said ‘Dan wants you to come to Nashville and do some writing,” King said, explaining his history with Auerbach. “That really sparked a good friendship and a good writing partnership. I ended up moving to town about a year later (in late 2018).”

            Despite the wide range of instrumentation, the “El Dorado” album came together quickly. King’s writing sessions with several respected tunesmiths (Paul Overstreet, Ronnie Bowman and Pat McLaughlin) took only about a week and a half and recording was finished in three days. Auerbach, it turns out, is anything but fussy in the studio.

            “Well, the way it kind of went is we put about a week and a half together for writing sessions and we sat down with different cats, people that Dan thought would be suitable for me to write with,” King said. “And the way the creative spark just was happening in the studio was really something like nothing I’d ever seen. I’d done writing sessions before, but these were the right people for the job. And just between me knowing what I wanted to say and then giving me a helping hand in building this structure and really helped us paint a picture. Then we went in and cut all 18 songs we had written, we cut them in three days.

“Dan’s very similar to me as far as he likes to get in there early in the morning and work until late at night. So you’re getting a lot of hours in,” King elaborated. “There’s not a lot of thought to what else can we add to this track. ‘The Well’ is a prime example of the way this album came to be because what you hear on the record is what we cut that night. The only thing we added to it was the handclaps, which we did that night, and when we left the studio we had a finished track that night…That’s the nature of Auerbach. There’s no need to overthink something. Just let it be what it wants to be.”

The presence of so many ballads “El Dorado” (a half dozen in all) wasn’t premeditated, either. 

“I’ve never sat down with a kind of song in mind. I like to allow the song to be whatever it needs to be, however I need to say it. That’s been the way for all of my writing,” King said. “The soul ballads were just, what I like to do, man, I like to take a microphone and lower it down into my soul, into the depths of it. Whatever’s jangling around in there, that’s what you hear.”

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