Q&A with Tom Holland, without a doubt one of the finest purveyors of classic Chicago Blues guitar styles

"There will always be an audience. Young people in the United States tend to come to blues and jazz later in their lives, but there are still younger people interested. Everywhere else in the world, blues and jazz is very well received and respected, and there’s a younger fan base. A lot more so than in the US. There’s always a new fan made every day, and someone else gets excited by this music, and it will carry on for many more decades."

Tom Holland: The Shuffle King of Chicago

Tom Holland & the Shuffle Kings have been playing the blues worldwide for over 25 years, regularly appearing at clubs and festivals worldwide. Years on the road with blues legends such as John Primer, Eddy Clearwater, and most recently James Cotton have made Tom Holland one of the most in demand blues artists on the scene today! Tom Holland grew up on Chicago’s south side and was influenced by the city’s rich jazz and blues heritage from a very young age. His father’s love of music and vast record collection was the catalyst for Tom’s love of music, especially blues. He began playing guitar at age 13, learning by listening to Muddy Waters tapes, LPs, and CDs. Tom cites Muddy Waters, Earl Hooker, John Primer and Magic Slim as his greatest influences. By the time he turned 18 Tom was ready to start learning from the musicians on the Chicago blues scene. He started playing professionally in Chicago at age 19, landing his first gig with L.V. Banks, in a beauty salon on Chicago’s south side. He worked with L.V. Banks on and off for four years. It was also during this time that Tom was introduced to Muddy Waters last guitarist, John Primer.                              (Tom Holland / Photo by Bob Hakins)

Tom toured the United States and Canada for two years with John as a member of his band, the Real Deal Blues Band. While in the band he recorded the 1998 Wolf Records release It’s a Blues Life. This was his first time in a recording studio and certainly not his last. It was also during this time that he formed the first incarnation of his own group The Shuffle Kings. As the year 2000 approached Tom took his place as one of the top sidemen in Chicago. In late 1999 Tom was asked to join Chicago blues guitarist Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater’s band. He freelanced with Carey Bell, Phil Guy, A.C. Reed, Sandra Hall, and countless other Chicago bluesmen and women. In 2003 he was approached by harp legend James Cotton, who was in need of a guitar player. He accepted and toured with James for 12 years. Tom Holland & the Shuffle Kings released the album The Lost Sessions (2019) on his own label, E Natchel Records. Tom was also inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame in 2013 with many years of stage experience under his belt, Tom Holland is, without a doubt one of the finest purveyors of classic Chicago Blues guitar styles.

Interview by Michael Limnios      Archive: Tom Holland, 2012 interview @ blues.gr

How has the Blues influenced your views of the world? Where does your creative drive come from?

My world views are probably a little different than most, as I’ve been fortunate in my career, to be able to travel all over the world and play music. I’ve seen a lot of different cultures, and have seen a lot of the good and the bad that is in the world. It all comes down to one thing, we are all in this world together, and while no one person is the same as the next, the differences of cultures are what make the world a great place. It also can show the flaws of people. The main thing is focus on the good attributes of the world.

My creative drive is fueled by the power of music, and how it can change someone’s day with just one note. It gives me purpose to be able to see people’s reaction to how my music moves them.

What do you think is key to a blues life well lived?

The Key to a well lived blues life is to treat people as you’d want to be treated. Life is too short to deal with negativity and sadness. While its always around, focusing on the good will keep you going every day.                          (Tom Holland / Photo by Jim Drake)

"The blues has always been about cultural implications. It’s the story of African Americans and its always been something of a “protest” or cultural music. I personally tend to stay away from a lot of political or socio cultural topics, as I’m not really in a position to speak on a lot of that."

What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

Technique is something that gives you the tools to express yourself through music. Soul is the part of what you play that grabs a hold of the listener and draws them in. its not about how many notes you can play, or how fast, the soul of the music lets its breathe, tell a story and get your point across.

What moment changed your music life the most?

There have been a couple of moments that changed my music life the most… first was when I was just starting out, and John Primer took me out on the road, when I was 18-19 years old. I didn’t really know what I was doing, all I knew was that I wanted to play music. John saw something in me at a young age and put me on the path I’ve been on ever since. The other moment that changed my music life was when I was hired to play with James Cotton. I spent 12 years honing my craft and learning from Cotton on how to be a better musician, and person.

What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

The highlight of my career is that I’ve been all over the world, have met a lot of amazing people, worked with the best in the world, and have been able to make a difference in the world with music.

Why do you think that Chicago Blues Scene continues to generate such a devoted following?

It keeps such a following because everyone gets the blues. It’s a very relatable form of music, and it allows people to get a break from the real world, and escape to a music that soothes, and lets you be transported to a good place.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past?

I miss the Characters. Today’s blues scene is missing the guys who were not like everyone else. They did things their own way, not like everyone else, quirky, and just flat out interesting. I miss my friends who I came up with playing, from the guys like Magic Slim, Cotton, Eddy Clearwater, to guys who left way too early, like Marty Sammon and Eric Davis.

"Technique is something that gives you the tools to express yourself through music. Soul is the part of what you play that grabs a hold of the listener and draws them in. its not about how many notes you can play, or how fast, the soul of the music lets its breathe, tell a story and get your point across." (Tom Holland, one of the finest purveyors of classic Chicago Blues guitar styles / Photo by Mar+Fotografia)

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

My fears are that people really believe that the blues is “dying”. I’m so tired of seeing that its dying. That is the furthest thing from the truth. The blues isn’t dying. One of the best thing about music, is that its always evolving. There’s always someone to push the music down the road a little further. There are always going to be a number of artists playing “traditional” style of blues. But most of all, I’m really tired of everyone giving something a title. At the end of the day, its all music!!

What is the impact of Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

This is a very good question. The blues has always been about cultural implications. It’s the story of African Americans and its always been something of a “protest” or cultural music. I personally tend to stay away from a lot of political or socio cultural topics, as I’m not really in a position to speak on a lot of that. To me, music is an escape from everyday problems, and so I tend to focus on blues that makes people feel good, and have a good time. Like I said, I feel Music is a form of release or Escape for a lot of people. Therefore, I’d like to have my music have a positive effect on people when they hear it or see a show live.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I’ve learned a lot about how to carry myself in the world, be kind to people, work hard, and enjoy the fruits of the work I’ve done up to this point. Life is too short to worry about things you can’t change. Its all about being positive and living as best you can.

Do you think there is an audience for jazz music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

There will always be an audience. Young people in the United States tend to come to blues and jazz later in their lives, but there are still younger people interested. Everywhere else in the world, blues and jazz is very well received and respected, and there’s a younger fan base. A lot more so than in the US. There’s always a new fan made every day, and someone else gets excited by this music, and it will carry on for many more decades.

Tom Holland & the Shuffle Kings - Home

(Tom Holland / Photo by Howard Greenblatt)

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