When you get right down to it... to the heart of what the blues are all about... Eric Clapton hit the nail on the head. “It was one man and his guitar versus the world,” he said. “It was one guy who was completely alone and had no options, no alternatives other than just to sing and play to ease his pains.”
It doesn’t matter how the music has changed and charged its way around the world in the years since the first bluesmen arose a century back in the American south. It doesn’t matter how volume and fusion and international superstardom have shaped and shifted things around. The blues that Clapton plays today mean the same thing that Howlin’ Wolf was playing in the fifties, and Son House was playing in the thirties, and they’re the same as Tom Killner is playing today.
The sound may change, and the delivery, too. But the blues will always be the blues. Tom Killner understood that before he even discovered that the music had a name.
He’s young by the standards of the bluesman archetype. Born in 1996, there are Oasis CDs that are older than him, and he grew up in a musical world formed not around the swagger of Robert Johnson, the anguish of Ma Rainey, the mystery of Geeshie Wylie, but the conveyor belt pop and talent show slop that permeated everything in early 21st century England.
“I was originally drawn to the blues because nothing else really grabbed me,” Tom says. “My friends all listened to metal and pop, but I've never been one for following trends in music. The blues I love because of the raw power, and because of what it could make me feel. No other music did that for me.”
Tom’s south Yorkshire hometown of Rotherham, is scarcely renowned as a hotbed of music, either, although the late Joe Cocker hailed from the just down the road in Sheffield, and it’s not so far to the Black Country either, where the British blues were smelted in the fiery forge of the island’s industrial heartland.
That was the music that Tom’s father listened to; that was the music the young Tom grew up with. Clapton and Cream. Chicken Shack and Fleetwood Mac. Primal Led Zeppelin, pioneering John Mayall. The genius Rory Gallagher. And then tracing back, following the line of descent that is pocked by rock’s own most bruising influences - Muddy Waters, Albert King, BB King... the blues!
Aged nine, Tom was playing the electric guitar, while Clapton and Gallagher, Peter Green and Gary Moore, drifted from the speakers for him to painstakingly play along with.
Aged ten, he had his first band together, and although the musicians’ tender ages kept them out of the kind of venues where their kind of music was usually heard, the word got around regardless.
For a lot of very understandable reasons, potential child prodigies are often viewed with suspicion. But Tom was the exception that you very rarely hear. A kid who knew what the blues could do. Or, as the Taproom Sessions pointed out, "There are times when a young talent comes along and makes an audience stop and consider what they are watching."
The Tom Killner Band formed in February 2012, a tight trio in the classic blues format of guitar (Tom), bass (Oliver Tallent) and drums (originally Graham Shaw, but now long time friend Jake Ashton).
It was a line-up that worked for Cream, that worked for Taste, and worked for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Now it’s working for the Tom Killner Band, as they set up the no-holds-barred barrage that hit that year’s Great British Blues Festival like a levee giving way, and has swamped every other stage the band has played on... from the vastness of blues festivals in Wakefield and Hebden Bridge (two years running, voted the UK’s best blues event), to theaters and clubs around the country.
“I try to add as much energy to the live show as I can each night,” explains Tom. “No two shows are the same, and no song is played the same. Every night, I try and mix as many influences in as possible - Blues, Soul, Southern Rock, Funk... and it seems to be keeping everyone happy!”
Their fame continued to spread. The Tom Killner Band opened for Danny Bryant, and were rewarded with the headliner’s own admiration - “an excellent, incredible guitarist.”
“You guys rocked!” declared an astonished Gwyn Ashton, after the Band played a show with him.
Endorsements from Fret-King and Vintage Guitar sent the Band’s stock soaring even higher; while their first EP, Complicated, became a BBC radio favorite. And finally, inevitably, the Tom Killner Band’s acclaim reached across the ocean, to the Los Angeles headquarters of Cleopatra Records.
Now the Tom Killner Band are recording their debut album, knowing that it is already one of the most eagerly anticipated blues releases of the year.
“Blues for me is more than just a style,” Tom concludes “It’s a way of letting emotion out from deep down inside your soul, that you didn't even know existed, it’s a way of communicating with other people. They get it, no matter who you are or where you come from.”
Blues historian Dave Thompson is the author of the books “Cream: The World’s First Supergroup” (Virgin Books) “Robert Plant - the Voice that Sailed the Zeppelin” (Backbeat Books) and “Truth...: Rod Stewart, Ron Wood and The Jeff Beck Group” (Cherry Red Books)