Fluff, Just the
Tom Holland is one of the most capable and authentic young
blues guitarists on the Chicago scene
today, his no-nonsense approach shows
that he learned well from his stints in the bands of Byther Smith, Eddie "The
Chief" Clearwater, and especially John Primer.
Holland began playing guitar at
age 13, learning by listening to Muddy Waters tapes, LPs, and CDs. At age 19, he
started playing professionally in Chicago landing his first gig with L.V. Banks,
in a beauty salon on Chicago’s south side. It was also during this time that
he was introduced to Muddy Waters last guitarist, John
Primer took Holland under
his wing, and proceeded to give him an education in
blues guitar. Holland toured the United States and
Canada for two years with Primer as a member of his
band, the Real Deal Blues Band. Holland also recorded
a CD with Primer during his time in the band.
Recorded in 1998, “It’s a Blues Life” on Wolf Records
was Holland’s first time in a recording studio,
but certainly not his last.
In late 1999 Holland was asked to join Chicago blues
guitarist Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater’s band. In 2001, between tours with Eddy
Clearwater, he began to focus more on his own band the
Shuffle Kings. By late 2002 he
was touring full time with the Shuffle Kings.
In November of 2003, Holland was approached by harp
legend James Cotton, who was in need of a guitar player. In July of 2004
he toured Japan and
Switzerland for the first time with Cotton.
In between tours with Cotton,
he began touring the Midwest
with his band, gaining new fans and solidifying their status as one of
the few bands, young or old, still playing traditional Chicago blues. The band
turned heads with their incendiary performance wherever they
Tom Holland and the Shuffle Kings are the torchbearers of traditional
started playing professionally at the age of nineteen when you joined L.
V. Banks, with whom you played on an off for four years. Tell us
about this experience.
grew up with Marty Sammon, who is currently playing keyboards
with Buddy Guy, and he was playing in blues clubs about a year or so
before me. He was working with L.V.
Banks, and I used to go hang out with him on some of the gig.
I’d sit in whenever they would let me. His regular guitarist couldn’t do
a gig, and so I got the call to do the gig,. From
there I worked with L.V. on and off for a number of years after that.
For some people, having a set list is fine. But
if a crowd isn’t into what you’re doing, a set list can prove to be a death
You would eventually meet Muddy's guitarist John Primer who took you under his
wing. What were several of the most important things you learned from Primer on
playing Blues guitar and performing?
John was the first guy to take me on the road. Coincidentally, I also met John
through Marty Sammon working with John. We used to go to the Checkerboard Lounge
on the south side, where John used to work Sundays and Mondays. Marty worked a
few dates with John, so Marty and I would go hang out
so Marty could learn his material. John must have seen something in me, cause
after a few times hanging out at the Checkerboard, he hired me to do some gigs.
I stayed with John for about two years.
started playing with John, I’ll be the first one to admit, I wasn’t a very good
rhythm guitar player. John showed me how to play rhythm guitar, everything from
a “lump de lump” to a slow blues, and everything in between. John was also
responsible for my affinity for Slide guitar. I used to mess around with slide
around the house, but never really played out in public with a slide. John told
me early in my tenure with his band, that before I left his band, I’d know how
to play slide. Not many guitarists play slide anymore.
I think this was John’s way of passing something on to the “next generation,”
much like guys like Muddy, Sammy Lawhorn, and Magic Slim did with John.
taught me the value of being able to read a crowd. For some people, having a set
list is fine. But if a crowd
isn’t into what you’re doing, a set list can prove to be a death sentence. John
never had a set list, if the crowd was dancing, he’d play up-tempo stuff.
If they wanted to hear some old R&B, we’d
play that. One thing was certain, John always kept a crowd captivated, which is
what I also try to do on my own gigs.
Your status as one of Chicago's sidemen was solidified when you were asked to
accompany Eddy "the Chief" Clearwater in 1999. How long did you tour with him,
toured with Eddy from '1999 to 2002. I left his band
to concentrate on my solo career. During my time with Eddy, we toured all over
the lower 48 states, as well as many tours of Canada. We toured many European
countries, including Portugal, Norway, and Jamaica.
Since then you have shared billing with some the biggest names in Chicago
blues. With whom have you played? On which recordings have you appeared?
When I was working with Eddy Clearwater, he had his own club for a few
years, so I had the opportunity to work with a number of “legends” on a one off
backing band, including Robert Jr. Lockwood, AC Reed, Lonnie Brooks, Son Seals,
Jody Williams and Jimmy Johnson.
have freelanced with Carey Bell, Hubert Sumlin, Little Smokey Smothers, J.W.
Williams, Michael Coleman, Shirley Johnson, Zora Young, Byther Smith, Phil Guy,
Cadillac Dave and his Chicago Red Hots, Sandra Hall,
Grana Louise, Harmonica Hinds, Craig Horton, and many others I can’t recall
appeared on the following recordings:
– It’s a Blues Life – Wolf Records – 2000
– Miss Red Riding Hood – Cleartone Records – 2001
Gateway to the Blues – Deakharp Records – 2002
& the Shuffle Kings – Shuffle King Productions – 2002
Dan Beaver –
Last Call – Self Release – 2005
Morganfield – Fall Waters Fall – Self Release – 2008
Hinds – Finally – Self Release – 2008
Tom Holland – 190 Proof Blues - Dopplervision – 2008
Most recently you have been touring with James Cotton. How were you approached
to play with Cotton?
was approached to join Cotton’s band in 2004. His other guitarist, Rico
McFarland, was going to be working with, I think,
Lucky Peterson, and I was hired as a temporary fix for a tour of the west coast
that Cotton had lined up. I had worked in Chicago with Cotton’s other guitarist,
Slam Allen, and Slam recommended me for the spot. I’ve been playing with Cotton
ever since. With Cotton, I’ve continued to tour Europe and
Asia, including Japan, Hawaii, Alaska, Czech Republic, Israel, Tunisia, France,
Portugal, Italy, Spain, Finland, Switzerland and Canada.
Tell us about starting your band the Shuffle Kings. What big plans do you have
for your band?
started the Shuffle Kings back in 1998, but didn’t really pursue anything for
the band seriously until 2000. I started running a blues Jam
at Eddy Clearwater’s Reservation Blues in Chicago, and that’s where I
finally got my bearings together as a bandleader. Since then, we’ve toured the
Midwest and have backed Hubert Sumlin on a few Midwest tours. Before he passed
away, we also did a good number of Chicago dates with Carey Bell.
been touring with James Cotton, I’ve cut back considerably doing gigs with my
band. We still work around Chicago, but not as much as we used to. These days,
with the economy in the shape it's in, I’ve scaled
back band gigs to a duo for a lot of the gigs.
plans for the band…… I’ll keep making contacts while on the road with Cotton,
but eventually, we will be taking to the road. I’ve just released a new CD with
Marty Sammon titled 190 Proof Blues. So we’ll probably do some dates
But I’m also preparing to take the full band into the studio, to
record a new CD. Look for Tom Holland and the Shuffle
Kings to be on the move in the next few years.
We’ll be in a town near you soon!!
For booking information
Shuffle King Productions
Phone # (773) 844 - 4502