Aaron Keylock is like an experienced 40-something guitarist trapped in a shy 18-year-old’s body. The Johnny Winter-rivalling chops and Cuban heels say one thing; the gentle, sweetly awkward off-stage manner of this young British musician say another. Since signing to the Mascot Label Group he’s become better known as a blues prodigy, but a proper listen to his music reveals a much more colourful, song-focused approach. A mindless 12-bar noodler Keylock is not.
“The world I came from was jamming and the blues, which was more guitar-orientated,” Keylock reasons. “But when it came to recording the album, I looked at a lot of the songs and they didn’t need giant solos.”
That album, his LA-recorded debut Cut Against The Grain, blends classic bluesiness with 70s-infused grooves and jubilant southern rock. It feels like a rock’n’roll album, not a blues album, although Just One Question (written when Keylock was 13) shows he hasn’t totally abandoned the genre. “It shows I have roots there, which I am really proud of,” he agrees, “but you find your own voice.”
In an era of a conveyor belt of YouTube guitar heroes, Keylock’s development has been refreshingly organic. Aged eight, having been introduced to his father’s classic rock records, he got his first guitar and started performing at local jam nights. By the time he was 12 the guitar had totally taken over, and while his contemporaries started partying he was learning BB King licks on stage with mostly much older players. He admits he’s never really had other hobbies since.
“I was the eight-year-old blues guy at jam nights,” he says, “but I made friends with those guys the first time I went.”
In the last couple of years Keylock has broadened his social circle and also his musical palette, having supported Blackberry Smoke, Wilko Johnson, The Cadillac Three, Joanne Shaw Taylor and more. “It is really cool, especially when you’re a fan already, which I was of Blackberry Smoke and The Cadillac Three,” he says. “And I liked what Joanne was doing when I first heard her at Ramblin’ Man. So to be able to befriend people like that, drop them a text, go along to shows… it’s cool.”
Road life has proved interesting, too. On one tour he slept in a custom bike shop in a church that was filled with guns and snakes (“the owner’s a cool guy but he lets the snakes out, which is the scary bit going to sleep”).
Away from touring, Keylock resumes a normal(ish) teenage existence, living with his parents and sister in Oxfordshire and popping back for sessions at his old jam nights.
“I don’t get nervous on stage, cos that’s where I’ve come from,” he muses, then grins. “I don’t know if I feel grown up or not. I’m just running around in my old world just doing whatever I feel like at the minute, so I’m not really grown up in that sense.”
Cut Against The Grain is out now via Mascot Label Group.
For fans of…
“The album’s got so many sides to it,” Keylock says, “but I’d say [the main influence is] the Stones, mainly from a songwriting point of view. Guitar-wise it was Keith Richards who really inspired me. He’d be the ultimate rock star for me. I love the sound and style of his playing and that whole glamorous dirtbag look.”