It’s not easy being a teenager in 2021. It could even give you the blues. What it rarely does, however, is make you want to play the blues, the musical style that emerged from Black communities in the American South at the turn of the 20th century and went on to form the foundation of 1960s and 1970s rock. Toby Lee, a 16-year-old from Oxfordshire who has been celebrated by such greats as Buddy Guy and Joe Bonamassa as the best blues guitarist of his generation, is a rare exception.
“I’m going to be honest: I’m quite a nerd,” Toby says, actually looking quite stylish in a flat cap and patterned shirt as he speaks from his parents’ living room in Oxfordshire, a custom-built Gibson 335 electric guitar leaning on the wall behind him. “If I’m not playing guitar, I’m taking a guitar or a pedal apart to figure out how it works. I have a mechanical mind and I’m into things my friends aren’t into, but I quite like that. It’s something different to talk about.”