Tom Atkins Bio

                        For years, Tom Atkins, guitarist and frontman of the band bearing his name, has been doing the musician hustle.  Since high school, when he began jamming with friends, he has been working to promote his music.  While The Tom Atkins Band is the first time that he is playing front and center in the lineup, he is very familiar with getting the word out about live music and booking gigs.  Whether in NYC, California, or the Capital Region, Atkins has always been comfortable talking about his music, just not himself. “It was always easier just talking about the band.”  It wasn’t until attending a recent guitar camp though that Atkins was convinced by other musicians that his own story was both unique and inspirational.  

                      Born with congenital hearing loss, Atkins wears hearing aids and is unable to hear high-frequency sounds. While he can hear some things without the assistance of his hearing aids, he says it requires great concentration, and he is left feeling exhausted. “There is a big mental component to it because when I concentrate, I can hear exactly what I am concentrating on, but I don’t hear anything else.”  As a child, Atkins spent years in speech therapy, became an expert lip reader, and “just learned to live with it.” Since he has spent so many years downplaying or hiding his hearing loss, he only recently has come to realize that for a kid with significant hearing loss, it is pretty remarkable that he found his passion in guitar.   

                      Atkins came to the guitar after trying out the piano and then the trombone. (The latter was to impress a girl, and when she wasn’t impressed, he quit.) On Valentine’s Day in 1983, Atkins got his first guitar and soon realized that while he might have trouble hearing everything, through his sense of touch and the vibrations of the strings, he could feel when the instrument was out of tune. He stayed up all night teaching himself to play the instrument, one finger at a time. From there, Atkins recalls taking one or two formal lessons just to gain a “reference point” from the teacher. He continued to teach himself and soon found his way into jazz band and classical music.  

                      In high school, he continued to play with friends, mainly heavy metal and rock. Lucky for him, hair bands were popular in the late 1980s, and so his long hair was both stylish and a way to cover his hearing aids. While he never wanted to draw attention to his hearing loss, he recognizes now that music certainly helped build his confidence. “I think music really helped me grow as a person...and brought me out of my shell. I was uncomfortable in crowds with my hearing, but the music made me want to be in front of people again.”   Atkins says that the adrenaline rush he gets before performing live is addicting and keeps him going.  

                      Recording and performing music when you have a hearing loss can pose many challenges, and so to troubleshoot, Atkins has relied on good friends. “I hear in my head how it should be. What it sounds like in reality is often different. It’s critical that whoever is running sound understands my hearing disability.” He sometimes worries that there might be a buzz or bad tone coming from his amp that he does not detect, so he relies on other band members. Still, he explains that whether or not they have a hearing loss, for guitarists, the “tone quest is a lifelong pursuit. At some point you just have to go and play and trust in those around you will make you sound great.”