Names like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck quickly come to mind when discussing the greatest British rock and blues guitarists. Few venture forth the name Kim Simmonds – a Welshman who, night after night, rips off guitar licks that Otis Rush and B.B. King would be proud to call their own.
Simmonds and his band of greater renown, Savoy Brown, are on their 50th anniversary tour. It’s certainly not a nostalgia show. The spry 67-year-old Simmonds injects passion and meaning into every note and every boogie. When he kneels down on stage and starts bending notes to the classic Savoy Brown song, “Hellbound Train,” it’s a slice of rock and blues heaven.
“I still love playing the guitar, searching for a sound that I can feel,” Simmonds writes on his website. “I’m the kind of player where that feel constantly changes, and it leads me to a lifelong search for sounds that reflect my current state of mind and heart.”
It’s been a long recording career for Simmonds and Savoy Brown, which has had numerous personnel changes through the decades. For the uninitiated — or those searching for the sound quality — the best way to start exploring the music of Savoy Brown is to purchase the group’s remastered albums by the United Kingdom-based BGO Records. The label not only has improved the sound of early Savoy Brown albums but also puts two albums on each CD. Most highly recommended are Blue Matter/A Step Further and RawSienna/Looking In.
After 1970’s Looking In, Dave Peverett, Roger Earl, and Tony Stevens left the group to form Foghat, but Simmonds found other top musicians and more great albums followed. Don’t miss BGO’s Street Corner Talking/Hellbound Train.
Besides Savoy Brown albums spanning six decades, Simmonds has released several solo albums, including last year’s Goin’ to the Delta. The album, actually co-billed as Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown, is full of electric stomping blues rock that recalls the sounds of Chicago’s old blues masters.
On record and on stage, Simmons is an exciting performer who knows how to rock, loves to boogie and truly feels the blues. He has also seen innumerable exciting performances of other artists during his long career, and some have made an indelible impression.
He cites concerts by Jerry Lee Lewis, Albert Collins, and The Who as the best he has seen. But — when asked to pinpoint one — he points to Jerry Lee on May 9, 1963. It was at The Fairfield Halls, a venue in Croydon, a town in south London, that had opened a year earlier and hosted The Beatles just 14 days before the Jerry Lee show.
It was the best concert, he says, because of “the sheer excitement and energy generated on stage” — Jerry Lee’s “personal magnetism and ability to communicate mayhem.”
Simmonds says the concert that influenced him most as a musician was by John Mayall’s Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton in 1966, at The Flamingo Club in London’s SoHo area.
“Eric's playing had all the elements of the blues music I loved,” Simmonds recalls. “At that time period, he was the best musician I had ever seen play live. He had the timing, the technique, the feeling and the sound. He showed me the way forward for my own career as a blues guitarist. I had the American records to listen to, and now I had a musician, as good as the records, that I could see live.”
Listening today to Simmonds play guitar live or on record, it would seem he has little more to learn. But he says his most recent release, Still Live After 50 Years, Volume 1, which is co-billed Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown, “shows how I am still growing as a musician.”
Today’s Savoy Brown is a three-piece outfit with Pat DeSalvo on bass and Garnet Grimm on drums. In its 1960s heyday, Savoy Brown was a six-piece band.
So, 50 years down the pike, what legacy has Savoy Brown left on the pop music industry?
“That’s a big question!“ Simmonds exclaims. “The legacy? Other musicians have told me that the band was ahead of its time, and I, therefore, think a part of the legacy is the influence on other bands and musicians.
“It is also one of the few blues bands ever to penetrate the pop music charts. But most of all, it was one of the most important bands that started the 1967 British blues explosion.”