Savoy Brown's Leader Reflects on 50 Years of British Blues
Savoy Brown in 2017: Garnet Grimm, co-founder Kim Simmonds and Pat DeSalvo
Photo by Candie Kates
Kim Simmonds remembers the first time he met the blues. Sure, growing up in 1950s England, he had some sonic encounters with homeboy Cliff Richard. But it was his brother’s magical record collection that introduced him to the wild, American sounds of Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and Little Richard.
“I had been brought up since I was six years old listening to that type of music. I think the first one he played for me was Johnnie Ray’s ‘Cry.’ And he took me to see the movie Rock Around the Clock,” Simmonds recalls today.
Then he dug deeper into his brother’s stash to discover the masters of the Chicago blues sound — especially the music of Earl Hooker and Otis Rush — and had a “come to Jesus” moment. “My brother’s love for and dedication to music then led me to R&B and blues and gospel," says Simmonds. "That’s when things really [clicked] for me. I loved the Beatles, but when they did ‘Twist and Shout,’ I had already heard the 45 by the Isley Brothers. That was actually the first record that I ever bought!”
Simmonds’s interest coalesced on a higher level in 1965, when he co-founded the Savoy Brown Blues Band with harmonica player John O’Leary. The band later shortened its name to Savoy Brown, but they never traded in their style. “Chicago electric blues, that style…it had weight and honesty and girth to it,” he says. “Just because you love one kind of blues doesn't mean you have to love all of it. But there’s an honesty there that is of most importance to me, that is most satisfying.”
While the rise of Savoy Brown coincided with the boom in the British blues and blues-rock scene of the time, they did not achieve a fraction of the fame contemporaries like the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood Mac and even the Pretty Things did.
That’s partially due to near-constant lineup changes. Wikipedia lists more than 60 members who have passed through Savoy Brown over the years, including future or past members of Yes, Foghat, Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, the Kinks and Black Sabbath.
They also never found that elusive U.S. hit, though singles “I’m Tired,” “Tell Mama” and “Street Corner Talking” probably came closest. And no, Savoy Brown is not to be confused with the similarly hued Brownsville Station, best known for “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.” In fact, Simmonds says that Savoy Brown is most often confused with country act Sawyer Brown.
Accompanying lead vocalist/guitarist Simmonds in the current power-trio lineup, since 2009, are bassist Pat DeSalvo and Garnet Grimm on drums.
Their last studio album, billed as “Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown,” was 2015’s The Devil to Pay; on the horizon is Still Live After 50 Years, Vol. 2. This year indeed marks a half-century since the release of their debut album, Shake Down (though it was not issued in the U.S.).
“The Devil to Pay is similar to the Delta-influenced album before, and I tried to keep it no-frills and live in the studio,” Simmonds offers. “But here, the songs weren’t road-tested before we recorded them. And we had to keep them [shorter] than we maybe would live, where we ‘concertize’ things.”
The only original or classic lineup member of the band left, Simmonds says there is sometimes extra pressure that he is the living embodiment of Savoy Brown’s history and legacy, carrying 50-plus years onstage. But generally, if the crowd is with the music and the vibe is good, that pressure falls away quickly.
As for Texas, Simmonds has fond memories of touring the state over the years, calling himself a “big lover” of the state and name-checking both Rockefeller’s and Fitzgerald’s.
“I love Texas. You don’t see so many cowboy hats these days. But you’re in a totally different culture,” Simmonds sums up. “It’s a little bit like English culture. Because when you come across polite Texans, it’s like polite Englishmen – there’s a joy there. And that’s a nice thing in the world!”
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