Interview: Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown playing Skyloft December 20th
To say Savoy Brown – appearing at Albany’s Skyloft on Friday night – is a hybrid would be an understatement both in terms of where they call home and in their style. Formed by Welsh guitarist Kim Simmonds in London in 1965, the group snuck onto the scene at the tail end of the British invasion and, like John Mayall, remained true to their American blues roots while their predecessors like the Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and The Animals crossed over to a new breed of pop and became rock superstars who would define the direction of hard rock for decades to come. For the last 40 years, they’ve been based out New York’s southern tier.
There really were few venues for a blues band to play in London after the initial flood of bands went pop. “We were a London band, and London was all dance music,” says Simmonds. “You’d go to the Marquee Club, and it wasn’t even R&B anymore. It had gone into another thing altogether, very pop. We were a blues band. We played slow blues all night. Hardly going to get you a booking at a dance club. So, I would modify (our sound).”
Savoy Brown was and remains an anomaly in several other aspects of their 52-year career. When Simmonds started out, he played a Flying V guitar like Albert King and Lonnie Mack, two artists the Brits knew nothing about. “It was all in the vibrato with guitar players. It was like Otis Rush, B.B. King and people like that. Eric Clapton, all those guys. We can noodle forever, but then all they’ve gotta do is hit that one note.”
As late-coming blues “purists” to the British Invasion scene, the band became more popular in the United States than in Great Britain in the late ’60s and early ’70s leading Kim Simmonds to relocate here in New York State 40 years ago. He has put together several versions of the band with regional musicians and lived in Oswego for 25 years.
And while many of the British bands changed personnel over the years, there are more than 60 musicians who can call themselves alumni of Savoy Brown. And you thought John Mayall mentored a lot of musicians!
Simmonds thinks of himself as an authentic bluesman, but the band’s huge repertoire includes everything from John Lee Hooker cover songs to originals that could be programmed on hard rock radio without anyone noticing. One of his singers in the early ’70s was the late Dave Peverett who went onto found the hard rock band Foghat.
“We were doing all this heavy rock stuff, and I’m thinking, ‘Damn, I’ve got this thing in my mind where I wasn’t to go,’ and it led to a big break-up and animosity, but I was so happy when Foghat was successful. It was like, ‘Oh, man. I love Dave. Always have loved Dave, and I saw him on stage with this gold lame coat. It was like, yeah, babe. That’s what it’s all about.’”
Simmonds remembers the first time he played with John Lee Hooker. “We rented a club, and we were there for the afternoon to rehearse ’cause John Lee Hooker was flying in. I said, ‘Oh, great. We’ll get some rehearsal in and figure out what he’s going to do and be great.’ So, we were there and very excited and all set up and ready to go, did some stuff ourselves, and then in walks John Lee Hooker with my brother. My brother picked him up at the airport, and they walk in and he looks around and says, ‘What’s this all about?’ I said, ‘We’re here to rehearse.’ John says, ‘I don’t rehearse.’ He turned around and walked out and that was it. So, ok, real bluesmen don’t rehearse.”
Savoy Brown early on backed American bluesman Champion Jack Dupree. “We were on the same agency in 1966, so I did lots and lots of work with Champion Jack Dupree. We’d come on and do our show, and then Jack would come on and we’d back him up as The Savoy Brown Blues Band and Champion Jack Dupree. So, I got to know him very well and a fantastic guy.
“I remember playing Eel Pie Island back in ’66 and standing in the crowd with Champion Jack watching other acts playing. He was telling me about singing and what singers would survive and what wouldn’t because they weren’t singing from the diaphragm. They were singing from the throat. It was amazing that here I am with Champion Jack Dupree who you’d think would be perhaps not sophisticated because he knew all about singing from the diaphragm, the whole thing.”
Savoy Brown’s most recent singer was Joe Whiting, but Kim for the last few years has been doing his own vocals. “I really got down to figuring who I was as a singer and crowds liked it. Crowds like to see the head of the band out front, and so then it was just a question of really finding my voice.”
The current group’s 2017 release, Witchy Feelin’, is all Kim Simmonds originals, 11 songs with a little bit of something to please everyone. To put it simply, he puts in just enough crossover high energy strut to please the kind of blues audience he will encounter at the Upper Room. And the fact that he is a consummate electric and acoustic guitarist with more than half a century’s worldwide experience means Friday night’s crowd is going to see and hear an act that can blow them away without even breaking into a sweat.
WHO: Savoy Brown
WHERE: Skyloft, Albany
WHEN: Friday (December 20); doors at 7 pm, show at 8 pm
HOW MUCH: $25 Advanced; $30 at the Door
Note: This interview originally ran on Nippertown on December 7, 2017, when Savoy Brown played the Upper Room in Albany.