Sunday, January 22, 2012

Exclusive: British Blues trailblazer Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown –CD Review: ‘Voodoo Moon’

By Ray Shasho

British Blues extraordinaire Kim Simmonds recently accomplished a remarkable rock and roll milestone by celebrating forty five years with his legendary blues/rock band Savoy Brown. Since 1966, Simmonds has been founding member, lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter of the band. Savoy Brown was part of the UK blues progression that helped to regenerate and popularize blues music in America throughout the 60’s.

Simmonds originally formed The Savoy Brown Blues Band in 1965. The original lineup of Savoy Brown included Kim Simmonds on lead guitar, Bruce Portius on vocals,  Bob Hall on keyboards, Martin Stone on guitars, Ray Chappell on bass, and Leo Manning on drums. The lineup appeared on their 1967 debut album Shakedown, featuring a collection of blues cover tunes.

In 1968, Simmonds decided that the band needed a new direction and brought in Chris Youlden as their lead vocalist, Lonesome Dave Peverett on guitars, Rivers Jobe on bass, and Roger Earl on drums with perhaps one of the bands strongest lineups to date. Savoy Brown toured and recorded extensively spawning the albums Getting to the Point, Blue Matter, (featuring the hit single, “Train to Nowhere”) A Step Further, (featuring crowd pleaser, “I’m Tired,”) Raw Sienna and Looking In. Savoy Brown quickly developed a huge fan base in the U.S and became a mainstay on progressive rock format radio and concert arenas worldwide.

In 1970, lead vocalist Chris Youlden departed. Shortly thereafter, new bassist Tony Stevens, Lonesome Dave Peverett, and Roger Earl, left to form their new group Foghat along with ex-Black Cat Bones guitarist Rod Price. Foghat went on to score big commercially using Kim Simmonds formulation of blues-rock-boogie from Savoy Brown. Critics claim that Savoy Brown should have been a commercially successful supergroup if it weren’t for all the personnel changes over the years.

In 1971, a new Savoy Brown lineup was formed that included former members of Chicken Shack along with vocalist Dave Walker (later joined Fleetwood Mac, Black Sabbath). The band released, Street Corner Talking. The album brought the band their best chart success to date featuring Motown classics, “I Can’t Get Next To You” and “Tell Mama” which took the band to platinum status.

Kim Simmonds /Savoy Brown are the epitome of what rock and roll was… and should always be. Deep-rooted, pure, artistic, manifesto, virtuoso, everlasting… these are the components that should land Kim Simmonds in the rock and roll hall of fame. Savoy Brown is genuine rock and roll heritage. 

Savoy Brown’s current lineup is Kim Simmonds on guitars and vocals, Joe Whiting on sax and vocals, Pat DeSalvo on bass and Garnet Grimm on drums. Their latest release, Voodoo Moon credits Andy Rudy on keyboards and Ron Keck on percussions.

When you listen to Savoy Brown’s Voodoo Moon, you’ll understand why the band is genuine rock and roll heritage. Simmonds exhibits some of the greatest rock and roll lyrics to come out in years on Voodoo Moon. The opening track called, “Shockwave” is the quintessential rock and roll tune. Simmonds illustrates many of the greatest rock/blues catchphrases of all-time on the next track called, “Natural Man” a slow- rockin’ blues tune that recreates iconic bluesmen of past and present.

The next track… “Too Much Money” showcases sly melody with innovative guitar licks. “She’s Got The Heat” has got lyrics that could only have been written by rock and roll lore ... She pours on gasoline she makes the flame go higher. It’s a rock and roll boogie number featuring Kim Simmonds notorious slide- guitar wizardry and a tune that will certainly rock hard in front of a live audience.

“Look At The Sun” is another awesome melody with hints of Jim Morrison meets Frank Zappa meets Savoy Brown. Great guitars, great vocals, great sax, great song! Simmonds guitar virtuoso dazzles on the next track, a kick-ass instrumental spotlighting guitars and sax called,“24/7.”
The next track is a cool slow bluesy number called, “Round and Round” followed by the album’s title track, a daunting bluesy anthem called, “Voodoo Moon.” The last track on the album, “Meet The Blues Head On,” is an affirmation by Simmonds … Don’t run and hide you’ve got to meet the blues head on.

Voodoo Moon is authentic rock and blues at its very best!

Savoy Brown will be one of the headliners on the Hippiefest 2012 tour beginning in August. The bill will include Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, Leslie West and Kim Simmonds/Savoy Brown. Check my column regularly for updates and tour schedule.

I had the great opportunity to chat with Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown last week. Here’s my interview with the real deal. Legendary blues innovator/ guitar virtuoso/ songwriter/vocalist/rock and roll icon… Kim Simmonds.
Ray Shasho: Good morning Kim, you must be a morning person to want to do an interview at 9a.m.
Kim Simmonds:Good Morning… yea, I’ve been a family man for all of my life so that will get you up in a hurry.”
Ray Shasho: First of all, I’d like to say congratulations on your 45th anniversary, that’s quite an accomplishment.
Kim Simmonds: “It is, isn’t it…hey I survived!”
Ray Shasho: I can’t imagine new bands having that kind of staying power. Do you think music has changed much over the years?
Kim Simmonds:Life changes, music is changing, the music business is much the same when I first started; people are still using exactly the same equipment, still using Marshall and a Gibson you know? When I started I had a Vox amplifier and a Fender Telecaster and that’s what people are using now, so the equipment hasn’t changed at all. When I went to see The Clash play back in 1979, I went to the back of the stage and it had Savoy Brown all over the PA, they were using our old PA, the music was completely different, it was a new world, but they were using Savoy Brown’s old PA.”
“What has changed and probably affected the music business is the technology on the recording side. All I use to record is sixteen-tracks. You can go into any studio and have hundreds of tracks to use… why use any more? I limit myself and I think that helps. I think the new technology is fantastic, but it’s too beguiling, and I honestly think that you’ve got to control it. I think that’s affected music a lot nowadays, I see it with high profile artists from the classic rock generation that record and do things and get really plugged into the technological side and I think to myself, “Why the heck are they doing that? I mean… when they started they were on four-tracks, and they could never be better. So that’s the big change, and again it’s great and it should be used, but you’ve got to control it.”
 “What the younger crowd is going through …they seem to be quite happy. I’ve got a young teenage daughter who’s looking to perhaps go into musicals and become an actress; so that hasn’t changed. The beat goes on. It may not go on the same way when you were a teenager, but it’s going on. It’s not going to be the way we envisioned it but it’s going to still happen. When we’re dead and gone, it’s all still going to carry on exactly the same.”
Ray Shasho: Is your daughter a musician like her famous dad?
Kim Simmonds: “She was in the school orchestra, stuff like that, and could have been a very good musician, but it’s just nothing she’s interested in. It’s kind of illuminating when you have children who are quite talented and you think, ‘Well, they could be a musician” but you’ve got to want to do it, and you’ve got to have that calling. She could have been an “A” musician but it just didn’t interest her, so she’s gone on a different path and she’s quite academic, but I think she has perhaps a dream to be on stage as an actress or be on Broadway.”
Ray Shasho: Just once in today’s age, I’d like to pull up next to a car with a couple of teenagers who are stopped at a red light, and hear rock and roll music blasting through their car speakers instead of hip hop or dance music.
Kim Simmonds: “That’s why people were so upset with disco because it was just dance music. I’m not against dance music but it tends to be the common denominator.You’re not talking about virtuosity you’re talking about getting people to dance. It’s a lot different than playing an instrument with virtuosity.  The great thing about blues, rock, classic rock, jazz music, and especially in the old days, there was some kind of virtuoso musician involved. A young kid 18 or 19, but somehow or another, this kid could play the drums, the guitar, the keyboards, operatic voices some of these guys had. And so there was this talent that had a virtuoso type of appeal. And that I think is the classic hallmark of classic rock. If you listen to Deep Purple you’re not just listening to a dance band, you’re listening to virtuoso musicians playing, You’re listening to some of the best organ playing, guitar playing, and drumming you’re going to hear. That is an element that sometimes get’s missed from current music. There’s not that virtuoso element.”
Ray Shasho: I snooped around your website and saw that you were playing a gig soon with Johnny Winter at the Egg in Albany, New York, and then really got excited when I saw the announcement you made stating that Savoy Brown are going to be one of the headliners on the Hippiefest 2012 tour featuring…Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, Leslie West and Savoy Brown.
Kim Simmonds:Yea, I signed on with it, and I think this particular lineup makes sense for me. I’ve been offered it before, but this time I think it makes complete sense.”
Ray Shasho: I covered the Hippiefest 2011 tour by interviewing Dave Mason and Mark Farner. Than…I did a review of the show at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. That show was a huge success. I think the 2012 lineup will have the same impact or perhaps an even bigger impact than the last tour.
Kim Simmonds:“Oh really, that’s great to hear and good feedback…Great!”
Ray Shasho: Baby-Boomers are starving for entertainment from their generation; reliving those unfettered times. Anytime you put a show together of this caliber it’s going to be a huge success.
Kim Simmonds:“And I think we’re all the same, I’m a professional musician and probably a little bit different than the average fan, but I was on Sirius Satellite Radio the other day, my wife’s got it in her car, and I had it on classic rock and some track came on and I thought, “Man, this is really good stuff you know,” and I’m really enjoying it... and it was Iron Butterfly from the Metamorphosis album. I wasn’t a big Iron Butterfly fan back then; it wasn’t my kind of thing… I was more into the blues thing, and there was a lot of hype around them, but I’m telling you it was a breath of fresh air. It sounded great, it was well constructed music, it played well, it was engaging, and I suddenly realized…and I know that I’m part of the classic rock generation, but I was surprised how good they were, a band that I hadn’t given much consideration to. So I could see if I were a fan and not playing and making my money from this, I’d probably buy the album and engage myself even more into that time period, realizing it doesn’t get much better than this.”
Ray Shasho: I’ve always thought that bands like Savoy Brown, The Yardbirds, The Animals, John Mayall/The Bluesbreakers etc. were way ahead of their time for recognizing the great American blues artists and reintroducing their music to America, while adding their own twists to the songs.
Kim Simmonds:“Thanks, and a lot of other musicians have also said that to me. It’s always nice to hear, I don’t know what we were doing that was that different. There was a lot of taste-makers in Britain at the time. One of them was my older brother so I was very lucky to have people like that and his friends, the guys that discovered the American music in its blues form that was going on. Through those taste-makers it funneled down to would-be musicians like myself and my contemporaries. I think we were very lucky to have mentors around us that said, “Hey listen to this… listen to that.” And that’s where it comes from really. It’s probably happening to us right now, you can never see it when it’s happening in your own time. But when it becomes part of history, it’s very easy to see that Howlin’ Wolf was great, it’s very easy to see now that he’s on a postage stamp. It’s very easy to see that Howlin’ Wolf is great, but back then it wasn’t. Only a few people realized… this man is fantastic! And it was those few people who realized that, who were able to convey on to other people. So I was the benefactor really of people like my brother who brought me up and said, “Hey, listen to this stuff,” and I was very young.”
“I grew up listening to Bill Haley through my brother. Even now when I play, “Rock Around the Clock,” it’s probably the best rock and roll album that’s ever been recorded. It’s not because I’m sentimental, I don’t live in the past at all, but I do recognize it happens to be a fantastic record and remarkable, I’ve studied a little bit on how they recorded it and its phenomenal. And there’s nothing better than listening to rock and roll or blues on a 78. I started listening to rock and roll on 78’s, my brother’s collection… Elvis, Little Richard. “Good Golly Miss Molly” on a 78 just sounds outrageous!  Elmore James or Otis Rush, you put these blues guys on a 78 and still today it’s a phenomenal sound.”
Ray Shasho: I loved the 45’s, I played them on the air when I was a Top 40 deejay and collected them when I was a kid. I really liked the way 45’s sounded.
Kim Simmonds:“I still have my 45 collection. Guess what the first 45 that I ever bought was?  This would be around 1961 or 62.”
Ray Shasho: “The Twist” or “Let’s Twist Again” by Chubby Checker?
Kim Simmonds:“Very close! It was, “Twist and Shout” by The Isley Brothers. And I loved it because it was a rocker, pre-Beatles, and the ‘B’ side was an instrumental… which I loved.”
Ray Shasho: So were these some of the guys that you emulated while you were growing up?
Kim Simmonds:Again, I had great mentors, so I quickly realized that from the 1950’s, Bill Doggett was the premiere R&B band, and they had a lot of big hits. His guitar player Billy Butler was a huge influence on me. Billy Butler would play some jazzy blues stuff, and he would play in a style that was easily assimilated for someone like myself. But it was finesse and very sophisticated. So the very first single that I recorded with Savoy Brown was called, “True Blue” and that is a Billy Butler & Bill Doggett instrumental. That was the very first thing that I recorded for Purdah Records with the band. So, that’s how big of an influence he was on me. I had a foot in the 50’s because of my brother, but I’m very much of a 60’s person of course. But all the stuff that we recorded in the 60’s, had a foot in the 50’s.”
Ray Shasho: I remember buying albums when I was a teenager based on what the front cover looked liked. I’d listen to a group no one else knew about, and I’d feel so underground.
Kim Simmonds:“My latest Voodoo Moon, they put out on vinyl. The box came a couple of days before Christmas, and then I had a New Years Eve party, a friend of mine was here who was a big record collector and he deals in records. He said, “I’ve got the LP let me give you a couple of copies,” and that was the first time that I really looked at it. We put it on the table and it looked so magnificent. The artwork, it was just like… wow, look at this thing, it was like a revelation to suddenly realize how good an album looks. Like you said when you went into those record stores years ago and picked up an album you had this fairly large piece of artwork to assimilate and you could tell from the artwork what was inside. It wasn’t a compressed piece of art; it’s like looking at a painting. When you see a photo like a Van Gogh, it’s all compressed and all smoothed out, like what you see in a book. Then when you go to the museum, it’s a revelation. Because it’s all these brush strokes and scratches, you can hardly look at it because you’ve seen this compressed version in books, and then when you see the real thing it’s a shock. It’s the same when you look at a record album… it’s six times bigger.”
Ray Shasho: You can also read the lyrics a lot easier too. (All laughing)
Let’s talk about your latest release, Voodoo Moon; I think it has all the makings of a great rock/blues album. You made a statement on the inside of the CD cover stating that it’s some of the best lyrics that you’ve written since the early 70’s, and I have to agree. I especially loved the lyric; She pours on gasoline she makes the flame go higher, from the tune “She’s Got The Heat.”
Kim Simmonds:“I’m so happy you said that because I thought that was a very good lyric and we struggled with that song. Greg Spencer is my producer, he has been for years, and we tried that song in various tempos and different styles and I really had to hang on to that song because all of a sudden I was getting the feeling that this song might not make it. And I kept saying to myself and people around me; listen to this, “I think that’s a bloody good lyric.” So, I’m glad you said that, because people have said they liked the song, but nobody has said exactly what you said, “Hey that lyrics not bad.””
Ray Shasho: Only a rock and roll legend can write a lyric like that.
Kim Simmonds:Well thank you, I tell you what, I knew I had something and it doesn’t come very often.” (Laughing)
Ray Shasho: And it’s a tune that must be played live in front of an audience.
Kim Simmonds:“Yea, we max it out. In fact, often when I play it live I don’t play the blues slide on it, I play rock and roll guitar like Link Ray. And that suits the song very well. But I did it on the album with the slide to keep it into the blues genre.”
Ray Shasho: On the song, “Meet The Blues Head On” it sounds like you’re making a personal statement.  
Kim Simmonds: “The whole album is a personal statement.I think any of the best songs are when you make some kind of personal statement and certainly the best blues songs. So when I first wrote that, I didn’t have it personalized and my agent and sometimes manager Steve Ozark said when I played him the demo, “I don’t hear enough of a personal statement from you,” so I worked more on the versus to make them more personal and it made more sense. So I think it is important to make a personal statement and you’ve got to carry it through the whole song.”
Ray Shasho: How long did it take to complete Voodoo Moon?  
Kim Simmonds: “I mean, “Natural Man” I’ve had the title for years, and I’ve had “Voodoo Moon” for years, and it’s there on the shelf and you come back to this stuff and think, “Is that a good title? It isn’t a good title?” You just don’t know. Is that a good line or am I kidding myself …Do you know what I mean?  And that’s why Greg Spencer is the producer, I run the songs by him and he can tell me what’s good and what’s bad, because I don’t know. It’s very difficult to know when you’ve got something and that’s why so many people make so many bad records or so many bad songs, because you don’t know yourself, you have to have someone on the other side to tell you.”
Ray Shasho: Savoy Brown was always a great blues/rock band but never enjoyed huge commercial success, and then three of your bandmates leave Savoy Brown to form Foghat using basically the foundation of Savoy Brown to score big commercially. How does that happen? 
Kim Simmonds: “They took all my ideas when they left, which I didn’t mind because I was moving on to other ideas. And we were great friends, don’t get me wrong. It’s only natural when they left that they would sound like Savoy Brown. I just think that they were able to stay focused on that path where I was more the vagrant artist and went this way and that way in search of myself. I think Dave with Foghat stayed on that path, honed it down, and they were one of my favorite bands, and they’re a great band. Rod Price was a great guitar player and never got a mention. He did some bloody good work on those Foghat records and never gets a mention.”
 “It’s as simple as that, they just stuck to the path, which is a path that I’d given them, and I just chose to go a much more material route. I was very happy for their success and never had any bad feelings at all. Loved Dave and I still love Roger. It was a very fulfilling relationship and I’m so sad that both Dave and Rod are gone.”
Ray Shasho: Wrapping up, Kim I heard that you picked up a new guitar recently and really digging a new sound?  
Kim Simmonds: “Yea, it’s a DBZ made by Dean Zelinsky from the old Deans Guitars. And this new guitar I think is going to take me a little higher. People already are commenting on the sound. So I think I may have found on top of everything else, an instrument that brings out a little bit more from me, and I’m quite excited about it. I’ve already made a couple of demos using it because I’m thinking of doing an instrumental solo album down the line. I played a couple of demos on New Year’s Eve for Greg and he loved the guitar sound. He said that’s the guitar sound you’ve got to use. So I think I’m moving forward.”
Ray Shasho: Kim thank you for being on the call with me today, but more importantly thank you for 45 great years of blues and rock and roll music. I hope to see you in the rock and roll hall of fame one day soon because you truly deserve it.
Kim Simmonds: “Thanks Ray, it’s been a real pleasure talking with you.”

Savoy Brown/Kim Simmonds official website
Order Voodoo Moon by Savoy Brown at
I want to thank Mark Pucci Media for arranging this interview
Stay tuned for more information on Hippiefest 2012 concert dates.

Coming up next Ray’s interview with legendary Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn

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