By Martine Ehrenclou
One of the founding fathers of British Blues, guitarist, singer-songwriter and bandleader Kim Simmonds, formed blues/rock band Savoy Brown in 1965. The group was one of the “big six” blues bands of the British Blues Boom in the UK, along with John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, Chicken Shack and Ten Years After. Simmonds has been Savoy Brown’s guiding hand from their first singles released in 1966 through to their newest release, their 40th album, Ain’t Done Yet, out August 28, 2020 via Quarto Valley Records. On the new album, Simmonds (guitar, harmonica and vocals) is once again joined by his long-running bandmates Pat DeSalvo (bass) and Garnet Grimm (drums.)
From London and now residing in the U.S., Kim Simmonds is known as a legendary guitar player who founded and led Savoy Brown, one of the longest-running blues/rock bands in existence. He and the band have headlined concerts at Carnegie Hall, the Fillmore East and West, and Royal Albert Hall, and their albums and singles have hit many Top 40 Billboard Charts through the years, with Witchy Feelin’ (2017) reaching #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart.
In Hollywood’s Rock Walk of Fame, Simmonds has been inducted into many regional “Halls of Fame” in the U.S. and Canada. Five decades of energetic blues has served this acclaimed musician well. He and the band show no signs of slowing down and remain a blues/rock force with a body of work that is matched by few. Kim was a delight to talk with.
Martine Ehrenclou: Thanks for making the time to talk with me today. I really enjoyed your new album, Ain’t Done Yet. Can you tell me a bit about it?
Kim Simmonds: So exciting when people say they enjoy it. I can tell it’s genuine, it really makes me feel terrific. We recorded it in February of this year, which I’m glad we did, because with the lockdown over here, probably worldwide in March and April, had I delayed any longer, there would be no album. I’m so grateful to get under the gun there.
I do put a lot of effort into the songs. When we were recording it, with Ben Elliott, the engineer, and the assistant engineer, Alex, I could see there was a buzz with both of them when they were talking about the songs. I thought, “Well, I think we’ve got a good one here.”
Martine: That’s exciting.
Kim: It was exciting from the start. I’m just trying to make good Savoy Brown music, and that’s all I’m trying to do. If people really like it, then it’s wonderful, you know?
Kim: Just this morning I was double checking the lyrics as a reference point for the vinyl pressing. Every time I find myself listening to it, I say, “Oh, it’s not bad.” (Laughter)
Martine: (Laughter) That’s a great test, isn’t it? Your song, ‘All Gone Wrong’ is one of your favorites on the album. Can you tell me about what inspired you to write it?
Kim: It has relevance now with the world as it is–it seems to be in such an upheaval with the virus and everything else. It suddenly has social relevance and whatever else you want to read into it. I was just simply trying to write a good blues song that had some edge to it.
I mean, you don’t want to write a song, ‘All Gone Right’ you know?” Nobody’s going to want to listen to that. (Laughter)
Martine: (Laughter) Savoy Brown has been one of the longest running blues/rock bands in existence. Five decades. How do you account for that kind of longevity?
Kim: Well, I was married to the band. I started the band. I think that there was something there that was beyond me. There were times when I was just a figurehead and not really playing as big a part as I should have in many ways, because sometimes you have family, life gets in the way. But that’s probably being self-critical. The band just went on, and I just stuck to it. I hit some very low spots in my career and I was taking work on that other people perhaps wouldn’t do. But that’s just the way I am. I think that perhaps my stick-to-itiveness has brought the band through to this point, the name through to this point. It’s a mystery in many ways.
When I look back, I never really thought I was going to do this for the rest of my life until I hit about 50 years old. (Laughter) There’s always that nagging thing, I suppose, must be from my upbringing or something, when you think well, in another couple of years, anything can happen.
Martine: You mean, people will stop loving Savoy Brown all of a sudden? I don’t think so. (Laughter)
Kim: (Laughter) Yeah, I know, it’s crazy. Maybe I was giving myself some kind of motivation. I have to see a psychologist about it. (Laughter) By the time I got to 50, I was like, I’m going to do this forever. (Laughter) So, here I am. I do feel proud. It’s a great achievement to stick to one band for this long. I’ve never been in another band, so it’s quite a unique position. I’ve been lucky, I’ve had some fabulous players that have helped move the band along. I’m grateful to them.
Martine: Bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm have been with you since 2009. There’s a lot of chemistry with all three of you. Can you tell me about that?
Kim: I think the chemistry is amazing between us. And I think that obviously I can be very difficult to live with at times. (Laughter)
Martine: Can’t we all? (Laughter)
Kim: (Laughter) Exactly. They’ve stepped to it too when they could have thrown their hands in the air. So power to them in the same way I have stuck through it. I did have a fourth member who is a fantastic vocalist and sax player, on the Voodoo Moon album. We worked together quite a while and it was excellent. But the chemistry was slightly broken up, you know?
When I went back to the three-piece, there’s that special chemistry there. I still intend to go four-piece at some point next year and give it another shot. I like growing. I like changing things up. But there’s undoubtedly that rock solid chemistry between us all and understanding, respect.
Martine: “Jaguar Car” is a great boogie number on the album. Can you tell me how it relates to Savoy Brown’s history and John Lee Hooker, one of your early influences?
Kim: Once I started playing ‘65, ‘66, ‘67 Savoy Brown and myself, we backed up John Lee Hooker for a whole UK tour so I got to know him then a bit. He’s been very important in my life. Of course, there was a big thing in ’69–we did The Savoy Brown Boogie, which was loosely based on John Lee Hooker’s boogie. It’s been an ongoing thing through my life. I love playing boogie songs.
“Champion Jack” Dupree, the famous, legendary blues player lived in England for a while. I did lots of dates with him because we were in the same agency. He said to me, “Keep playing boogie-woogie because you’ll always make a living.”
I was looking for a boogie song for this album. I think I started off writing with car imagery. I might have started off with Cadillac. It’s the obvious thing, but red Cadillac has been used a million times. I was just working away at the lyrics, trying to get a song that made sense, and then suddenly it was “Jaguar Car.” It’s my British heritage. My brother had an E-Type back in ‘68. It was a perfect nod to my heritage and to an iconic car. Hey, we all want to be James Bond. (Laughter)
Martine: (Laughter) You must drive a Jaguar then, right?
Kim: I don’t. I did have a Spitfire. Beautiful Spitfire. I had all the vintage cars in the ‘70s. I actually drove vintage cars because nobody else wanted them in England. I had the latest Talbots, Rovers from that time period. I used to love driving old vintage cars, which you could pick up for next to nothing.
Martine: On your song “Crying Guitar,” the instrumental, your guitar playing is beautiful. Can you tell me about how the song came to be on the record? I know you’ve had instrumentals in the past.
Kim: Right from the very beginning I’ve loved instrumentals. I grew up in that era where you had all those great instrumentals, “Take Five,” you had “Green Onions,” you had “Memphis” by Lonnie Mack.
I was kind of missing an instrumental for this album. I tried two or three and I didn’t think they fit. One day I was putting together the songs and my friend John, who catalogues all my demos and gives me objective feedback, said, “Hey, this is pretty good.” I must have written it three or four years ago. The only problem was, I had to copy my own licks. With that demo that I did, it just came right off the top of my head so I had the hardest time getting that lick correct because when you do a painting or any art, and you do it off the top of your head, it’s hard to recreate it.
The response has been really, really great. It’s something that’s not hard for me to do, which I think sometimes is the best. Sometimes we think, ‘That can’t be any good, I got to work hours on this,’ but often something that comes easily really is the best. And that’s probably the case with “Crying Guitar.”
Martine: You’re so busy with recording, performing, songwriting. How’s it been for you staying at home with the COVID pandemic?
Kim: It hasn’t been too bad. Fate was kind to me in that I recorded the album in February. In March and April I was going to take time off so we could rehearse, prepare. But of course, then the lockdown and the virus hit seriously. Everything closed down but I was off, so I wasn’t strung out with airfares and gigs, which would have been a nightmare. So, that was very, very lucky there.
And then, of course, I thought we’d start again in May, June. We had dates and kept postponing, postponing, and two or three weeks ago, we actually postponed the August dates. Now, I’m looking towards October.
I’m a homebody. Obviously I’m not 19 or 20 now, where I used to go out every night. I do feel sorry for the younger generation because they must want to go out. That concept of staying home when I was younger was hell. I used to do gigs in my 20’s and then stay out at the clubs ‘till four o’clock jamming. (Laughter) Nowadays, I’m dead after a show. It’s like, “Get me to the hotel!”
Being home is a different experience for me as to other people. I’ve got the home studio, and that’s what I usually do when I’m home in the mornings. Before life starts, I will go in the studio and spend a couple of hours playing, writing, and being with the guitars, trying to come up with some songs. I’m really just having fun. It is work, but it’s not work as most people know it because it’s something that I love doing.
Martine: Has this been a creative time for you?
Kim: Yeah, in the morning is a creative time. I like to get up fresh, have some tea and all of a sudden your brain is fresh. I’m actually excited about getting up every morning for that time period because I know that inspiration could hit me. Then I play other people’s music, looking for inspiration, looking for something to give me a spark.
I’m well versed in everybody in blues/rock, whether it’s in the UK, or in the U.S., or around the world, actually. You don’t play and record music in a vacuum.
Martine: Is that how you get inspiration for songwriting?
Kim: A lot of the times it can be from mundane things like watching TV and someone will say something, and it clicks in your mind. Often, I will write a lyric and I don’t quite know it yet. It’s having an active mind. I have an active mind so there’s always things buzzing around in my brain. Often it’s a question of writing something down and pursuing an idea, and then it can turn into something completely different. But you’ve got something down to start you off. Some of the songs like ‘Feel like a Gypsy,’ I’ve done at least 15 song versions of that one. Sometimes it’s a circuitous route to get to where you end up, and sometimes it is head scratching. It is like, how did I get there? (Laughter) But of course something like “Jaguar Car” was pretty much done from the beginning. You’ve got that boogie rhythm and you go from there.
Martine: Are there contemporary blues artists you listen to today?
Kim: I listen to everybody. I think Joe Bonamassa’s a very important part of the music scene. He’s really been carrying the banner for blues/rock. A couple of days ago I was listening to Connor Selby, a British 20-year old. He’s really, really good. I like Kingfish (Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram). I’ve always enjoyed him, especially live.
There are so many young musicians that are great. I would say that most of my inspiration comes from older blues artists. I grew up with the American music of the late ‘50s, early ‘60s, Chess Records, Muddy Waters, B.B. King. I had a huge collection of B.B. King records. I keep going back to those people.
Martine: From your vantage point, with five decades of being in the music business, how do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the music industry in the long run? Do you think that live streaming will take a more prominent place alongside live shows?
Kim: It’s very difficult because music is something you share with people, even listening to music. It’s better to listen to music with a friend or friends in a room, than listening by yourself. The experience of sharing music is extremely important. I think that’s why we go to live shows, because it’s better to share with people.
Martine: Interesting point of view.
Kim: You’re sitting in an audience and the guy next to you goes, “Oh, I’ve been watching this band since you know,” and you start talking to that person. It’s the connection there that is emotional. I think it’s a shared thing. It’s not like in business where you can work at home or in the office. This is something deeper in all of us.
Martine: Do you think that live performances via live streaming has a place in music?
Kim: It’s difficult for me being so old school. People want me to do it now. I was informed about it 10 days ago and I haven’t done anything yet. I’ve got to figure it out. It’s a new world. I think streaming and that kind of performance is going to be a way of the future. But it’s very difficult for me because I’ve got to be dragged into that future at my age.
Martine: Do you think you’d do a live stream performance?
Kim: I think I will. I’ve been offered it. But now I’m talking to you–I think that’s where these interviews are a two-way street. The things I’ve said to you are coming back to me. I can’t be this old dude that doesn’t do it. I think I’ll probably end up taking these offers that have been thrown my way. I’ve been offered doing things where everybody’s (band members) in a separate part of the country. Like Pat living in Florida, I’m here in New York, Garnet’s a little ways away from me, and we all play, still being distanced apart from each other. I’m not sure how the technology works, but it has been done effectively (with split screens.)
Martine: You said that you have to be dragged into the future. Does that apply to other technology in music?
Kim: I do think you’ve got to be careful with technology. It’s like going to a buffet to eat and there’s this magnificent buffet. Some people will eat seven meals and they’re totally stuffed because it’s so enticing. Through my experience travelling, if I go to a buffet, I’ll just have one meal and I walk away. Believe me, I’ve done it the other way as well. It’s that way with music technology.
You take what you want and leave the rest but it’s very beguiling. I can do 6, 7, 8, 15 guitar solos and comp them together and get this amazing solo. That’s not for me. I love the technology and we use it, but again talking from my own standpoint, Savoy Brown music is blues/rock. I can make a Savoy Brown record with 24 tracks on the old tape.
We have to be careful with technology. I often see it when I hear modern rock bands on the radio. Sometimes it’s the way it’s recorded, it doesn’t get to me, but everybody’s raving about the band. Then I see that band on YouTube. Now, it’s stripped away from all the technology of the studio and suddenly it’s, “Wow, this is a good rock and roll band,” because it comes to me at the level I want to hear it.
Sometimes I find that technology gets in the way of good rock and roll. That’s just the way I am. I like a little bit of technology. But you see guitar players self-producing on stage as opposed to just being heartfelt. Often I found that I played my best when I’ve had to pull something out of my hat, when I’m on stage live. Maybe my equipment didn’t show up. That’s happened many times. My guitars have been lost by the airlines, and it’s like, “Okay, anybody got a guitar?” And I have a guitar that I’ve never played before, but I played better than I have ever played. Because of the human spirit, you want to overcome. You want to prove that the human spirit is more than the technology.
Martine: I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. I really enjoyed it.
Kim: Thank you for calling. I’ve enjoyed it and we’ll do it another other time.
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