Stokin' the Coals
On the Hellbound Train
By T.E. Mattox
here are few blues bands that have had the success and longevity of
Savoy Brown. Yet, as they close in on their 50th Anniversary, guitarist
Kim Simmonds is still trying to wrap his head around it. He'd hoped
that the year and this golden milestone would just slip by, but admits
now that 'it's really starting to affect me.' But Savoy Brown
fans around the world can breathe a sigh of relief; it's all
good. The band is still touring, Simmonds is still singing and playing
like his life depends on it and their collective body of work continues
Attempting to calculate the number of studio albums,
'live' material, and compilation releases since the bands inception
creates what the Savoy Brown faithful call, 'A Hard Way to Go.'
Most, including yours truly, lose track around the mid 30's. Kim thinks
there may be more than that, but then shakes his head, 'Who knows?'
This month the band drops their latest, 'Goin' to the Delta,'
and the title alone gives you a good indication that Savoy Brown is
getting back to its roots. Simmonds smiles, 'where the blues was
Prior to one of their recent Southern California shows,
Kim talked about the road, the band, and his big brother's record collection.
"Yeah, my brother (Harry) is seven years
older than me. I was five or six years old and he'd be listening to
Mario Lanza and Johnny Ray in the early 50's. Then Bill Haley, Rock
and Roll hit in '53 and I would listen to the Rock and Roll records
and he'd take me to the movies. And that continued on through my childhood.
In the early 60's the family had moved to London and he'd take me to
see the Rock and Roll shows and the blues shows. So when I was
thirteen or fourteen I'd had this great upbringing and I started collecting
records and going to the shows myself."
Mr. Simmonds brings it. Photo: David
Influentially, Kim says a few blues players just naturally
stood out. "Muddy Waters, I think. Muddy Waters
he was at the top of the blues chain. He had been in Chicago and had
the quintessential blues band, and then there was of course, John Lee
Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins. I always loved the solo blues guys, in the
studio with the guitar and vocals
that always really struck my
heart. And then there were the great guitar players; B.B.
King, Freddie King and those kinds of guys. Howlin' Wolf was one
of my favorites and Hubert
Sumlin." Simmonds recalled, "On a very early diary
I found on myself, Howlin' Wolf was one of my favorite artists and I
got to see him when I was a kid in England when he toured with Hubert
back in '63 or something
'64? And Jimmy Reed
on top of everything
else, by the time I was 15 and I was able to go see the guys touring
at the time."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
.the idea of an itinerant
blues singer singing on a corner
was somewhat romantic to us."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The conversation about early Delta players like Son
House and Robert Johnson invariably turned north to Chicago. "I
was never a big country blues guy. I did like a lot of country
blues, I liked Arthur Crudup and people like that, who had affected
(Elvis) Presley, you know? But it wasn't until later on that
I was a very hardened blues guy. I formed Savoy Brown to be a modern
Chicago blues band. I was very much into modern sound and I wanted to
be a part of what I felt was the future of blues
which was that
For most baby boomers, Savoy Brown, Mayall's Bluesbreakers,
the Stones, Cream, Zeppelin
all played a big part in re-introducing
blues to America. "I think so, definitely. I mean that was a
fact and a lot of the blues guys were aware of that when we first came
over. All the interviews we would do for radio, we would say, these
are our influences, this is where we got the music from
think all the great blues guys, Willie
Dixon and people like that, appreciated the fact that their music
was being recorded by a younger generation.
But I think it all came to a head in '67 probably
with the British blues boom. By the time Savoy Brown came along we were
indebted to John
Mayall, we were indebted to Eric Clapton, we were indebted to the
Stones but when we came along we had a real authenticity that I don't
think you'd quite heard before. So I think we contributed in our own
History hasn't been kind to me or Savoy Brown because
that fact sometimes gets lost because we never had the iconic success
of some of the other acts. But the fact of the matter was in '67 we
had a very, very authentic sound that hadn't been heard before."
I'm smiling because here we are almost 50 years later,
and I nod my head toward the front of the theater. There's a line of
fans around the building waiting to get in for tonight's show
and Kim laughs, "Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that in
a bitter way. We had very hip records but we didn't get the No#1's and
the No#5's." (chart hits). "People weren't following
us around in that way
but to answer your question, of course I'm
well aware of what we were doing for the blues and well aware of all
that stuff and I'm very proud for the bit we did. But is Savoy Brown
or Kim Simmonds
iconic musicians? Of course not!"
As I continue to point with my head at the lengthening
theater queue, Kim relinquishes somewhat, "The band and I have
as all of the fans know, have a very important part to play."
Simmonds and that 'singing guitar' Photo:
Skiffle was the pop music of Britain in the late 50's
and early 60's, but there was a core group of blues players
Barber, Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner
Kim quickly adds, "
Long John Baldry! He was one of the first guys, Long John Baldry. I
didn't know them, but of course I had the records. I had Alexis Korner's
records; I was big fan of his
a big fan of Long John Baldry and
Chris Barber, too." His eyes light up when recalls, "I
saw Chris Barber backing up Sonny Boy Williamson; you know when he first
came over. I was, of course, well aware of those people, and well aware
of the Yardbirds, the Stones and the Animals, I'd see them play the
clubs. So yeah, I knew exactly what was going on because I was there
at the time, and luckily when I was 17, I did it myself."
Truly a band of firsts, Savoy Brown broke racial barriers
by being one of the first interracial groups to play in English clubs.
a black drummer and a black singer."
But neither Simmonds, nor his mates registered on the significance.
Kim is shaking his head, "We had no idea; they were just my
friends in the neighborhood that I got together in the band."
Historically, that was a fundamental difference between American and
European attitudes at the time. "Yeah, socially it was completely
different," Kim says. "I understand that. And I think
it helped in a sense that when you're a thousand miles away the idea
of an itinerant blues singer singing on a corner was somewhat romantic
to us, because we were looking at it through a veil of thousands of
miles. Whereas, if you lived in this country and there was someone on
the corner singing and playing guitar you might have just walked by
and there would be no romance involved in that. So I do think that the
way we viewed it, was as fans. You know, with a touch of romance. And
I think that's what we probably brought to things."
Let's talk about a club in London called Kilroy's.
"Oh yeah, that was John O'Leary and myself, we met at an import
record store. I remember we started playing records together, he played
some harp and I played guitar and we spoke about putting a band together.
John knew of a pub that used to have a folk club upstairs that was defunct
for many years. And he said it was a nice room, so we went and spoke
to the owner and that's where I rehearsed the band, and that's where
we opened up a club on Monday nights. We made up our own flyers and
put them up around London. A few people showed up the first night and
then it actually got to the point where, by the time we left, it became
a regular venue."
Some pretty impressive lineups took the stage at Kilroy's.
"Freddie King played there," Kim says, "lots
of people, Fleetwood Mac, everybody played there. And that's how it
started. They had a small stage and I rehearsed the band there for quite
a long time, two or three months. Sort of dress rehearsals for the actual
opening of the club and that's what made the band, I think, so quickly
be able to make a mark. We were rehearsing in real time for when we
would be playing."
Kim said it was about that same time that he met a guy
named, Mike Vernon. "John and I asked my brother Harry, to manage
us. And he got Mike Vernon to come down to see us. Mike liked us. We
recorded for his Purdah label and cut a couple of singles. Mike became
or was a producer at Decca Records. He produced John Mayall, and the
second act he produced
was Savoy Brown. Mike was fabulous for
the blues scene, he was one of the instrumental guys to get the whole
The summer of 1966, Savoy Brown would open a gig at
Klooks's Kleek R&B Club for a newly-formed, three-piece blues rock
band. The new trio was called, Cream. "It might have been actually
their first London date, I think. And my road manager, Brian Wilcox
actually got the band on the gig as the opening act. It was a very small
stage and a very small venue and Cream let us use their equipment because
there was no room to take anything up. It just kind of shows you what
a different world it is
Take a second to think about that
on stage, at
a venue where the Stones, Bowie and Hendrix play and you're using the
other bands gear. And that other band is CREAM!
Kim continues, "Of course I was scared stiff,
you know what I mean? I was a kid. But we did well. John Mayall was
there and he gave me some good advice. He said, 'Kim, you're playing
everything in one key.' And I was playing everything in A with the band,
you know. He said, 'You've gotta' change the key's up.' He's probably
long since forgotten that. But that was my first bit of advice. Of course
I'm a big John Mayall fan, and since then I've tried to change the keys
up a little bit. Even now I play a lot in the key of A; it suits my
voice actually, and some how or other the key of A rings for me in blues."
Savoy Brown played another venue called the Metro
with Champion Jack Dupree. "He was on the same agency as we
were in '66," Kim said, "then we would end up being
his backing band. We would go on and do our set, and he would come on
and we would back him up. He lived in England for a long time and he
was a great guy. I remember him giving me advice. We had played our
show and were out watching other bands playing. And he was telling me
the singers that would last and the singers that wouldn't last, because
the singers that wouldn't last were the ones singing from their throat.
And the singers that would last were singing from their stomach. And
a lot of those blues guys were doing it all the right way. They were
singing correctly, they were playing correctly. We look at them as folk
artists, but in reality they were very sophisticated."
Kim Simmonds and a fan. Photo: David
During a month-long tour, early in the bands history,
one bluesman made a significant contribution to the music of Savoy Brown.
That bluesman was John Lee Hooker. "Yeah, that was '67. It was
incredible, of course. I was very young, 19 maybe. Some nights we'd
only have one amplifier and he'd plug into one channel and I'd plug
into the other channel and I'd stop when he was playing and he'd stop
when I was playing. It was a blast. A major star
People like Brian Jones would come to the show so
it was a heady experience to see some of these people and John was fantastic.
I could never get as close to him as I would have liked because I'm
inherently a little shy. And also I could never cross that line and
think that John Lee Hooker could be, uh
that we could be
friends? Which is crazy of me because he was a wonderful man and I could
have done that. Actually, his guitar player told me once that John picked
him up at the airport and he was playing a Savoy Brown CD. I think that's
probably what kept John's career going for so long. He loved everybody
and everybody loved him. He didn't close his ears to younger bands or
other blues bands. He didn't say, 'oh, they're rubbish, they're English
they can't play
' No! He actually embraced everything. It was fantastic."
So that's where Savoy Brown got its 'boogie?' "Of
course it was!!! It's John Lee Hooker all the way through. Everybody
in the world is indebted to him for
what was it the late 40's
when that first 'Boogie Chillen came out?' That just swept the whole
U.S.A. and it never stopped. I was completely amazed with him that he
could get on stage and play to any kind of audience
Whether it was a sophisticated club audience, whether it was an Army
base or a private party, it didn't matter. He communicated with
everybody. And it astonished me because I thought, 'well this
certainly, this is music for surely a small select amount of people.'
But no, his music crossed all boundaries."
Blues seems to have that same capability. "I
think if it's played well. If it's played well, it crosses all boundaries.
But if it's played badly
like any music, people just turn
Since the beginning Savoy Brown has been known almost
as much for its personnel changes, as it has for its enduring music.
"I think that initially, in those days especially, changing
the band lineups was seen as a detriment." Simmonds explains.
"We were always fighting, that aspect that I was changing the
band all the time. And my brother and people behind the scenes were
always 'cleaning up' and trying to put this together. But now when you
look back, all the changes from the very beginning to now, are seen
in a more positive light, because it produced such good music. I think
one of the reasons is my personality
I'm always looking for challenges,
I'm never happy to stay in one place; I'm always changing the music.
I expect people to go along with it. If they don't go along with it
I get a little
unhappy. It's just the fact that I love the challenge
of re-inventing myself, all the time."
And that's never changed? "It hasn't. It's still
the same now. It's a challenge I take on. The past has always scared
me, since I was 17 years old. But I'm not scared of the future at all."
And when I'm older and wiser
And I look back on my youth
Will I be contented or will I see
Nothing but a vain search for the truth
'Looking In' album cover
Digging through the bands discography, it's truly amazing
at just how productive Savoy Brown was in the late 60's and early 70's
Kim just smiles, "Well, it was a fantastic band." No
one can argue that point, in the first 10 years, Savoy Brown released
13 albums. "Something crazy wasn't it? We did three in one year.
Well, it was a fantastic, talented band. The front line was Chris
(Youlden), Dave (Lonesome Dave Peverett) and myself, a very
talented rhythm section and everybody working as a team. It was a very
talented band, simple as that really."
Simmonds along with drummer, Garnet Grimm and bassist,
Pat DeSalvo have shown that although just a three-piece, the lineup
today has a similar chemistry. The new album 'Goin' to the Delta'
out this month explores more of Savoy Brown's roots. "Yeah,"
Kim said, "that was the idea of the song, 'Goin' to the Delta.'
You're literally going back to those places where the blues was born
and see what you can find."
From the debut LP, 'Shakedown,' back when
the band was known as the Savoy Brown Blues Band, Simmonds has always
seemed intent on paying homage to his blues elders. Through the years
that aim has yet to change. "Yeah, I'm still a fan."
he admits. "Let's face it, everybody who goes before you are
important and you're just hoping you can do your bit."
The rewards were immediate on the band's final night
in Southern California. The crowd responded to the new tracks enthusiastically
and more often than not, while on their feet. "We all thought
the material was good," Kim told me, "and we thought
we made a good album, but you don't know? You start to get a little
nervous because you think, 'what if it isn't any good?' But the first
reactions to the album and on stage have been good. So after that we're
starting to get a little confident. Hey, this might be a good one."
The new album released this month
After all the years, the miles, the gigs, what are the
blues to Kim Simmonds?
"I think it's a melancholy sadness... soul.
That's what blues is. I have a touch of melancholy in me and I think
that comes out in my playing, if I'm playing good. So I think that's
what it is. Its soul, you know? It's the old fashioned word. Soul is
sadness and melancholy. You can actually be singing a happy song, but
underneath when you see some of the blues people from yesterday, singing.
They might be singing a happy song but you can see in their personality
that there's still sadness within them. The blues, whether it's literally
playing it sad or you're playing it happy, it's conveying something
deeper. It's the soul within you."
As Savoy Brown closes in on its 50 Year Anniversary
reflected on a half century of music and finally acknowledged, "It's
starting to affect me. Like everything else, you don't think it is,
but when you reach the milestones
Even with you own age, you get
to thirty, forty, fifty as you go up
these landmarks do
affect you. And with this 50th coming up, it's really starting to affect
me. I didn't expect that, I thought it would just be a year that would
If being 'affected' means continuing to tour, releasing
new material and playing the classic hits like your hair's on fire,
then personally, I can't wait to see how the next 50 turns out.
Daddy Kinsey, Pinetop Perkins and Hubert Sumlin; Johnny