STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
Revered as a forefather of British Blues, Welsh guitarist Kim Simmonds made his mark as the founding member of the legendary Savoy Brown. Five decades later, armed with his latest album release “Goin’ To The Delta,” Simmonds appeals to fans of all ages with his signature style of blues guitar.
“It’s 50 years next year,” reflects Simmonds as he talks about his career from his upstate New York home. “I think I’ve been in denial about that for many, many years. I don’t suppose you want to realize that you’re that old or something. Of course, I did start young. I’m younger than a lot of my contemporaries on the scene back then.
“I think you have to have a certain energy,” Simmonds says, “an energy that keeps you going, an energy that an audience is attracted to. I think if you have that it gives you a long career, and you can keep playing.”
“Our new album, ‘Goin’ To The Delta,’ is a basic blues album,” says Simmonds. “It’s a return to the sounds from many, many years ago. I think people will really enjoy hearing that old sound again. It’s doing very, very well. It’s a best seller in the contemporary blues.”
As a teenager, Simmonds learned to play guitar while listening to his brother’s blues records. In 1966, at age 19, Simmonds formed Savoy Brown along with Ray Chappell (bass), Trevor Jeavons (keyboards), Leo Manning (drums), Brice Portius (vocals) and John O’Leary (harmonica).
As their fiery live performances developed an instant following, Savoy Brown quickly garnered the attention of Decca Records. After signing a recording contract, they released their 1967 UK-only debut album, “Shake Down,” with that label.
“Prior to us, you had the Beatles, the Yardbirds, the Animals and the Rolling Stones,” recalls Simmonds. “They were called R&B bands. Then, when John Mayall, Savoy Brown and myself came along, it became blues bands. The whole scene took off in the mid 60s. In 1967 there was a blues boom. There were hundreds of bands – every band probably – who played blues at the time. I continued playing blues, and then I evolved into rock more than anything else.”
The release of the commercially successful “Blue Matter” and “Step Further” albums, both in 1969, catapulted Savoy Brown’s career into a broad spotlight. Then the line-up featured Simmonds (guitars, keyboards, harmonica, vocals), Bob Hall (keyboards), Chris Youlden (vocals), Dave Peverett (guitars, vocals), Roger Earl (drums) and Tony Stevens (bass). (Interestingly, Peverett, Earl and Stevens split from Savoy Brown in 1970 to form the highly successful “Foghat.”)
Consistently cracking Billboard’s Top 200 record charts, Savoy Brown released a string of highly regarded albums, including “Raw Sienna” and “Looking In” (1970), “Street Corner Talking” (1971), “Hellbound Train” and “Lion’s Share” (1972), “Jack the Toad” (1973), “Boogie Brothers” (1974), “Wire Fire” (1975), “Skin ‘n’ Bone” (1976), “Return” (1978) and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Warriors” (1981).
It was the impact of their “Step Further” album, featuring their first American hit (“I’m Tired”), that found Savoy Brown performing the first of many U.S. concert tours. Their popularity in America soon exceeded that of their native England.
“I think the turning point for the band was coming to the States in the late 60s,” recalls Simmonds. “We were a little late getting over here. We had been very successful in the U.K. We hadn’t really broken through like all the other bands that came after us. I think the band was a little too authentic, and it was petering out. Then, after coming to the States, it was like, ‘Wow! All of a sudden, this is what it’s all about. We’re actually playing American music not British music.’ Suddenly, all the record companies and all the people were really interested and thought we were an American band. In fact, some of the record labels thought we were a black band. So, all of sudden we realized we were always meant for America.”
After years of success with Savoy Brown, Simmonds, remaining as the sole original member, has gone on to front varied line-ups of the group featuring dozens of musicians.
Simmonds released his debut solo album, “Solitaire,” in 1997 and followed that up with three more individual efforts – “Blues Like Midnight” (2000), “Struck by Lightning” (2006) and “Out of the Blue” (2008), which featured original artwork by Simmonds.
A live album, “You Should Have Been There” (2003), showcased Simmonds’ vocal and acoustic guitar talents. In 2011, in celebration of the group’s 45 years of touring, Savoy Brown released the “Voodoo Mon” album.
“I look at the band and myself as one of the strongest blues bands of the 1960s – simple as that,” reflects Simmonds. “I don’t think there were any bands that were any stronger. That never gets said in the media, but hey, I’ve gotta’ say it if nobody else is gonna say it. I think we helped to bring the blues back. Not back, it never left. I think we made it more mainstream.
“There aren’t many people that get to my age and have the opportunity to do what they were doing when they were 17 years old,” Simmonds says. “I don’t take that for granted, and I want to give back. I was granted a wish, and I’m going to keep on doing it. I’m 66, and I’m still banging away. Dreams do come true.”
IF YOU GO
What: Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown
Where: The Sellersville Theatre; 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville.
When: Friday Dec. 5 at 8 p.m.
Info.: Tickets can be purchased by calling (215) 257-5808 or online at www.st94.com. To stay up to date with Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown, visit www.savoybrown.com.