Gettin’ Down with Savoy Brown

 

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Savoy Brown in 2017: Garnet Grimm, co-founder Kim Simmonds and Pat DeSalvo. Photo by Candie Kates.

Kim Simmonds remembers the first time he met the blues. Sure, growing up in 1950’s England he had some sonic encounters with homeboy Cliff Richard. But it was his brother’s magical record collection that introduced him to the wild, American sounds of Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, and Little Richard.

“I had been brought up since I was 6 years old listening to that type of music. I think the first one he played for me was Johnnie Ray’s ‘Cry.’ And he took me to see the movie Rock Around the Clock,” Simmonds recalls today.

Then he dug deeper into his brother’s stash to discover the masters of the Chicago blues sound—especially the music of Earl Hooker and Otis Rush—and it was a “come to Jesus” moment. “My brother’s love for and dedication to music then led me to R&B and blues and gospel. That’s when things really [clicked] for me. I loved the Beatles, but when they did ‘Twist and Shout,’ I had already heard the 45 by the Isley Brothers. That was actually the first record that I ever bought!”

Simmonds’ interest coalesced on a higher level in 1965 when he co-founded the Savoy Brown Blues Band with harmonica player John O’Leary, later shortened to Savoy Brown. But they were not to trade in the acoustic/folk blues. “Chicago electric blues, that style…it had weight and honesty and girth to it,” he says. “Just because you love one kind of blues doesn’t mean you have to love all of it. But there’s an honesty there that is of most importance to me, that is most satisfying.”

 While the rise of Savoy Brown coincided with the boom in the British blues and blues-rock scene of the time, they did not achieve a fraction of the fame contemporaries like the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood Mac, and even the Pretty Things did.

That’s partially due to near-constant lineup changes. Wikipedia lists more than 60 members through the years, including future or past members of Yes, Foghat, Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, the Kinks, and Black Sabbath.

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Kim Simmonds with one of his Chicago blues heroes, Muddy Waters, sometime in the ’70s. Photo courtesy of SavoyBrown.com.

They also did not find that elusive U.S. hit – though singles “I’m Tired,” “Tell Mama” and “Street Corner Talking” probably came closest. And no, they are not to be confused with the similarly color hued-named Brownsville Station, best known for “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.” In fact, Simmonds says that Savoy Brown is most often confused with country act Sawyer Brown.

Accompanying lead vocalist/guitarist Simmonds in the current power trio lineup since 2009 are Pat DeSalvo (bass) and Garnet Grimm (drums). Their last studio album was 2015’s The Devil to Pay (billed as “Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown”). And the band is about to release Still Live After 50 Years, Vol. 2. This year indeed marks a half-century since the release of their debut album, Shake Down (though it was not issued in the U.S.).

The Devil to Pay is similar to the Delta-influenced album before, and I tried to keep it no-frills, and live in the studio,” Simmonds offers. “But here, the songs weren’t road-tested before we recorded them. And we had to keep them [shorter] than we maybe would live, where we ‘concertize’ things.”

The only original or classic lineup member of the band left, Simmonds says there is sometimes extra pressure that he is the living embodiment of Savoy Brown’s history and legacy, carrying 50+ years on stage. But generally, if the crowd is with the music and the vibe is good, that pressure falls away quickly.

Portions of this article originally appeared in The Houston Press.

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About Bob Ruggiero

I am a passionate fan of classic rock (and related music) with 25+ years experience writing about it for daily/weekly newspapers and magazines.
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