By Steve Newton
Fifty years is a long time. It sounds even longer when you call it half a century. But that’s how long Kim Simmonds has been carrying on the Savoy Brown name. It’s not like he’s been keeping close track, though.
“I know it’s been a while,” says the British blues-rock guitar legend on the phone from his house “in the sticks” about 40 miles from Syracuse, New York. “But it wasn’t until my road manager from those days said, ‘You know, you started the band in ’65.’ So that’s officially where it started. Our first record was in ’66.”
Simmonds was only 18 when he formed Savoy Brown, which has seen countless members come and go over the decades. The current lineup—known as Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown—sees him handling guitar and vocals in the company of bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm. That’s the trio that recorded last year’s all-original studio album, Goin’ to the Delta, as well as the new Still Live After 50 Years, which boasts live-in-Syracuse renditions of the recent songs mixed with early-’70s Savoy gems like “A Hard Way to Go” (from 1970’s Raw Sienna) and “Tell Mama” (1971’s Street Corner Talking). The group plays Vancouver’s Electric Owl this Thursday (March 19).
“I was about three years younger than all my contemporaries,” recalls Simmonds of his youthful beginnings. “I was one of those young, precocious guitar players. You know, you see a lot of them nowadays, but back then it was a bit different. I still am kind of younger than everybody else, and at this stage of life, that might be a plus!”
Nowadays the 67-year-old whippersnapper is “retired to the country”, but that doesn’t mean he’s not above making a bit of racket in the ’hood.
“I’ve got a studio out the back,” he says, “but it’s not completely sound-reinforced or anything. But my neighbours love it, because if they hear the music they have no problems at all. They actually like listening.”
And what they’re hearing is a player whose blues-drenched guitar licks are as inspired as ever, although that wasn’t always the case.
“At one point in my life, in my thirties, I lost the ability to really play,” relates Simmonds. “I had lots of family problems, life problems, and it got very, very difficult. It took me about 10 years before I got into my forties and I got my playing back together. So I think that kind of shocked me when I was almost out of the game, altogether.
“And if you go through that kind of period, you certainly don’t want to go back there, so I just kind of touched base with who I was when I started. I cleared the decks of any crap in my life and just said, you know, ‘I’m not going to get distracted here. I was meant to play guitar.’ And that’s all it is really. Just keeping in the zone.”