By Steve Newton
When I interviewed blues-rock legend Kim Simmonds last week from his home outside Syracuse, New York, he revealed that there had been a time when, during his thirties, personal problems had cost him his ability to really play guitar.
Lucky for him–and the couple of hundred Savoy Brown fans crowded into the Electric Owl last night–the last 30 years or so have seen him totally recover from those debilitating issues. By the time the show was offer it was perfectly clear that, as he’d also told me, he was “meant to play guitar.”
Accompanied by his crack band of six years–bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm–Simmonds took us on a 50-year journey back from his recent albums (last year’s Goin’ to the Delta) to the very first Savoy Brown recordings.
Highlights of the night included his tribute to early Savoy Brown singer and songwriter Chris Youlden on his “A Hard Way to Go”, from the 1970 Raw Sienna LP, and the hypnotically bluesy title track of 1972’s Hellbound Train.
Simmonds showcased his mellower side when he switched his sunburst Les Paul for a more jazz-oriented Gibson on the breezy instrumental “Sunday Night”, which he explained was written at the last minute for inclusion on 1970’s Looking In.
During his encore one enthusiastic fan up front handed him a slide, which he used to riveting effect on the boogie number, “Tell Mama”, the opening track from 1971’s Street Corner Talking. (That tune was cowritten by keyboardist-guitarist Paul Raymond, who would go on to play on some wicked UFO albums.)
After the show, promoter Ron Simmons of the Canadian Pacific Blues Society took me downstairs so I could meet the similarly named guitar great, who was just such a cool guy. There were a couple of hardcore, hero-worshipping fans down there, including former Payola$ and Poisoned drummer Taylor Nelson Little, whose very first concert was Savoy Brown opening for (and blowing away) Steppenwolf in Vancouver. He got Simmonds to sign his vinyl copy of Looking In, leaving me to feel dopey for not bringing anything to get autographed. I should have brought that old plexiglass Raven of mind, because Simmonds’ signature would surely not be out of place next to those of B.B. King and Buddy Guy.