Apr 27 2023

Interview by Steven C. Pesant.

INNOCENT PLEASURES – An Interview with Savoy Brown’s Kim Simmonds

FROM THE VAULT. This classic interview with guitarist, Kim Simmonds was conducted during mid-concert intermission at a November 1999 performance at The Yale Hotel in Vancouver, Canada. It was first published in the Spring 2000 edition of Experience Hendrix Magazine.

“In many ways music hasn’t changed at all,” explains guitarist, Kim Simmonds—and he should know.  For more than 50 years Simmonds has been leader of one of the original British-blues bands, Savoy Brown.

Founded in 1966 at the crossroads of the British invasion and America’s increased export of blues music; they were, in part, responsible for what would become one of the most influential periods in rock ‘n’ roll history. The Savoy Brown Blues Band, later shortened simply to Savoy Brown, toured Britain incessantly during the period leading up to their label debut – the all-blues sounding Shakedown (1967).

As a teenager, Simmonds (guitar) honed the skills of fellow musicians Martin Stone (guitar), Ray Chappell (bass), Bob Hall (keyboards), Bryce Portius (vocals), and Leo Mannings (drums) and together, as Savoy Brown, they helped lead the British-blues circuit alongside contemporaries Chicken Shack and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. But like many of Britain’s rising music stars, Savoy Brown was met with much the same tumultuous setting as their peers-surrounded by a rapidly evolving music industry-bands came and went as fast as a coastal weather front.

By the time Savoy Brown released their second album, Getting To The Point (1968) Portius had been replaced with Chris Youlden, arguably the best musical pairing for Simmonds—who together would pen the majority of Savoy Brown’s defining musical pieces, including radio hits “I’m Tired” and “Louisiana Blues.”

Over the following 24-months, the Savoy Brown line-up would undergo almost endless change, while at the same time gaining considerable fanfare from audiences on the other side of the Atlantic. With their third release, Blue Matter (1969) Savoy Brown was recognized as one of the leading forces in the emerging blues-rock sound in America. But by 1970 and the release of their fourth album, A Step Further, the blues-circuit at home was already segueing to a new sound; but in America, Savoy Brown, who now concentrated their efforts there, were reaching headlining status. Simmonds even dedicated A Step Further’s “The Savoy Brown Boogie” to their fans in Detroit.

INNOCENT PLEASURES – An Interview with Savoy Brown’s Kim Simmonds
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown
Photo: Steven C. Pesant / Authentic Hendrix, LLC

Despite Youlden’s departure after the release of Raw Sienna (1970), his replacement, Lonesome Dave Peverett landed a short-term roll on Looking In (1970) prior to leaving to form Foghat along with Savoy Brown players Tony Stevens and Roger Earle. Looking In was followed up with the group’s most successful charting release Street Corner Talking (1971), which featured formed Chicken Shack members Andy Sylvester (bass), Paul Raymond (keyboards), and Dave Bidwell (drums) along with vocalist Dave Walker.

The hits “Street Corner Talking,” “Tell Mama,” and “I Can’t Get Next To You” would become everlasting Savoy Brown anthems, while their remake of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle” represented their definitive blues roots. Savoy Brown would continue its revolving door membership up to 1973 when Kim Simmonds slowly began to lose interest. By Christmas that year Simmonds had officially declared the band defunct.

The inert stage of Savoy Brown failed to last even a few months, when in early ’74 Simmonds joined fellow British blues artists Miller Anderson (ex-Keef Hartley), Eric Dillon (later of Broken Glass), Jimmy Leverton (ex-Hemlock), and Stan Webb (ex-Chicken Shack) – the Boogie Brothers were born but lived (albeit for a short time) under the Savoy Brown moniker. Throughout the remaining ’70s, the 1980s and the 1990s, Savoy Brown has continued to make physical changes-but one thing has remained the same since day one-frontman Kim Simmonds.

In 1999 Savoy Brown released their first all-new studio album The Blues Keep Me Holding On [Ed. Since 1999, Savoy Brown have released an additional 18 studio and live album releases]. In November 1999, we had the opportunity to catch up with Kim Simmonds between sets in the quaint-backstage settings of The Yale Hotel (a legendary Blues bar in Vancouver, Canada). Here we talked about his 30-plus years in music, the revitalization of blues music, and of course, lots about Jimi Hendrix.

Experience Hendrix: How has the music scene changed over the past 30 years?

Kim Simmonds: In many ways, it hasn’t changed at all. I mean, the records I still buy now—B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Otis Rush, are the same people I was buying records when I was 14 and 15 years old. So the great thing about music is that it hasn’t changed one bit. And that’s the encouraging thing, I think.

INNOCENT PLEASURES – An Interview with Savoy Brown’s Kim Simmonds
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown
Photo: Jim Summaria / Courtesy Savoy Brown

You’ve still got people coming up and you’ve still got people coming up to you and saying, you know, “This guy’s the new Jimi Hendrix!” And if I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a million times. I hear it when Jimi was alive. I’m hearing it all the time. So, yeah, the benchmarks are still the same. So really, in many ways, it hasn’t changed at all.

EH: But when the music takes a different direction for a period of time, how do you address the music then?

KS: I try to keep that all-in perspective because, you know, there are times when my career hasn’t been so strong, or when I haven’t been playing so strong at something – through the years – it’s when I forgot that very fact. You know, you start thinking to yourself, “Ah, the music’s changed and I’ve got to try to fit in somehow,” and that’s when you’re in real trouble.

EH: How did you find yourself responding to the changing music styles and pressures levied by the record labels for a new sound?

KS: When you try to fit in with whatever you think the trend is at the time – reality sets in – you know. Someone like myself with the style that I have, I’ve never had to change, you know. Like I say, my heroes – the people I really appreciate, you know – are still there doing it. They never changed, didn’t join the others of the world. So, it’s something I’ve learned to appreciate and that’s really the best thing you can do is not change, you know. And there’ll be time when you’re out of fashion – that’s the hard thing. You know, when you’re out of fashion, and nobody wants to be out of fashion. But, at those times, as a musician, you’ve just got to stick to what you do.

EH: Talent wise, what do you think of today’ music?

KS: I don’t think there’s as much talent today. I will say that there’s not as much talent as there was back when I started. There’s a lot of young kids playing guitar now, that are very, very good. You know, they’re great – and they’re better in many ways than we were when we started playing. But that’s just the guitar players, you know.

In terms of talent across the board, I don’t think there is as much. There’s not as much imagination I think, as I think back when I started in the Sixties. But, there again, I’ve heard a lot of music. An 18-year-old listening to this wouldn’t agree probably, because he hasn’t heard everything, you know.

EH: Should these young blues musicians be creating a new sound that speaks to their contemporaries or should the music, as blues, speak back to your contemporaries?

KS: All they have to do is exactly what we did in the past. And what they are bringing into it, is youth. You know, they’re bringing in youth. They’re bringing into it a new kind of glamour because they’re younger. They’re bringing a new energy into it. But I noticed that, say Jonny Lang and many of these young guys are doing just the same old thing. I’m not degrading it. When I say it’s the same old thing – well it should be. It should be the same old thing because they’re just going to bring it to their old thing. And that’s what I like about it.

“Hendrix who took the blues and made something quite different out of it … those people … only once or twice in a century do those types come up.”

I think that would start people thinking, “Well, we’ve got to upgrade blues. We’ve got to do something new and something fresh,” I don’t think that that’s what you do. I mean, someone like Hendrix who took the blues, and, you know, made something quite different out of it. I mean, you know, those people… you know… only once or twice in a century do those types come up. You can’t have a lot of those guys. But again, nothing has changed.

All the young guys should just play it as it always was and just let it naturally be different, because we’re in a different era – you know what I mean?

EH: Does the renewed interest in ‘young man’ blues bring new interest into to your own music?

KS: Yes, people like Jonny Lang, I’ve only seen him on TV once, but he knocked me out. I got very excited. It’s a real blast for me because what happens is that people like that just come up and it makes the industry interested in Savoy Brown. I think they were interested in our new album (The Blues Keep Holding On) on radio for instance – which surprised me.

EH: Well, that’s a good thing.

KS: Yeah, I know. It’s fantastic! Because I think, you know, Jonny Lang comes along – he’s very, very popular and Kenny Wayne Shepherd and all those people, and all of a sudden you know, blues-rock becomes a little bit more interesting.

So, Savoy Brown comes out with a record, as we did, and the radio – instead of just shelving it, they do, “Hold on, this is like, you know…”

EH: Hey… this is where this sound began…

KS: Exactly! So thank you Jonny Lang. Keep it up.

INNOCENT PLEASURES – An Interview with Savoy Brown’s Kim Simmonds
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown
Photo: Steven C. Pesant / Authentic Hendrix, LLC

EH: On stage tonight, although you have a number of effects pedals on stage, you don’t rely on them to create that great sound. Does today’s technology play a role in your music?

KS: Hmmmm. [laughing] I’m trying to make it interesting. I’m trying to make the whole guitar thing interesting, but not sticking to one sound. I’m trying to bring colors into it. I’m trying to play artistically, you know. I’m not just trying to be on one level. I’m trying to, you know, play with as many colors as possible, you know, on the palette, so I think that’s interesting for the people that listen, and I think it’s sort of interesting for me.

I think at my age, all the music I’ve listened to, all the blues, the jazz, the rock I’ve listened to over the year, ah, and the folk and classical music… I’m trying to give that a chance to breath and come out. At the same time, I’m trying to stay focused. I don’t want to be all over the place, playing licks that have no business to be in my style.

If I play jazz, like if they all play jazz licks, I will just play the same licks I normally do, but I will finesse them in a jazz way. And I will play, whereas in the blues I might bend the string up a full tone, if I play in a more jazz sensitivity, I’ll just – I won’t bent the note up at all – I’ll do a different type of vibrato. I’m trying to use everything that I’ve learned musically, but I’m still trying to stay focused and that’s the hardest thing. You know, I don’t like to see a musician that does everything he knows without a focus because you know, one minute there’s a country lick, next minute there’s a jazz, blues, and it’s all over the place. Somehow you’ve got to bring all that – all of those experiences, into one style if you can. And, so people can say, like somebody wrote into me and said that with the new record that they felt that – there were asking what jazz I studied. So they’re listening to that.

EH: There’s always a danger of scaring your audience if you take them to too many different places.

KS: Yeah. [laughing] Well, I mean, some people can get away with it, but I’m just trying to stay true to my style, you know. And there are times I can just let it rip, like in that last number, I can do all sorts of psychedelic stuff.

“I’m having a blast and I’m enjoying playing. It’s a privilege to be my age and still playing the guitar…”

EH: A little psychedelic blues never hurt anyone…

KS: Yeah… exactly. I’m having a blast and I’m enjoying playing. It’s a privilege to be my age and still playing the guitar and people coming along and I’m just getting up there and having a blast, playing the guitar. It’s fantastic. A privilege, and you know, sometimes I forget that.

EH: How do you describe where you are going with your music today?

KS: In a nutshell, what I’m trying to do now is trying to retain the innocence I had when I was 15 or 16. We all lose that innocence and it’s a shame, you know what I mean? Because, we all need a touch of that innocence. Keith Richards said, “always stay in touch with the 15 year old in you.” And I think what he was talking about was that innocence that I think we should keep, and as a musician I’m trying to keep that innocence myself.

Because going back to your first question, what I was talking about – I’m still buying records by Buddy Guy and B.B. King. They’re still making great records. These are the artists I grew up with when I was 15. Jimi Hendrix’s music still lives and now he’s become a magazine. So, you know, Hendrix, although he’s not with us, his legacy is still as strong as ever. For me, the music I grew up with and the people around that were my heroes are still here, so it’s important for me to keep in touch with that kid that loved that music.

INNOCENT PLEASURES – An Interview with Savoy Brown’s Kim Simmonds
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown
Photo: Steven C. Pesant / Authentic Hendrix, LLC

EH: In your eyes, what is it about Jimi Hendrix that continues to make him so popular today?

KS: It’s interesting because I do ask myself that question quite often. It’s because it is a phenomenon. He, I think there is a thing about him – the fact that he died so young is very similar to Robert Johnson, you know…

EH: Yes, both passing long before their time and at the same age of 27…

KS: Yeah… yeah, they almost become like martyrs to their music. But there, again, there have been a lot of other people do that same thing – and don’t mean the same thing as these guys. So, I think that you have to say the was, I suppose, a magical blend…

EH: When you first saw Hendrix what went through your mind?

KS: The first time I saw him was on TV, I think doing “Hey Joe.” I must have seen photos in the paper, I guess, but he reminded be of John Lee Hooker insomuch as, here was, you know, a very threatening black man. It was like, “I’m going to get ya…” You know, kinda like, “you better hide your daughters because, you know…”

Like Hooker’s got that – with the dark glasses. And Hooker, like Hendrix, he’s one of the sweetest people that I’ve ever met. Hendrix was very, very modest, and so is John Lee Hooker. But they, you know, they’ve got that voodoo vibe. So anyway, I was watching this pop program, it must have been ‘66 and he did “Hey Joe” – it was quite an experience watching him because he was like, he had that whole “bad blues” thing going… and that was something that you didn’t really see on TV.

EH: You undoubtedly crossed paths with Hendrix at least a few times?

KS: In the late Sixties I did, and jammed with him and spent an evening with him in a club. I heard that he had said some nice thing about my guitar; but that particular night, I was in awe of him, so it was very much, you know, me looking up to him. You know, as opposed to saying, “Hi Jimi. How’re ya doing’?” sort of thing. But he was very, very gracious—wonderful. I had never seen him playing in the early days at the club, which was very strange. I had heard about him. I had heard he was here in London. The first thing he did was jam at some of the clubs.

Hmmm. I did see him one other time, playing in New York City at a club. Hmmm… Now why he was playing a club?? it was the opening night of a club in New York City.

EH: Was it perhaps the opening of the Generation Club in ‘68?

KS: Yeah… that’s it. Jimi was having a hell of a hard time. The PA and everything seemed to be going wrong – I don’t know. There was a few extra guys there – I think, like Buddy Miles was there and a couple of other guys.

[Ed. This appearance most likely occurred in April 1969 when Hendrix, Miles and Savoy Brown were all confirmed to be in New York for an extended period. Savoy Brown were scheduled for an appearance at Ungano’s (April 14) and for two shows at Scene Club (April 15 & 16).

INNOCENT PLEASURES – An Interview with Savoy Brown’s Kim Simmonds
Advertisements for Savoy Brown’s April 1969 Concerts in New York City

Meanwhile, Hendrix had an extended ‘jam’ recording session at Record Plant studios on April 14—first with Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, and at later session with Buddy Miles, Larry Young, Dave Holland and another unnamed bassist. Recordings from this studio appearance were featured on the now out-of-print Nine To The Universe album.

Hendrix always keen to continue exploring improvisation, may have been a reason for Hendrix to invite “Buddy Miles … and a couple of other guys” (as Simmonds recounts) to a late night jam session at Scene Club where Simmonds was also scheduled to be present.]

But back to Jimi, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play so intensely, because – and what I hard come out was – I heard gospel music coming out of his guitar. I heard all this wonderful spectrum of music, but polkas, you know [laughs]. That was Hendrix’s style. I’m like, how am I hearing gospel? You know, I’m hearing all this music and I think perhaps what has kept his legacy going was that his guitar style was a blend of all those things. A blend of jazz, rock, blues, gospel – you know, all in one package.

Like when you listen to Ray Charles, you listen to Ray Charles’ voice, you’re listening to a heritage – a lifetime of experience.

“It’s very hard to pull it apart and say what makes Hendrix what he is and what makes this person the most influential guitar player in my lifetime.”

So maybe musically, I think perhaps if you want to intellectualize it, they’re attracted to all those sounds in one bag. I think the fact that Jimi died so young creates an even more legendary figure. There it is again… it’s another ‘dead end.’ I try to think of it myself. It’s very hard to pull it apart and say what makes Hendrix what he is and what makes this person the most influential guitar player in my lifetime. You can’t really think of anything… you can’t just say he’s great.

EH: If Jimi’s magic was merging various forms of music together, how would you classify Hendrix as an artist?

KS: He transcended the blues, but I think he was like a great jazz musician. He could be a great rock musician, but like the great jazz musicians, he had all those roots. And I don’t like a lot of rock if I can’t feel those roots.

INNOCENT PLEASURES – An Interview with Savoy Brown’s Kim Simmonds
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown
Photo: Steven C. Pesant / Authentic Hendrix, LLC

To tell you the truth, I don’t like a lot of jazz playing if I can’t hear those roots. I like to know that the musicians I’m listening to – that’s the era I come from, the music I love, I like to feel that there’s that soul underneath their playing. That these people grew up on what I think is the basis of all pop music. You know, which is blues, at the turn of the century when it all started. The boogie-woogie piano players and all the country blues players – I think a lot of our pop music is based on those blues.

By my way of thinking, I don’t think you can call Hendrix a blues player. I think that he was a rock player in my opinion, but like more than that. I mean he could play fantastically, and he transcended the music as we know it. He transcended the whole thing and it’s like… so hard to put into words. I find myself playing Hendrix phrases now on the guitar.