Bidding Farewell to Savoy Brown’s Kim Simmonds

The British blues pioneer has passed away at age 75

Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown (Image: Wiki Commons)

British blues pioneer Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown passed away this past week after a year-long battle with cancer; the songwriter and guitarist was 75 years old.

Simmonds taught himself guitar by listening to his brother’s blues records and became enamored of the genre. A chance meeting with harmonica player John O’Leary at a record store in Soho led to the formation of the Savoy Brown Blues Band in late 1965, the band’s name derived from the American Savoy Records label. Early band gigs included opening for Eric Clapton and Cream and backing American blues legend John Lee Hooker during his tour of England. 

In the midst of the British blues-rock boom largely created by Cream’s popularity, the band was quickly signed by Decca Records and released its debut album, Shake Down, in late 1967. Comprised largely of cover versions of blues standards, the album featured a line-up that included Simmonds, singer Brice Portius, and rhythm guitarist Martin Stone (later of the band Mighty Baby). The band’s line-up changed frequently in these early days, and by their second LP, 1968’s Getting To the Point (and dropping the “Blues Band” from their name), Chris Youlden had taken over the microphone, “Lonesome” Dave Peverett was on second guitar, and Roger Earl in the drum seat. 

It was while Youlden was the band’s vocalist that Simmonds found his voice as a guitarist and Savoy Brown began to separate itself from the glut of British blues-rockers on the island. Simmonds and Youlden also began to shoulder more of the songwriting duties as the band relied less on classic blues covers, and singles released from albums like 1969’s Blue Matter and A Step Further began making inroads on the U.K. charts while the albums began to find a stateside audience. Youlden left the band after 1970’s Raw Sienna, his fourth LP with the band, to pursue what proved to be a doomed solo career.

 

 

Simmonds, as he would throughout the band’s 55+ years, soldiered on without his superstar vocalist, moving Peverett into the frontman slot for 1970’s Looking In album. Savoy Brown suffered another setback, however, when Peverett, Earl and bassist Tony Stevens left to form Foghat, using the Savoy Brown musical blueprint with the boogie turned up to ‘eleven’ and conquering the U.S. album charts during the 1970s. Simmonds poached several members from fellow British blues-rockers Chicken Shack – notably singer Dave Walker, keyboardist Paul Raymond, and bassist Andy Silvester – along with drummer Dave Bidwell and kept on truckin’. 

The band subsequently pounded the pavement across the U.S. in support of albums like 1971’s Street Corner Talkin’, 1972’s Hellbound Train (which peaked at #34 on the Billboard chart), and 1972’s Lion’s Share, slowly adding to their stateside audience. Band membership – especially the lead singer position – remained a revolving door throughout the band’s lengthy history, with Simmonds as the only constant. Savoy Brown released a number of well-regarded albums throughout the rest of the decade, including 1973’s Jack the Toad and the following year’s Boogie Brothers, but the band had clearly lost its commercial momentum. 

When blues music was shoved aside by record buyers in favor of punk and new wave during the 1980s, Simmonds kept Savoy Brown choogling on, scoring a minor stateside chart hit with the song “Run To Me” from the 1981 Rock ‘N’ Roll Warriors album, touring the U.S. in support of Judas Priest and performing in large arenas. The band failed to cash in on its modest success, however, releasing a string of live albums in the early ‘80s that appealed largely to existing fans; by the time that 1986’s acoustic Slow Train appeared, released by the indie Relix Records label, Savoy Brown was firmly entrenched on the blues circuit for the remainder of Simmonds’ career, playing in front of smaller but enthusiastic audiences.

To his credit, Simmonds kept Savoy Brown going well into the new millennium, touring constantly in the U.S. and Europe, and releasing a steady stream of live and studio albums through the years. Better than four decades after its debut recording, Savoy Brown found a new and appreciative audience during the 2010s with a string of critically-acclaimed albums including 2009’s Too Much of A Good Thing, 2011’s Voodoo Moon, 2015’s The Devil To Pay, and 2017’s Witchy Feelin’, which hit #1 on the Billboard blues chart and earned the band its first Blues Music Award nomination from The Blues Foundation. 

Simmonds also recorded a handful of solo albums over the years, beginning with 1997’s Solitaire through 2015’s Jazzin’ On the Blues, allowing him to experiment with different styles and sounds that the straight-forward blues-rock of Savoy Brown. The guitarist also dabbled in painting; his 2008 solo album Out of the Blue featured Simmonds’ original art. A longtime resident of the U.S. by this time, Simmonds also appeared in the Benjamin Meade 2008 documentary film American Music: Off The Record along with musicians like Jackson Browne, Les Paul, and Johnny and Edgar Winter.  

Savoy Brown’s last studio album was 2020’s Ain’t Done Yet, which garnered Simmonds a second Blues Music Award nomination. Although the band’s normal touring schedule was derailed by the pandemic lockdown and, later, Simmonds’ illness, he continued to work on new music until his death. Simmonds also finished his yet-to-be-published autobiography during the lockdown. Although Simmonds will be remembered for his immense six-string talents, Savoy Brown also served as a “finishing school,” of sorts, for British musicians through the decades, with talents like drummer Bill Bruford (Yes), bassist Andy Pyle (The Kinks), Paul Raymond (UFO), Jimmy Kunes (Cactus) and, of course, the Foghat guys passing through the ranks.    

 

VIDEO: Savoy Brown “Hellbound Train”

Savoy Brown and Simmonds’ role in popularizing blues music has echoed through the decades. Writing in August 2020, Blues Music Magazine Editor Art Tipaldi said “the British Blues Invasion came in two distinct waves. The first wave featured artists like the Rolling Stones, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, the Animals, Cream, Fleetwood Mac, and others. The second wave quickly followed by expanding their love of Chicago blues into modernistic blues-rock. Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Ten Years After, and others followed in the footsteps of their idols. As many of those iconic bands have come and gone, one has remained and continues to record and tour. Savoy Brown was founded by guitarist Kim Simmonds in the late sixties with the same mission as the Rolling Stones, to further his love of Chicago blues.”

Over the course of a career that spanned seven decades, Kim Simmonds recorded better than 50 albums, both solo and with Savoy Brown, as well as lending his talents to albums by artists like Don Covay, Leslie West, Jorma Kaukonen and, not surprisingly, Foghat, among many others. Simmonds’ songs have been recorded by artists as diverse as Rare Earth, Whitesnake, Lita Ford, Long John Baldry, and Great White and his imaginative and fluid guitar style has influenced bands like Mountain, Humble Pie and, of course, Foghat as well as more recent artists like Gov’t Mule and the Black Crowes. 

In his recently-published autobiography, On The Street I Met A Dog, bluesman Greg “Stackhouse” Prevost describes how his then-band the Chesterfield Kings recorded with Simmonds. After a chance meeting at Rochester’s House of Guitars, Prevost writes, “we asked if he’d be into joining us to write a song with the band and play lead on the track as well. He agreed; it was never planned that we have him do this, it just happened spontaneously and by sheer accident.” Struck by Simmonds’ kindness, Prevost added on his Facebook page “a great guy…was an honor to have working with him in the early ‘90s…both a hero and a friend.”  

Although he never achieved the commercial success enjoyed by many of his former band members, Simmonds was content with his career. In comments on the Savoy Brown website, Simmonds wrote “I have always opted for a non-mainstream, yet complimentary music route, one that would allow me personal and artistic freedom. In the end, it seems I’ve had the best of both worlds.”

 

 

 

 

Latest posts by Rev. Keith A. Gordon (see all)

 You May Also Like

Rev. Keith A. Gordon

RockandRollGlobe contributor Rev. Gordon is an award-winning music critic with 40+ years experience writing for publications like Blues Music magazine and Blurt. Follow him on Twitter @reverendgordon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *