Q&A with Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown – March 8th at Rams Head On Stage (Interview by Matt Ellis)


Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown just released their latest album, “Goin’ to the Delta,” which debuted this week at #5 on Billboard’s Blues Albums.  Simmonds is the lead guitarist and founding member of British blues-rock band Savoy Brown since its creation in 1966.  Come out to Rams Head On Stage this Saturday, March 8th to grab a copy of the new record at his CD Release Party, and, of course, to hear some of the greatest blues guitar riffs ever played on either side of the pond.    

ME:  You’ve continuously toured as part of Savoy Brown for nearly 50 years.  How have you been able to handle that life on the road for so many years, and how is touring different today from when you started? 

KS:  Things aren’t that different, and touring isn’t different.  Yes, there are technological changes and the face of the music business has changed, but really everything is the same.  Bands start off in the garage and you travel around the same way. 

How I’ve managed to carry on is something I have given thought to with the 50 year anniversary of the band coming up and it slapped me in the face that it is a benchmark.  It could be a myriad of reasons, but the bottom line is you have a drive and a commitment, and everyone has that side, and in some of us it’s a little stronger, and I think that drive to make a goal of something and be independent is very important.  I’m very independent, and it sort of pushes you on, and many times when you are down and out or I wanted to give up or should’ve given up, something keeps moving you forward. 

I’ve had a penchant for working hard, and that’s a bit of a gift as well.  When the going gets tough and you need to get in the trenches, when your career is down, you need to get work where you can.  I look around and a lot of other musicians didn’t do what I did.  It’s hard.  It’s kind of like a marriage; sometimes things are good and at others you’re slugging it out.  Marriage is hard work and to tell you the truth it’s the same with a career.  But you drive forward.  It’s great now because I’m up on the other end with a successful album.  You come through the bad things and its fine. 

ME:  You just released a new album, “Goin’ to the Delta,” and it sounds great.  I interviewed Johnny Winter a few weeks back and asked him why the blues were so important to him and he said at the time, when he was beginning to seriously play music, blues music was the only genre that really conveyed true emotion – would you agree with him, and can you explain what the blues meant to you as a budding musician?

KS:  What appealed to me was that the blues had that hard edge that I wanted from music.  When you’re a teenager you want a hard edge, and I was one of those guys.   I didn’t like pop music because it was kind of soft and dance music wasn’t for me.   Blues had a hard edge and it was also honest.  We were all looking for a bit of honesty, you know?  You don’t want to see a guy prancing around up there as a front.  You want soul.  And, I wanted to see vulnerability.  I don’t like to see someone who’s too overly confident.  It was this sense of loss, the sense that there was something deeper, and as youngsters we all responded to it.  Their soul and sadness, it was simple and poetic and it communicated easily. 

ME:  I’ve also read that the blues were not as readily accepted in England in the 60s and many blues clubs closed down by the start of the 70s.  Was playing the blues also kind of a rebellion against mainstream society?

KS:  Yeah, I’d say it was a rebellion against the music business.  I always thought the music business was a little crass, but by playing alternative music you weren’t plugging into the system. And, it felt good, and I still have that feeling:  that feeling that you’re not really part of that system.  And that really appeals to me as an independent, and that’s probably why I’ve kept hanging on for this length of time.

ME:  You are in that top tier of blues guitarists – how do you continue to play with such skill and are you still learning as you go?  Or do you feel you’ve mastered the genre?

KS:  I’m still learning every day.  I wake up every day and I have a sound in my head that I want to play, and I try to hold on to that guitar sound in my head.  Just because you’re a blues guitar player doesn’t mean you live in a void.  You could wake up and feel completely differently and want to play a different sound, or pick up different habits and start going down a completely different road, so it’s always a struggle to retain your personal sound because you’re constantly influenced by other things.  You’re learning and re-learning things, forgetting and remembering.  For me it’s a forever practice of and learning and trying to tame the six strings, which really can’t be done.  You can’t ever say, “Oh I’m at the top of the mountain.”  That’s the great thing about music – it doesn’t work that way.  You’re not done at 30 like we all thought in the 60s.  I was in my 40s before I realized, “Wait, I’m going to do this forever.”  It’s an ongoing process that drives me crazy but that part of the game keeps me going.  I can never sit back and say I’ve got it all together. 

ME:  What’s your favorite Savoy Brown album, if you can choose just one, and what music have you been listening to lately?

KS:  Street Corner Talking (1971) is my favorite album.  I’ve been listening to a lot of new blues artists.  Matt Schofield, a British blues guitar player, and other people like that.  I still mostly listen in my own genre, but of course I hear all sorts of stuff. 

ME:  What do you think of the current music scene and music industry?

KS:  The state of rock n’ roll is not much different now from the past.  Like everything else, rock n’ roll eventually became mainstream.  Although, when it first came out people said it would be done in two years.  Even when the Beatles came out they said they would be done in two years, but then it became the main musical force. 

Only so many people can turn music into art and that’s what happened with the blues guys I liked, and it’s just like how the Beatles turned pop into art.  It’s just what you make of it.  Rock n roll today – there are still people making it into art and other people just exploiting it.  Some people dance to it and that’s all they want out of music, and others say, “Wait, this is more meaningful to me…”

The big thing was that we had a lead in band to light the way in the Beatles.  There’s no phenomenal band like that today, but it’s more a matter of digging deep and finding what you like in all that’s out there.  We’re inundated with people saying A, B and C are great, and it’s hard to focus on anything else.  That’s why the blues guys were unknown.  They’re like the great artists who died penniless.  It’s hard not to get dragged in with the drudgery of mainstream culture at the expense of something unique and artistic. Rock n’ roll is the same.  Some people will listen only at surface level and others look for more.

You can get screwed on the business end too, but in the end you’ve always got your reputation – go out and do a gig! When Michael Jackson’s career was tanking, what did he do to try to pull himself out of it?  He planned a massive world tour!  Most of our income comes from playing live.  The whole brouhaha with royalties I never understood.  You’re still getting notoriety, you know, you’ve got to look at the big picture.  The small picture is, “I’m only getting 3 cents for this?!”  If you only look at the small picture you’re dead in the water. 

ME:  You’ve led a very long and prolific career but is there anything left you’d like to accomplish? 

KS:  The best couple of decades for me have been these last few, having continuity and learning from the past, and being able to hold on to the things that mean most to me.  In a long career you have that luxury.  Early on in your career you’ve got to do things other people want you to do and you’ve got to do it how they want it.  The older you get, the more you get to make your own decisions.  Where I’m at for my second half, or third, of my career I was able to take control and make my own decisions more.  I’ve achieved that, but I think that I do want to get better.  I don’t want to live in the past, and I want to stay relevant.  I just want to be relevant at this age, in life and all the time, and it’s a surprise for me to say that, but it’s what everyone really wants.

What has really surprised me is this new album doing so well.  That, I didn’t expect.   I thought I would just like making it, and making my own decisions, improving on guitar and playing to an audience that understands where I come from.  I’m very happy with how it’s doing.  I haven’t listened to it myself yet. 

ME:  Not that I want this to happen anytime soon, but are you planning to stop touring in the near future and if so, what do you plan to do for retirement?

KS:  No retirement for me.  I’m just going to keep playing.  My dream in my mind is I’m still playing at 82.

Of course my career has slowed down, and there are a lot of younger acts that are more in profile but it suits me fine because I’m also a painter.  When I’m home I’m painting a lot and that artistic pursuit fills in the extra time I’ve got.  Maybe there’s a time when I should write my memoirs, but I’m not in the right state of mind to do it now.  I’m still looking forward. 

ME:  What do you paint?

KS:  I paint abstract guitar works, and they’re very well liked for the most part.  I like landscapes also.  It’s relaxing.  And I don’t think I’m a very good landscape painter, but with my abstract guitars I can make a statement.  But, most of the time I paint landscapes, and I’m not really trying to make art, otherwise I’d be driving myself crazy – I’m trying to keep it as a pastime and not get carried away.  As you can tell by the way I’m talking, you might ask, “How do you relax?”  I have to make an effort to relax and do nothing, and that’s a challenge for me that I’m working on now. 

ME:  How much of the new album can the audience expect to hear at the show this weekend?

KS:  At least four or five songs from the new album, and then so much of the past that I have to touch on.  I try to touch on every decade that I’ve been around, so the show is balanced between absolutely what I’m doing now versus the past.   

– Matt Ellis

This entry was posted in Rams Head On Stage - Annapolis and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.