Free Download: Kim Simmonds' "Honey Bee"

Savoy Brown, circa 1969: Chris Youlden, Roger Earl, Kim Simmonds, Lonesome Dave Preverett, Tony StephensKim Simmonds has a story to tell, and it’s a good one.

As guitarist and founding member of Savoy Brown – or Savoy Brown Blues Band, as they were originally known – Simmonds and his bandmates were key members of the movement that helped launch the British blues/rock movement that paved the way for acts like Led Zeppelin and the Who.

Talk of the infamous “British Invasion” of the 1960s typically brings to mind the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals and Eric Clapton, but delve a little deeper and Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, John Mayall and even U.S.-born Jimi Hendrix surface as artists who got their start during this critical time between 1964 and 1967, when the rebellious rumblings of the London underground gave way to a historic uprising of British-based blues/rock talent.

While London’s west side bristled with excitement over this new crop of prodigies, its southern boundaries were developing a deeper, more genuine form of the American blues genre that so inspired the artists emerging just a few miles away. Simmonds, along with “Lonesome” Dave Preverett, Roger Earl and Tony Stephens, started the Savoy Brown Blues Band in south London in 1965, hoping to follow the footprints of performers like the Stones and Eric Clapton, who were offering their own take on American blues guitar legends like Albert King, Lonnie Mack, B.B. King, Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.

According to Simmonds, however, something happened along the way.

“We were at the forefront of the whole blues thing in the U.K. when it took off in 1967,” Simmonds said. “But by late 1968 people were moving on and I was still a blues guy. I didn’t want to move on. I still wanted to do the blues thing.”

While Preverett, Earl and Stephens eventually left Savoy Brown to form Foghat and score five U.S. gold records, Simmonds has remained at the helm all this time, staying true to his blues roots.

Today, Savoy Brown remains as one of the last bastions of the true British blues bands of the 1960s. And although it has weathered many lineup changes over the years, the band retains a loyal following all around the world, but especially in the United States where Simmonds – a longtime Gibson user – and the band’s current incarnation continue to draw dedicated crowds by knocking out Savoy Brown classics like “I’m Tired” and “Train to Nowhere,” along with cuts from their 2007 release Steel – the band’s 32nd album.

As Simmonds prepares to release his newest solo project, Out of the Blue – due in stores Oct. 7 – Gibson caught up with him on the heels of a three-night stand in Sweden. He was busy preparing for another three-night engagement in Italy, and returns to the U.S. for a short road trip promoting Out of the Blue that begins November 4 in Houston, Texas, and ends in Shirley, Mass., on December 20.

Savoy Brown are still going strong. Tell us about your current state of mind and where you and the band are headed.

I have career that I really like, and I’m in control of it and it’s not in control of me. When you’re younger, that’s how it is … the other way around. When you get a little older you can control it a little bit and that feels good to be in the driver’s seat.

The last Savoy Brown record, Steel, and my solo record, Struck by Lightning, were both released worldwide last year by SPV Blue Label out of the UK, and we’re looking to open up Europe a little bit more to us, as opposed to doing the States like we always have.

Kim Simmonds today!What can you attribute Savoy Brown’s success in the United States to?

When the band came to the States in the late 1960s, we found that we were able to play what we wanted to play and not have it dictated by any sort of ‘fashion’ that was going on. Once we got to America, the American audience just really got the point of what the band was all about, and where we were coming from. We didn’t have any hits in the U.K. while our contemporaries did. We just weren’t growing in Europe like we would have liked.

In America, the emphasis wasn’t really on the press or the hits, and that’s probably still true today. It’s such a vast country, and a vast musical place, that you can exist without hits or the press. Coming to the States was fantastic for me, as I was able to grow and develop as a person and as a musician, and that’s still the case today.

We still have lots of fans in Europe, and I still very much like to go over and play. But America is the country I’ve concentrated on. But overall, it’s great to have an audience, to have that passion to express yourself and have it appreciated by people who get it and have the same passion for listening.

You were at the forefront of a very historic time in London during the mid-1960s. How do you look back on it today?

It was fantastic. We were young and playing with contemporaries who were simply brilliant geniuses, and we were competing with them.

The downside was that it could really become a lot to handle. But I think that if I always walked around thinking about the past and what I was a part of, and perhaps even what I’ve managed to achieve, it would be awfully difficult to carry on. The way I have to handle that whole time period is to sort of forget it and get on with life. It was such a brilliant time, but it could easily swallow you up and stop you from doing anything else. I don’t put up any posters or anything like that. If you walk into my house you probably wouldn’t even know I was a musician. All of my memorabilia is in boxes.

Some of the musicians today who are from that time are still stuck in that time, and some aren’t. The danger is that you can get stuck in that time period and you don’t grow as a person or a musician. I’ve always done my best not to be stuck in that position.

I’ll tell you what it’s really like, though. It’s like smoking a pipe. When you smoke a pipe, you don’t actually smell the aroma. It’s the people on the outside who smell this beautiful aroma. When you’re smoking the pipe, you don’t smell your own aroma. It’s for other people to appreciate. It’s very difficult to enjoy it all yourself simply because you’re the one doing it.

Now, having said all that, it truly was the best of times. There’s no doubt about it. If music would have stopped in 1972, I wouldn’t have missed a thing.

You’ve played with some great musicians. Do you consider all of them friends?

 I’d like to think so. In fact, I’m actually surprised I didn’t run into Peter Green in Sweden, which is where he lives, though I may not have been in his area. But yeah, I’ve stayed in touch with Peter [Green] a little bit and a few others. Of course, two people that I really, really became friendly with were Dave Peverett and Rod Price, especially toward the end of their lives. We were very, very close.

I think when all the dust clears you go back to what started you in life. Dave would come and guest every once in a while, and he played on a track on my Bring it Home album in 1994. By that time we had really connected again. Whenever I played in Florida he would come and see me and we would get together. That was really a great time, and I really would have liked to produce a Foghat record for them, but it never came to happen.

And even before Rod Price passed away, we were really getting along quite well. In the back of my mind I thought maybe we could do a blues record with him, but then he passed away.

Savoy Brown has served as a sort of springboard for musicians to jump to other bands, like Peter Green to Fleetwood Mac, Andy Pyle to the Kinks, Stan Webb to Chicken Shack, Paul Raymond to UFO, and of course the Foghat connection. Ever think about doing a Savoy Brown All-Stars Reunion?

There are simply so many ghosts in the closet and so much water under the bridge that it would be very difficult, I think, both for me and the other guys. Some of them didn’t leave on very good terms, and others did. It’s not a bad idea, and it has crossed my mind. For me, it all comes down to how it feels artistically. I’m not very interested in the commercial possibility of things. I’m presented with good ideas all the time, but nothing really ever appeals to me on that level. It’s all about reconnecting, and for me it would have been about reconnecting with people like Rod [Price] and Lonesome Dave [Preverett] and other people like that. If you reconnect like that you have to do it for the right reasons.

You’ve talked about some “missing” parts of the London scene in the mid-1960s. Ever think about writing your memoirs, focusing on that time period and telling your side of the story?

You know, I’ve followed all the books and movies that have come out about that time period and, like most other historical accounts, some things have been left out. And one of the things that has been left out when you talk about the mid-1960s blues scene in south London – not the British Invasion of the Beatles and the Stones, only the south London blues scene – is the story surrounding Savoy Brown and the club that we formed in south London during that time. We brought in musicians like Lonesome Dave [Preverett], Rod Price, Duster Bennett, Joanne Kelly, Christine McVie, Mike Vernon, and many other blues musicians and producers that came within our sphere of that south London scene. None of these people are ever mentioned, so I think at some point it is going to be necessary to write something from my viewpoint. Naturally we graduate towards Eric Clapton and John Mayall , but there is so much more to the story, in various parts and pieces, that I could put together that would give the whole story an entirely new perspective. I really don’t know if I ever will, though. I mean, it is fun talking like this, and I would like to someday maybe write my own memoirs, but I still feel like moving forward. I’ve got my new CD coming out next week, and it’s very fresh and creative. The time is just not quite right yet.

Tell us a bit about your latest solo CD, Out of the Blue.

It’s my best acoustic record to date. I’ve definitely pushed the envelope a little bit. It will be out on Oct. 7, 2008, and I’ve been working on it for a couple of years. I have my own stand-alone studio here on my property, so I can go to my own studio and sometimes I just jam away on some blues stuff, or some acoustic stuff, depending on the mood I’m in. In the course of practicing, I’m always trying to zoom in and write some new material. I usually write batches of songs and then go back and see which ones stick, then I go back and write another batch of songs and do the same thing. Then bit by bit, over a period of time, I’ll get a really good grouping of songs that stand all by themselves.

On the new record I used an old Gibson Blues King for almost all the tracks. It’s a nice, comfortable guitar, and it sounds great. It sparked something in my mind. I was sort of experimenting on this record, and it surprised me so I went with it.

Your use of Gibson has been well documented. What role have they played in your career?

They’ve played a massive role in everything I’ve done. My very first Gibson was a Les Paul model double cutaway from the early 1960s. It’s actually called an SG today, but back then it was called simply a Les Paul. Then everybody started using the Les Paul Standard when Eric Clapton was using them with the Bluesbreakers. I would go and see all of Eric’s shows, and all of Mayall’s shows, and I’d be standing in an audience filled with nothing but future guitar players. Robert Fripp would be on one side of you, and Jimmy Page would be on the other side. Everybody was in awe of Eric.

I thought to myself, ‘How do I compete with these people?’ So I started looking for a Gibson guitar that was different, and one day I walked into a store in London and there was a Flying V there. It was only the second or third one in England. Of course, I’d seen photos of Albert King and Lonnie Mack using the Flying V, and I thought maybe I could use the Flying V and get my own sound. So I went up to the sales person inside the store and was told that Peter Green wanted the guitar and had gone home to get some money to pay for it. I asked him if he’d put any money down, and the guy said no. So I simply bought the guitar from under Peter and walked home with my new Flying V. It became my signature guitar.

Do you still have that original Flying V?

Are you kidding? As things got serious, something happened and that guitar started to haunt me. There was a time when I just lost all my chops and I really couldn’t play. So the guitar had to go, and I don’t really remember the circumstances surrounding it. Then one day this guy comes up to me at a gig and asked me if the guitar he had was my original guitar, and I told him it was. But he wanted way too much money for it. Recently, I’ve heard that a Japanese collector now has it. But I’ve since moved on, even though there is something about me and the Flying V. So over the course of time I’ve purchased several more Flying Vs, and that same connection is always still there. It’s really been with me all my life. If I play the Flying V, a very, very aggressive person comes out. It’s a very emotional instrument for me. The shape of the instrument, the way it hangs on me, the sound that comes out, everything about it just triggers all this stuff and I play a certain way with it.

What other Gibsons have you owned?

When we first came over to the states, Lonesome Dave and myself were in Minneapolis and we had a day off. We went to a pawn shop and we bought three Les Pauls, two of them were Juniors – $25 for one, and $50 for the other. So the Les Paul Junior that everyone always saw Lonesome Dave playing with Foghat was the one he bought for $25 that day!  I also remember buying a korina Flying V during that trip, but I just couldn’t play it. It was too big and bulky. I’m a small guy and I need a small neck, so I wasn’t really interested in that guitar. But I remember picking up some great Gibson guitars along the way, and all for under $300, whether it was the 335s, the 355s, and so on. It was a wonderful time.

For a while there I switched to an ES-355 and that was my guitar for a long period of time. But right now I play the Les Paul Standard, which is probably one of the best all-around guitars of all-time. I know it’s going to work no matter what I play. If I play jazz with it, it responds. If I play rock and roll, it’s going to respond. If I want to play the blues, it’s going to respond. It’s a wonderful all-around guitar. I’ve experimented with dozens of Gibson models over the years. Sometimes I think it’s amazing that at my age I’m still playing the same equipment I was playing when I started out as a kid. It’s just great.