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Savoy Brown

+ {Savoy Brown – Kim Simmonds}

Held together by Welsh-born guitar hero Kim Simmonds, British blues institution SAVOY BROWN – having now surpassed 50 years in the biz – were short on sales in their homeland, but a top-rated 70s export to the USA. And though dogged by a myriad of personnel comings and goings that even fostered CHICKEN SHACK renegades (including leader Stan Webb a little later), nothing could stop SAVOY BROWN’s “Hellbound Train” from going off the rails from time to time.
Founded in October 1965, in London, England, as SAVOY BROWN BLUES BAND, aforesaid guitarist Kim Simmonds surrounded himself with like-minded blues musos, such as singer
Brice Portius, bassist Ray Chappell, keyboardist Trevor Jeavons (who was superseded by ex-GROUNDHOGS studio auxiliary Bob Hall), drummer Leo Mannings and mouth organist John O’Leary. This sextet featured on an early single, `I Tried’ (on Mike Vernon’s Purdah label), before a second guitarist, Martin Stone, joined in place of O’Leary; the dextrous Simmonds doubled on harmonica and keys.
The reshaped boogie/blues outfit obtained a deal with Decca Records for their debut album, SHAKE DOWN (1967) {*6}. All but Stone’s `The Doormouse Rides The Rails’ and a re-arranged `Shake ‘Em On Down’, the set featured blues staples from WILLIE DIXON, JESSIE MAE ROBINSON, Deadric Malone and all the “Kings” in the pack, FREDDIE, ALBERT and B.B.
However it would be an altogether different SAVOY BROWN, in terms of personnel, that featured on sophomore set, GETTING TO THE POINT (1968) {*7}; only Hall managed to escape the winnow of Simmonds, as a new broom swept clean by way of idiosyncratic singer Chris Youlden (for Portius), guitarist “Lonesome” Dave Peverett (for Stone, who joined MIGHTY BABY), bassist Rivers Jobe (who superseded SUNFLOWER BLUES BAND’s Bob Brunning) and drummer Roger Earl (for all-too-brief Bill Bruford).
In Youlden, the Savoys had a striking front man and songsmith who donned a bowler hat and a monocle. The album itself wasn’t much to write home about, though home-grown cuts `Flood In Houston’, `Stay With Me Baby’ and `Mr. Downchild’, outweighed some MUDDY WATERS, WILLIE DIXON and trad re-treads.
This incarnation of the band began sessions for 1969’s BLUE MATTER {*8}, but Jobe was replaced by Tony “Tone” Stevens by the time of its release. Led by SAVOY BROWN’s best song so far (possibly ever), `Train To Nowhere’, the half-studio/half-live set featured no less than three covers:- JOHN LEE HOOKER’s `Don’t Turn Me From Your Door’, MUDDY WATERS’ `Louisiana Blues’ and Mel London’s `It Hurts Me Too’; four if one counted Titus Turner’s `Grits Ain’t Groceries (All Around The World)’, an exclusive 45 that later appeared on the CD re-master.
SAVOY BROWN’s American Top 75 breakthrough set, A STEP FURTHER (1969) {*7}, yielded five homegrown tracks on Side One (including Youlden’s `Make Up My Mind’ and the excellent `I’m Tired’ minor hit), flipped with five live side-long classic-rock medley pieces under the banner of `Savoy Brown Boogie’, featuring `Feels So Good’, `Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’, `Little Queenie’, `Purple Haze’ and `Hernando’s Hideaway’.
1970’s RAW SIENNA {*8} was another near outstanding set that went unnoticed in Britain after bubbling under the Top 100 Stateside. If one can imagine GEORGE FAME (or even ROGER CHAPMAN) turning in a performance for SANTANA, then opening cut `A Hard Way To Go’ might float one’s boat. Employing a brass-laden jazz backdrop to fuse with the lead licks of Simmonds, Youlden had his work cut out to shout over best numbers, `Needle And Spoon’ and `A Little More Wine’.
Youlden’s ill-judged decision to go solo backfired somewhat when Peverett stood up to the plate for LOOKING IN (1970) {*7}; a record that not only cracked the US Top 50, but that of the British equivalent; their only LP to make this grade. Simmonds sharp fretwork also had to come into its own, and via stripped-back blues originals `Poor Girl’, `Sunday Night’ and `Money Can’t Save Your Soul’, SAVOY BROWN seemed to have weathered the storm.
That is until the sweeping desertion of Messrs Peverett, Stevens and Earl in order to form FOGHAT, leaving only Capt. Simmonds to pick up the pieces. In a strange turn of events that left rival Stan Webb scratching his head, Simmonds duly roped in CHICKEN SHACK alumni Paul Raymond (keyboards), Andy Silvester (bass) and Dave Bidwell (drums), to accompany soulful singer Dave Walker (ex-IDLE RACE). SAVOY BROWN’s swift and assured return to the US Top 75, STREET CORNER TALKING (1971) {*7} was therefore a slight shock. But by and large, tracks such as `Tell Mama’ and the 10-minute `All I Can Do’, blended well alongside lengthy readings of WILLIE DIXON’s `Wang Dang Doodle’ and Barrett-Whitfield’s `I Can’t Get Next To You’.
Never in the history of rock’n’roll, so far, had one seen so many to-ing and fro-ing in terms of line-up changes, but thankfully 1972’s HELLBOUND TRAIN {*6} had stopped the rot. The band’s blues had taken a shabby chic overhaul in the process, so if `Doin’ Fine’ and `Troubled By These Days And Times’ were simply horizontal, maybe the quintet wanted to save their best ‘til last vis-a-vis the 9-minute title track.
An earlier guest, bassist Andy Pyle (ex-JUICY LUCY, ex-BLODWYN PIG), was given his opportunity to shine on LION’S SHARE (1972) {*5}, however roaring sales had abandoned them on this occasion. Bookended by adopting HAFFY’S WHISKEY SOUR’s `Shot In The Head’ and LITTLE WALTER’s `Hate To See You Go’; and HOWLIN’ WOLF’s `Howling For My Darling’ somewhere down the middle, SAVOY BROWN were becoming increasingly less interesting.
Walker was duly poached by an undulating FLEETWOOD MAC for the rather average JACK THE TOAD (1973) {*5}, whilst Jackie Lynton was installed as the band’s next frontman; JUICY LUCY’s Ron Berg filled the berth of the departing Bidwell. Songsmith Lynton could we’ll been an aural ringer for KEVIN COYNE, ROGER CHAPMAN, or even ALEX HARVEY, but he was least effective on renditions of JOEY REYNOLDS’ `Endless Sleep’ and Alvin Johnson’s `Casting My Spell’.
Deciding to stretch the boundaries of his blues limits, main man Kim was once again left holding the baby, only this time it was the axeman that had wielded the chopper, so to speak. Plucking fellow guitarists/singers Stan Webb (from the aborted CHICKEN SHACK) and Miller Anderson (ex-KEEF HARTLEY BAND); bassist Jimmy Leverton and drummer Eric Dillon cruised in also, BOOGIE BROTHERS (1974) {*6} was something of a supergroup effort. With only one solitary cover version; BO DIDDLEY’s `You Don’t Love Me (You Don’t Care)’, the set’s highlights rolled in via `Highway Blues’ and the country-tinged `Me And The Preacher’.
After a brief break-up when Webb re-formed CHICKEN SHACK and Anderson joined T. REX, the multi-interchangeable SAVOY BROWN re-ignited with 1975’s WIRE FIRE {*4}. Simmonds and a returning Paul Raymond had enlisted bassist Andy Rae and drummer Tommy Farnell (ex-FAIRPORT CONVENTION), but the damp squib didn’t even warrant a UK release. It was the least of Simmonds’ worries; he’d settled in America taking on arduous tours with his flexible group; note that Ian Ellis (ex-CLOUDS) superseded Rae.
Just for the record, HANK BALLARD’s `She’s The One’ propped up a weak and anaemic SKIN ‘N’ BONE (1976) {*3}; and after the drop of SAVOY BROWN’s SAVAGE RETURN (1978) {*3}, Paul Raymond jumped ship to join UFO.
A fresh decade revealed a fresh set of faces for the harder-edged Capitol Records-endorsed ROCK’N’ROLL WARRIORS (1981) {*5}. Singer Ralph Mormon (ex-JOE PERRY PROJECT) had added that edge, whilst guitarist Barry Paul, bassist John Humphrey and drummer Keith Boyce certainly looked the part of leather-clad gunslingers. Then again, it was indeed a nigh-on impossible task to rivet metal studs on to a SMOKIE track (`Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone’), but there was recompense in other covers by way of MEMPHIS SLIM’s `Cold Hearted Woman’ and RAINBOW’s `Bad Girls (Make Me Feel Good)’.
SAVOY BROWN looked to be changing lanes once again when out of the blue `Run To Me’ climbed into the Hot 100, spurring on an obligatory GREATEST HITS LIVE IN CONCERT (1981) {*6} album that allowed newbie fans to catch up.
A long hiatus ensued before Simmonds and Co (Speedo Jones on vocals/harmonica, and Chris Romanelli on bass) jumped back on the rail tracks with SLOW TRAIN (1986) {*5}. Described as “an Album of Acoustic Music”, the trio offered little in the way of originality, but plenty of bite on several cover cuts from past blues generals like SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON, WILLIE DIXON, LIGHTNIN’ HOPKINS and ROBERT JOHNSON.
Simmonds returned to the studio with singer Dave Walker, bassist Jim Dagnesi and drummer Al Macomber for two sets on GNP Crescendo Records: MAKE ME SWEAT (1988) {*4} and KINGS OF BOOGIE (1989) {*4}. Neither represented anything like their imperious selves from a long-gone yesteryear. Ditto a croaky Walker on LIVE AND KICKIN’ (1990) {*5}, a record that introduced another round of revolving-door recruits in keyboardist Rick Jewett, bassist Lou Kaplan and drummer Pete Mendillo.
By 1992’s LET IT RIDE {*5}, SAVOY BROWN had not only lost Kaplan and Mendillo, but their respective replacements Loren Kraft and Steve Behrendt; Andy Ramirez and Joe Pierleoni filled their vacant berths forthwith. Featuring two frontmen Pete McMahon (also harmonica) and Phil McCormack (plus one-off guest Joe Whiting) to compensate Walker’s departure, going through the motions best described Simmonds back-to-basics boogie and obligatory re-treads: this time through BILL WITHERS’ `Ain’t No Sunshine’, WILLIE DIXON’s `Don’t Tell Me Nothing’ and Ed Zacholl’s `Nothing But The Blues’.
One could always guarantee something happening before an impending release, and the co-credited SAVOY BROWN – KIM SIMMONDS album BRING IT HOME (1994) {*6} was no exception. Co-scribe Pete McMahon had stuck around whilst rhythm section Jim Heyl and Dave Olson had found their feet. The inspired inclusion of both Dave Peverett and HUBERT SUMLIN as guest guitarists was a mighty astute idea, an idea that perked up the main man’s formulaic originals-versus-covers ethos from PERCY MAYFIELD, JOHN LEE HOOKER, WILLIE DIXON and Gonzalez Chandler.
Subsequently sandwiched between a couple of SIMMONDS’ acoustic solo sets, `Solitaire’ (1997) and `Blues Like Midnight’ (2001), the indestructible SAVOY BROWN kept up its own momentum with the dispatch of THE BLUES KEEP ME HOLDING ON (1999) {*6}. In the aforesaid interim, Simmonds had managed to hire a new band in Nathaniel Peterson (bass) and Tom Compton (drums). From Kim’s homegrown `Going Down To Mobile’ and other takes of WILLIE DIXON’s `Little Red Rooster’ and `That’s All I Want Baby’, blues aficionados would be impressed if no one else was; just how versions were there over time immemorial.
Reliable as ever; and taking in guitarist Gerry Sorrentino, bassist David Malachowski and sticksman Dennis Cotton, the effervescent Kim and SAVOY BROWN inked a deal at Blind Pig Records for STRANGE DREAMS (2003) {*6}. With no less than nine originals and only one cover by way of BLIND BOY FULLER’s `Meat Shaking Woman’, there was much to sink one’s teeth into here as Kim found a voice not too dissimilar to that of J.J. CALE or MARK KNOPFLER on best bits, `When It Rains’, `Keep On Rollin’ and `Shake It All Night’.
Once again there was a pattern emerging, and squeezed between KIM SIMMONDS solo sets, `Struck By Lightning’ (2004) and `Out Of The Blue’ (2008), arrived the “Savoy Brown featuring Kim Simmonds” album, YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE! (2005) *6}; recorded live at the Yale, Vancouver, February 23, 2003 and featuring long, long, long versions of `Poor Girl’, `Blues Like Midnight’, `Street Corner Talking’ and `Hellbound Train’.
2008’s STEEL {*6} introduced drummer Mario Staiano (to replace Malachowski), whilst Simmonds subsequently kept the ball a-rolling via VOODOO MOON (2011) {*6}. For the latter swamp-rock SAVOY BROWN set, he added Pat De Salvo (bass), Garnet Grimm (drums) and a full upgrade for aforementioned former guest singer, Joe Whiting.
SONGS FROM THE ROAD (2013) {*6} – cut live at the Musiktheater Piano in Dortmund, Germany, 5th May 2012 – ended Whiting’s worthy tenure with the combo, before “Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown” unveiled the gutsy GOIN’ TO THE DELTA (2014) {*6}.
Germany’s Ruf Records (or Panache in America) were also fully behind THE DEVIL TO PAY (2015) {*6}, STILL LIVE AFTER 50 YEARS Volume 1 (2015) {*6}; recorded live at the Palace Theatre, Syracuse, April 12, 2014, WITCHY FEELIN’ (2017) {*6} and STILL LIVE AFTER 50 YEARS Volume 2 (2017) {*6}.
The long-serving SAVOY BROWN – i.e. Simmonds, DeSalvo and Grimm – had yet another stab at re-creating the blues via 2019’s CITY NIGHT {*7}. Issued on Quarto Valley Records, it marked their 40th album release, a milestone that not even ERIC CLAPTON or The ROLLING STONES could match. From the splendidly cool `Walking On Hot Stones’ and `Don’t Hang Me Out To Dry’, to `Superstitious Woman’ and `Ain’t Gonna Worry’, blues fans on both sides of the tide could bow down to Kim’s majesty.
© MC Strong 1994-1998/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2019

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