I arrived at Fitzgerald’s in the Chicago area, an hour before the set, on a cold February evening. A friendly, casually dressed guy offered me a seat at one of the long wooden tables and, once his two friends filed in, they combined forces to recollect their favourite Savoy Brown albums, specific songs and concerts. Their memories were recanted with exact times, dates and local colour, broadcast brazenly; much like the local sports announcer during the Superbowl.

I mean, they were bragging in that infectious way that men, that have been life-long friends, love to do. It was clear that they were loyal, avid fans and were thrilled to see their idols, which had broken new conceptual ground in the 60s with gritty, blues-rock riffs.

Kim Simmonds is the only remaining member of Savoy Brown; the band has survived numerous line-ups. Several members went off to become Foghat. Some left because touring just became too arduous or they wanted to rediscover their personal musical interests. Sadly, others are no longer with us due to unexpected death.

Originally from the UK, the soft-spoken guitarist makes his home in central New York. Ironically, it took a group like Savoy Brown to reintroduce the Chicago-style music, which launched an international blues scene. He beams when he talks about making music with Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters. Before this impromptu segue, he is positively lost in the moment; etching out deep and lustful melodies on his oddly shaped electric V5.

The current line up is comprised of New Yorkers, Joe Whiting (sax and lead vocals), Pat De Salvo (bass) and Garnett Grimm (drums). When asked about the quartet, and previous singers that Savoy Brown lauded, Simmonds replies, “Dave Walker did really well with the material I was writing in the 70s. Joe Whiting is a great singer and is able to do songs from the past convincibly as well as write his own material and does a terrific job on my songs, too. The current line up are all musicians from around where I live, people I’ve known for years. It enables me to rehearse more.”

Whiting has a multi-octave range and an infectious enthusiasm for performing; it becomes impossible to stay seated when he launches into Willie Dixon’s ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ and when he literally conducts the interactive ‘Little Red Rooster’ the audience responds like kids running wild in a penny candy store.

How does a band shape a Muddy Waters classic? “You take ideas from all around you, what other people are doing, what other albums sound like. You then add your own character to the piece and one ends up with an original arrangement.”

The unmistakable riff that leads into ‘Street Corner Talking’ inspires clinks of beer bottles and nods of acknowledgement. A guy in an oversized leather jacket leaps to the stage and pulls random album covers over to the stage area. The band plays and the leather-dressed man punctuates specific songs from the set list; shoving the vintage, cardboard covers inches from the stage.

Simmonds cracks a smile; it’s clear the fan won’t leave until he’s been acknowledged. He discloses later that he is also a fan and that even if he met Mick Jagger, and they were to become friends, he would still be a fan. He understands. And, yet, Simmonds discloses that sometimes a fan “will try to direct his set” and be distracting. He thinks of his solo work as almost a “mantra.” It’s hard to perform, get lost in the music and still connect with the fans, at times. He looks out and sees “thousands of faces” at times, but still he understands what his music means to them.

“Lonesome Dave” Preverett was once a Savoy Brown member. Simmonds remembers him as a great friend and collaborator and his solo works include songs dedicated to his colleague. “Dave was such a blues music lover that I couldn’t help but be guided with his taste. We wrote some nice songs together. I liked working with Nathaniel Peterson in the 90s and Paul Raymond in the 70s,” he adds, citing other successful alliances.

Simmonds last solo album, 'Out of the Blue'(2008), was deeply personal and acoustic. The songwriting was confessional. “If you want to get to know me, listen to that,” he exclaims, citing the entire work. Yet, as far as the most reflective on this raw, emotional masterstoke, he specifies, “‘Careless Lover’ says it all.”

His solo works, as opposed to the Savoy Brown projects, such as the soon-to-be released 'Voodoo Moon' must include the virtuosity of all the members.

Tracing the plentiful Savoy Brown discography, a lyrical pattern emerges. ‘Honey Bee’ says this: “I’m all alone, adrift at sea.” There’s the vulnerability of ‘Lost and Lonely Child’ but, on 'Out of the Blue', there is a strong degree of confidence.

“I have grown and matured…I think! And, of course, the music does reflect that,” surmises the reflective artist.

'Raw Sienna' was celebrated as one of the band’s most explorative recordings. One cut, ‘Needle and Spoon’ stood out. A fan online describes it as “descriptive, not prescriptive.”

“If you’re married you can divorce your wife, but if you’re married to "H” then you’re married for life,” intoned the former Savoy Brown vocalist, Chris Youlden.

Savoy Brown did not perform the song this evening, but Simmonds, who calls it “bohemian”, thinks it was one of their great selections. It’s beat poetry sans bongos. Simmonds claims that most of his fans and peers that once engaged in drugs have moved on. He emphasizes, too, that while the initial verses describe the addiction, the last verse serves as a moral, and for that reason, he’s happy to include it still in the current repertoire. “It was an anti-drug song, per the warning in the last verse. One of Chris Youlden’s best. I like the song a lot and I’m proud of the guitar solo.”

Simmonds loves the United States and can’t imagine why anyone would not want to live here. One of his other pursuits, an interest in art, has kept him busy for more than a decade. Currently a series of his oil and acrylic paintings appear at New York’s Maresella Gallery.

They are listed under "Contemporary American Artists." 'Db Tango' is of a blood red guitar. Haphazard whirrs of tainted blue comprise the background. Another painting of a more serene acoustic instrument is called 'Shuffle in E'.

“Do you see colours when you perform solo?" I ask. “It’s kind of meditation. Everything else, but the solo, is put out of my mind,” he explains, adding that actually meditating doesn’t work for him, but that playing is his “mantra.” Isn’t it odd that you are from Wales, but you’re part of an American series?” I prod.

Simmonds says that he sees the States as a place where one can creatively accomplish anything. “I’m an American artist in that the work has all been made in this country and I’ve lived here now for many, many years. I’m more American than British at this point…maybe!” Simmonds claims that American life “has made me a better musician and person.”

He’s happy to make his home in central New York; not exactly in the midst of urban upheaval, but close enough to experience the pulse of the city. But, though he does feel his creativity gets fully explored by both playing electric guitar and painting, he doesn’t visualize colours; instead he finds each medium takes his mind to different places, though the process is similar.

Simmonds lists his older brother Harry, who once served as manager, as one of his greatest influences and mentors. But, he also sees other contemporary guitarists, such as Joe Bonamassa, as a necessary quotient for keeping “blues-rock” alive. The introspective guitarist/songwriter feels that Savoy Brown should have made it on more of the “best of” lists, but perhaps they just “weren’t sexy enough.” Simmonds muses that other groups like Led Zeppelin and the Who became much more famous than Savoy Brown, but that he was never about “self-promotion.” He is quick to add, however, that those groups deserved their success; but it wasn’t a huge part of his plan.

A band’s destiny and level of success are unpredictable. “It’s like a school yard. There are bullies; some people are cool and some aren’t,” he says, matter of factly. Simmonds claims that most “defining moments” can be traced back to one’s earliest experiences. Although he remembers distinctly his coming of age dreams and wishes, he currently has no plans to write his memoirs and finds most historical narrative in rock autobiographies boring unless it centres around the artists’ creative process. Still, he wistfully states, “I’d start where I was born, Wales, and of the events that formed me as a child.”

Tonight, the band has played more than two solid hours straight. ‘Voodoo Moon’ is contemplative; a simmering teaser for what lies next for this summer release. The title song is not as riff-oriented as the traditional blues-rock fare the band generally performs: “I’m trying to get a little more into the lyrics to reflect the age I am in life and the experiences I have been through,” says Simmonds.

'Tell Mama' is explosive as is the medley which starts with the ‘Savoy Boogie.’ Pat De Salvo switches to a mini-bass, at one point, that looks like it was constructed from his grandfather’s antique armoire; it’s closer in size to a ukulele than a bass, but packs immense sound. Whiting belts out feverish, flamboyant rockabilly vis a vis Jerry Lee Lewis. If metal heads were here, there would be some exceptional head banging. Instead, Whiting, after projecting the mic into the sea of fascinated faces, takes delight in trading licks with the crowd.

Simmonds is back; entranced in his semi-private orbit; his meteoric fingers begging attention that only his space rocket- shaped guitar can fulfill.

After several encores, and standing ovations, the band greets the audience. As the line thins, one rather shy man approaches Simmonds. He claims to have walked a mile in the freezing cold to see his idols. His cheeks are no longer rosy and his breath is controlled. All he really wants, at this point, is an autograph. Simmonds seems grateful that this admirer has found his way here tonight. He gives no impression, nor do the other players, that they’re in a hurry, that they’re ready to call it a night, although a few misguided beads of sweat state otherwise.”If I wasn’t a professional musician, I’d be just like them, following the bands I like and dragging my album collection around.”

I ask Simmonds to pin point the kind of songwriting the fans should expect in 'Voodoo Moon'. It’s already clear that his artistic agenda includes keeping his favorite music alive for posterity. “I hope Voodoo Moon will be an excellent collection of blues-rock songs that communicate and touch people, and, in a small way, I hope it inspires younger musicians to carry on playing this music form.”

The trio of men, whose whispered conversation could still be heard as each song played, agreed that Savoy Brown served up the best live performance they’ve yet seen. They compared Whiting’s versatile style to jazz crooners such as Mel Torme. Although they had experienced a myriad of lineups, they were quite satisfied with this one.

Still, the three wise men are wondering why Savoy Brown won’t be playing next time, at a huge arena. But, tonight, the homespun atmosphere of this out-of-the way suburban treasure, definitely made cultural history.

Photos by Jim Summaria at www.jimsummariaphoto.com.

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