Anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of blues-rock will appreciate that’s no small statement. Rewind to 1965, and Kim was a lynchpin of perhaps the most exciting scene in history, establishing Savoy Brown in the first wave of British blues boomers, signing to Decca, opening for Cream’s first London show and being namedropped in the same breath as peers like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix (with whom he jammed). Even then, the guitarist was emerging as the band’s driving force. “I had a vision,” he says. “And the exciting thing now is, that vision is still alive.”
Soon enough, Savoy Brown had achieved what most British bands never did – success in America – and became a major Stateside draw thanks to their high-energy material and tireless work ethic. “There’s way too much said about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” Kim told Classic Rock magazine in 2008. “It’s such a cliché. We were all extremely hard-working guys. When we came over to America, we were like a little army. I look at that time as being filled with incredible talent.”
Times changed, of course, and by 1979, Simmonds had moved from a London he no longer recognised – “The punks were everywhere!” – to settle permanently in New York. The Savoy Brown band members came and went, and the music scene shifted around him, but the guitarist stuck thrillingly to his guns and reaped the rewards, performing in iconic venues like Carnegie Hall and the Fillmore East and West, releasing more than 30 albums, and later enjoying a well-deserved induction into Hollywood’s Rock Walk Of Fame.
Kim Simmonds’ career is sprawling and eclectic, but every move he’s made has always been underpinned by his deep love for the blues. His latest music continues to bring that passion to the surface, channeling the classic vibe of the US blues masters through Kim’s modern worldview to create a musical statement that is both fresh and familiar.
“One of the longest, continuously running, blues/rock bands in the world today.”
Released on Ruf Records in 2015 – and marking Savoy Brown’s 50th year as pack-leaders of the British blues scene – The Devil To Pay was born during a white-knuckle burst of inspiration. “We recorded the album in April 2015 at SubCat Studios in Syracuse, New York,” reflects Kim. “I record very fast, within two or three days, and most of the work is done in a single day.
While too many of Kim’s peers fall back on creative autopilot in the modern age, this latest album is testament to a questing writer, with endless gas in the tank and a talent for pulling old genres in bold new directions. “Ain’t Got Nobody” opens the set with an aching lament from the bandleader’s lone electric guitar. The barrelling “Bad Weather Brewing” and “Grew Up In The Blues” raise the temperature, while the buoyant bounce of “Oh Rosa” finds Kim’s inimitable fretwork jousting with lusty harp.
Throughout, from the finger-twist instrumental “Snakin’” to the shuffle-powered “Watch My Woman”, Kim’s enduring love-affair with the blues is writ large. “Certainly, the Chicago blues style and the artists I grew up with as a teenager are a primary influence,” he notes. “My heart still jumps when I hear good Chicago blues.”
Kim is one of the few lyric-writers to invest the traditional themes of the blues with modern wit and wisdom. On The Devil To Pay, his pen is every bit as mighty as his plectrum, addressing everything from the bleary repentance of a hangover on “I’ve Been Drinking” to the reprimand issued to a cheating woman on “Stop Throwing Your Love Around”.
“Blues songs are mostly about your feelings,” explains Kim. “Love, loneliness, happiness, despair and so forth. All these emotions are somewhere in the songs on the new album. The song ‘The Devil To Pay’ is about having to pay for doing wrong in the past. ‘Bad Weather Brewing’ is about the feeling that something bad is going to happen in your life. ‘Grew Up In The Blues’ is about someone not having it easy when they were young.” With songs that strong, The Devil To Pay is set to continue the upward march of Savoy Brown’s acclaimed recent releases, 2011’s Voodoo Moon and 2014’s Goin’ To The Delta. “I’d like people to say it's better than the last studio album,” says Kim. “I’m pleased with it. There’s always things you would do different, but that’s just the way creating something goes. I think it’s an album that continues to connect the circle from the band’s beginnings to now.
“The band’s style has evolved in many directions, whilst always keeping the blues as its root,” says Kim of the Savoy Brown back catalogue. “Now we’ve come full circle. The songs and playing on this album are straightforward in focus and as basic as blues should be.”
Like the women, plenty of musicians have flowed through the Savoy Brown lineup over the years, but after the stellar contribution of Pat DeSalvo (bass) and Garnet Grimm (drums) to Songs From The Road, it was a no-brainer to assemble that same rhythm section at Subcat Studios, Syracuse, New York. “The band on this album gets to show what great blues musicians they are,” says Kim, “Playing tunes right in their wheelhouse. Through the changing years, my guitar playing has stayed the same, though many say I’m playing guitar better than I did in the ’60s.”