Savoy Brown | Ain’t Done Yet | (Quarto Valley Records)
Four out of five stars
Longevity is often a rarity in the fickle world of rock, but when it comes to the blues, it’s never considered out of the ordinary. Most of the great blues artists of the last half century — be it B.B. King, Buddy Guy, John Mayall or Delbert McClinton are known for making music into their 80s or beyond, proving that their prowess doesn’t diminish with age, and in fact, often becomes more definitive and defined.
That longevity often applies to bands as well. Savoy Brown remains at the top rungs of essential British blues bands that kicked off their careers in the mid ‘60s and continue to records eventoday. Formed in 1965, at the height of the British blues boom, by founding member and continuing constant Kim Simmonds, some version of the band has kept the brand active ever since. Indeed, Simmonds drive and determination have ensured that Savoy Brown is not only an iconic institution, but a viable one as well.
The band’s new album, aptly titled Ain’t Done Yet, is, as its name implies, an apt example of the fire and determination that drives Simmonds and his colleagues for the past ten years, bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm. “Their tenure with Savoy Brown has exceeded the length of many of the previous bands,” Simmonds notes. “You always look for ways to enhance the situation, either in a practical way or in a musical way. It’s exciting for the audience and it’s a good way to keep it growing.”
That’s indeed an accurate assessment and in fact, the key to Savoy Brown’s continuing credibility. Fiery and frenetic as always, the new album boasts any number of driving and determined uptempo offerings, among them “All Gone Wrong,” Devil’s Highway,” and, of course the title track as well. The sublime “Feel Like A Gypsy,” the blustery boogie of “Jaguar Car,” the swampy slide guitar that reverberates through “Rocking in Louisiana,” and the assertive strut that drives “Soho Girl” prove that even more than half century on, Simmonds is still finding ways to diversify and distinguish his sound without succumbing to any needless repetition.
“It’s really, really difficult to diversify the blues,” Simmonds suggests. “At one point, I really wondered what else I could do. But I was wrong to think that way. It’s infinite, a totally infinite thing. Inspiration comes and you find it. It’s like playing guitar. You find a new way of playing the same thing. You do it in a different way, and you bring that human element into it. At the same time though, it can be very, very hard. So I have to put myself in that zone all the time so that my senses will pick up on some inspiration. That’s how I do it. Of course there are weeks where you just let it all go. But then your ears get pricked up, your senses get tuned and it’s almost out of this world. You re-assimilate what you’ve already heard.”
Simmonds says that it’s that sudden surge of recognition and realization that allows him to reimagine a familiar melody and then reshape it in such a way to make it something entirely original. “Oftentimes, I sit down and listen to a song, and much later I’ll come up with another song entirely. You may suddenly realize it’s the title of one of someone else’s song, but subliminally, it’s not their song at all. You have to do a lot of listening. That’s where you get your inspiration. Some of it comes from the netherworld or what have you, and a lot of it is very practical. You listen to it and then you assimilate it in your own way. So a lot of it is the inspiration you get from other musicians.
He cites one song in particular, the aforementioned “Soho Girl” on the new album. “I’ve done probably fifteen versions of ‘Soho Girl’,” he allows. “Originally it was in three-four waltz time. You change the lyrics and try it another way until suddenly you get the song. Then you think, yeah, this is pretty good. I can live with this. It has elements from the previous version. But then you might suddenly you look back and think, ‘How did I get there?’ It requires that kind of attention.”
Indeed, Simmonds says that he devotes several hours a day to writing new material and practicing his guitar chops. “I don’t want you or anyone else to think I’m a workaholic, but I do write an awful lot of songs,” he insists. In fact, he leaves little doubt that the regimen he maintains requires an extraordinary amount of focus, clarity and determination.
“Sometimes I wish I could be more casual about it and still write a great song,” he admits. “A lot of people can do that, and they’re probably a lot happier than me. I wake up at three in the morning thinking, ‘Oh I could put that in a verse.’ Luckily, I have a wife who puts up with me. On the other hand a lot of people would die to be in my position, and to be a professional in that regard. I play a little bit of golf, but I could never do what a professional golfer does. They practice hours a day. I might practice for maybe all of fifteen minutes. Still, for me, I think how wonderful it is to spend my time thinking about music. It’s a complete blessing to be able to do this. I have people around me who support me so I can do it. A lot of people would want to do this, and when you’re a professional, you have the ability to do it. It comes with the territory. If you don’t take it seriously, you’re not upholding your privilege.”
If you dig Savoy Brown, their tons of hits or the new music, consider a purchase from their store.