Along with John Mayall, Cream and (to a lesser extent) the Rolling Stones, the band Savoy Brown pioneered British blues rock. Like Mayall, Savoy Brown—perhaps in an effort to constantly evolve and improve—changed personnel often, and did not develop the huge and dedicated fan base achieved by the Stones. Savoy Brown continues to tour, and founder Kim Simmonds now has had the incredible Pat DeSalvo on bass and Garnet Grimm on drums for some six years. Recently the threesome hit Times Squares’ B.B. King’s to release their new album, The Devil To Pay, and proved they’re as good as ever by interspersing the new material with hits culled from the last 50 years of recording, back to back.
Appropriately leading off with the title cut from The Devil To Pay (Ruf Records), the band took off on the delicate stylings of Simmonds’ guitar, then (also appropriately) swung into full-tilt rock and roll in this going-to-the-Delta-themed song. Simmonds then introduced another title cut, “Street Corner Talking” (1971), which holds up particularly well. Apparently the band thinks so, too, because the tune turned into an extended jam, primarily with bassist DeSalvo. Exhilarated after the marathon, Simmonds joked, “That was the concert version.” In general, Tina Turner’s famous line applies to most Savoy Brown songs: “We’re going to start it off nice and easy, and we’re going to finish nice and rough.”
Threesome Savoy Brown puts out a lot of sound, and I’m not referring to volume (medium) or quantity (nearly 40 albums). Simmonds’ guitar work is nothing short of spectacular. From his delicate jazzy side to his balls-to-the-wall blues rock, he plays as clean as Mark Knopfler and as hard as Albert Collins. Bassist DeSalvo and Simmonds have a great thing going: as Simmonds takes off, DeSalvo fills in not just a bass line, but as rhythm guitarist as well, whether playing bass guitar or electric standup bass. Drummer Grimm keeps a wall of sound behind the guitars, never attempting to take over with sheer power—as all good musicians will agree, less is usually more, and knowing when to lay back is critical.
Simmonds, relaxed and friendly, briefly introduced each song by its title and album title, sometimes giving a short description of its inspiration, like “I Grew Up in the Blues,” from the new album, which came from Simmonds’ own childhood in the coal-mining region of Wales. Two guest guitarists, Tony Bullard and Paul Nelson, came up for a couple of songs, adding another dimension to the band toward the end.
The encore, “Savoy Brown Boogie,” is a mashup of “Feel So Good,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Little Queenie,” “Purple Haze,” etc., and includes a fun recital of many renowned musicians, as Simmonds sang, “I got to boogie with Johnny Winter… I got to boogie with Long John Baldry…” and on and on. A fitting bookend to a 50-year run, and the beginning of Year 51 with a new, very impressive album.
– Suzanne Cadgène
Photos by Arnie Goodman