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Savoy Brown

Savoy Brown was a blues-rock monolith who issued more than 40 albums and toured almost constantly (primarily in North America) over six decades. They were founded and led by English guitarist, songwriter, and producer Kim Simmonds in 1965 until his death in 2022; he remained their only constant member, stubbornly adhering to the band’s signature meld of electric Chicago, Delta, and Detroit blues and roadhouse boogie. 1969's Blue Matter (1969) had a hit single with "Train to Nowhere." Due to incessant road work, 1970's Street Corner Talking, 1971's Looking In, and 1972's Hellbound Train all won global attention. Several acclaimed live recordings followed 1981's Rock 'n' Roll Warriors and 1988's Make Me Sweat. 1999's The Blues Keep Me Holding On featured guest guitarist Duke Robillard. 2003’s Strange Dreams appeared on indie Blind Pig. 2011's Voodoo Moon, 2015's The Devil to Pay, and 2017's Witchy Feelin' all appeared on Ruf Records. After signing to Quarto Valley for 2019's City Night and 2020's Ain't Done Yet, the posthumous Blues All Around appeared in 2023. The group was formed in 1965 by guitarist Kim Simmonds and harmonica player John O'Leary; the original lineup included singer Bryce Portius (the only Black blues singer in the entire Brit blues movement), keyboardist Bob Hall, guitarist Martin Stone, bassist Ray Chappell, and drummer Leo Manning. This crew appeared on the band's 1967 debut, Shake Down, a collection of blues covers. Seeking a different approach, Simmonds dissolved that group. He enlisted guitarist/vocalist Dave Peverett, bassist Rivers Jobe (and later Tony Stevens), drummer Roger Earl, and singer Chris Youlden. Youlden was one of the most distinctive frontmen to emerge from the '60s in any genre. Adorned in a bowler hat and monocle, he was deeply schooled in blues, R&B, and jazz; his flexible baritone could effortlessly croon, lament, shout, and roar with soul. This version of Savoy Brown issued some of their most enduring albums including Getting to the Point and 1969's Blue Matter that netted the original hit single "Train to Nowhere." That same year they released the half-live, half-studio classic A Step Further. Youlden left the band in 1970 following Raw Sienna; shortly thereafter, Peverett, Earl, and Stevens departed to form Foghat. Simmonds assembled yet another lineup and began a hectic tour of America, showcasing the group's now-refined bluesy boogie rock style with new lead vocalist Dave Walker. From 1971's Street Corner Talking on, that sound stubbornly dominated their catalog. Walker also fronted the band on the commercially successful Lion's Share and the charting Hellbound Train in 1972. The latter's unusually psychedelic title track became a hit single. Savoy Brown briefly split following 1973's Jack the Toad, but Simmonds re-formed them the following year for Boogie Brothers. In 1975, a new lineup featuring keyboardist/vocalist Paul Raymond issued Wire Fire, the first of three well-received albums from the London label; it was followed by Skin 'n' Bone (1976) and Savage Return (1978). During the '80s Simmonds got philosophical about his band's revolving-door membership. He continued to tour and record. The decade delivered critically important recordings for a number of labels, including Rock 'n' Roll Warriors (1981) and Slow Train (An Album of Acoustic Music) on indie Relix. Make Me Sweat (1988) and Kings of Boogie (1989) appeared on Dave Gruisin's GNP Crescendo label. Following 1990's Live and Kickin', the band signed to Germany's SPV for the studio offering Let It Ride. It featured three alternating lead vocalists, a host of instrumentals, and a fourth lead vocal from Simmonds on the closing track, "Down All the Days." After two world tours -- they spent no less than 12 months traveling back and forth across North America -- Savoy Brown released Bring It Home, confusingly co-billed to the band and Simmonds. While the group toured constantly, they didn't release a studio recording until 1999's The Blues Keep Me Holding On for the European In-Akustik label. Though bassist Nathaniel Petersons handled the lion's share of the album's vocals, Simmonds sang on three tracks. He also enlisted American roots guitarist Duke Robillard as a guest. Following three archival concert offerings -- The Bottom Line Encore Collection, Looking from the Outside: Live '69/'70, and Jack the Toad: Live 1970-1972 -- Savoy Brown returned to the studio in late 2002. They released Strange Dreams on American blues indie Blind Pig in 2003. That year Castle Music, with assistance from former Savoy Brown producer Neil Slaven, issued the seminal archival concert document Hellbound Train, Live 1969-1972. In 2004, the live You Should Have Been There! was also confusingly billed to Savoy Brown featuring Kim Simmonds. 2007's Steel marked the band's first album to feature Simmonds as lead vocalist throughout. Savoy Brown signed to Germany's vaunted roots label Ruf Records for 2011's Voodoo Moon. The nine-song set was produced and engineered by Simmonds. He sang on only two songs, with the rest delivered by saxophonist Joe Whiting. The live Songs from the Road appeared in 2013, followed by the studio offerings Goin' to the Delta in 2013 and The Devil to Pay in 2015. In 2017, the band returned for their final label outing, Witchy Feelin', it hit number one on the Billboard Blues Albums chart. Buoyed by that success, Simmonds and Savoy Brown returned with the group's 40th career studio album, Ain't Done Yet, in 2020; the concert outing Taking the Blues Back Home arrived later that year. Leader and founder Kim Simmonds was diagnosed with a rare form of colon cancer in 2021. He died on December 13, 2022, while in treatment at the age of 75. While undergoing chemo, Simmonds temporarily lost feeling in his hands and fingers, yet managed to begin and complete a final album. On Blues All Around, Simmonds not only played guitar and sang lead, but also played piano and organ and produced the date. It appeared in February 2023 from Quarto Valley Records.
© Thom Jurek & Steve Huey /TiVo


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