One senses a bit of rancor when talk turns to the local blues and rock circuit. While Simo and Dirty Pool have been able to generate substantial profits outside of town, there are not enough lucrative gigs locally to keep the family business comfortably in the black. As a result, the band plays Prescott, Flagstaff and Cave Creek on a regular basis, but will only take occasional Scottsdale or Tempe gigs.
"There are some really good blues acts in this town and some that aren't quite up to par that'll play for $200 and ruin it for all the good bands that are trying to make a living," gripes Simo. "Club owners will book them 'cause they save money on bands that wouldn't even cut the mustard in a town like Austin. There you have one area, Sixth Street, where people can go every night of the week and there's 12 clubs in a row with unbelievable entertainment, and if they're not unbelievable, they don't get gigs. That's why it's tough to survive in a place like Austin, New York or Chicago and L.A. because if you're not good, you don't get a gig. There's so many places in Phoenix that open and close, they're all over the place."
Simo feels like a stranger in his hometown blues circuit, an estrangement of sorts that could owe to the infrastructure purists still seeing J.D. Simo as a novelty.
"I don't fit into the hard-core blues scene, the if-you're-not-12-bar-you're-not blues' scene," he says. "It's not as open as a town like Austin. There's a pecking order here, but that's true all over. There are millions of bands that try and get into the festivals. You have your set people who are gonna be your headliners. Then there are your co-headliners and your fillers. They all try to get in. Because the blues radios played One Night Stand, we've been blessed with many co-headlining spots in blues festivals."
Yet there's one festival here in Mesa he isn't even invited to.
"You can't go home," is all Simo will say.
There is still a bit of that "prove it to me" segment of the audience that Simo has to address right away, but it's lessened considerably since the gut gravel in his voice that seemed odd coming out of an adolescent seems less jarring coming out of a guy who's now taller than most of his detractors.
"I think people have seen my progression, so there's not as much of that now, the prove it to me' there was then, a very hefty amount of it," he says. "It's tough because of the age thing; you're at almost a disadvantage when people see you because their expectations are extremely high. We have a very diverse crowd. We have kids that are young who come to see me 'cause I'm young. And we have people in their middle ages who love the blues and come to see it. Older people, who saw Hendrix in the day and love that music, jam bands, because we go off on tangents. Jam banders come for that. And the musicians come. That means they're liking you for the right reasons."
Simo is still hungry enough to work for those crumbs of grudging respect. "There are so many people who I've opened for, heroes of mine, that lost that fire. It can be the fact that they've been doing it so long or it's the realization that this is as far as I can go," he opines. "That should keep you motivated. I look at every chance to play as the last time I might get to play." He remembers the Stevie Ray poster in the other room and continues. "Some musician friends that are a little older say, Well, after the first couple of songs, if they're throwing it back to me, I'll say fine. I'll lay back if that's what they want.' I'm not like that. I'm full of piss and vinegar. I'll keep going until you're gone or you're into it. Oh, you didn't get that? All right, here's some more. Didn't get that? Here's some more. I'm gonna be here all night. I'm 18 and I got a lot of energy to throw at you.