Savoy Brown Frontman on Losing and Regaining Passion for Music

Keith Richards, in his autobiography, Life, claims to remember everything from his lengthy musical career. Clearly, there's some embellishment. Kim Simmonds, who's been playing music approximately the same length of time, and has fronted British blues rock heavyweights Savoy Brown for almost as long as Richards has led the Rolling Stones, is somewhat more realistic when it comes to memory. When asked about his March 6, 1972, Phoenix gig at the Travelodge Theatre with Fleetwood Mac and Long John Baldry, Simmonds honestly offers up nothing.

"If he remembers everything, he's fantastic because I don't remember a whole lot," Simmonds says with a laugh. "I can't remember that show in particular, but it was a great tour."

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Simmonds, in a career that turns 50 this year, is wary of dwelling too much on the past, though the band's peak was just more than 40 years ago. Albums such as 1970's Looking In, 1971's Street Corner Talkin', and 1972's Hellbound Train became essential listening for fans of gritty, pulsating blues rock -- and Simmonds nightly pulls tracks from these albums.

"I have to be very careful staying in the past. It was a fantastic time, and I honor it every night by playing songs from the past, but you have to stay in the present, because the past will eat you up in a heartbeat," he says. "You know the saying: Don't live in the past because you'll suffer twice."

Though Savoy Brown recorded a live album during that 1972 tour, the year also marked the onset of Simmonds' suffering. Less blues-oriented rock 'n' roll soon dominated the landscape.

"After 1972, I don't think it was quite the same," he laments. "It was the tail end of the fantastic decade of the '60s. What stands out for me was the naivety of the acts, the commitment to the music and everyone expressing themselves. You had the Beatles leading everybody with fabulous artistic music. It wasn't about the money back then because no one knew exactly what was going on. Nobody was a rock 'n' roll star back then."

As anthemic, power-chord-driven rock dominated the charts, the end of the 1970s saw Savoy Brown in a tailspin. Everything blues was struggling. Add to it the continual personnel changes -- something Simmonds sees in a positive light -- destroyed any real continuity the band had to offer. Come the 1980s and Simmonds admits he "hit rock bottom" and even spent time looking for a job outside music making.

"I tried to cash it in and look for other work at my lowest points. I had lost the spirit of my guitar playing. I couldn't communicate any more through my guitar playing. It's difficult to do even if you're at the top of the mountain. It can come and it can go," he says. "But I was never good at anything else. I was meant to play guitar. I was meant to do this. Even if I tried to get out of the business, I couldn't do it."

Perseverance eventually paid off and Simmonds found the spirit again. Savoy Brown's 2014 release Going to the Delta recently hovered near the top of the blues charts. The album brings Simmonds full circle, back to his days as a teenage blues purist wanting to make his own "honest" music -- with that career-spanning rock influence thrown in.

"I don't think you'd say it's a traditional blues album. It's traditional in the sense of what the songs are all about, the rhythms, but it's blues with my particular rock influences," he says. "That's the only way I know how to do it."

Savoy Brown is scheduled to perform Tuesday, January 13, at the Rhythm Room.

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