Psychedelic bluesman J.D. Simo deploys impressive wah skill, blistering fuzz tones, and hypnotic grooves that will expand your consciousness. His latest album, Mind Control, is the perfect retro, echo-drenched, escapist blues prescription for these trying times. With a nod to Northern Mississippi blues and ’60s San Francisco hippie rock, Simo’s power trio morphs these sounds into something fresh, relevant, and extremely potent.
Does a Covid lockdown make you more creative?
I think it’s easier to be calm and not distracted. I’m a classic over-thinker, so the very nature of getting together with friends to mess around and come up with something that we think is cool makes it easier not to be affected by your own preconceived plans. There’s a reason great writers go off to write. They’re not distracted by the hustle and bustle of life. I never knew I could be so content with just getting up and going down to my studio to work on stuff with my friends, without any idea of what it was for. We were just having fun. Hell, I’ll take that from here on out (laughs).
Is that how Mind Control came together?
Yeah, we started getting together every Wednesday and Thursday. We got tested on Monday and did that every day from April, 2020, to February of ’21. Every one of those sessions yielded at least a song or two. It was all types of stuff. What became Mind Control was the stuff we liked the best, but we recorded all kinds of afro-beat, weird sci-fi, ’60s soundtrack stuff, and funk instrumentals like The Meters. Not having a plan is a great way to work.
The songs you chose fit together exceptionally well.
It was purely by happenstance. The songs were clearly all the ones we dug the most. We didn’t try to get too microscopic. I really tried to be the best engineer I could become, and I had a lot of help. I had a lot of friends mentor me and help me out. I got my room dialed in pretty quickly. I wound up getting a funky old eight-track console from the ’60s that most people wouldn’t piss on if it was on fire, but it actually has a great sound. I used a bunch of Dynamic and EV mics from the ’50 and ’60s. We all self-mixed in the room while we were playing, didn’t play too loud, and the sound of the record became what the room sounded like. It’s a groovy, inspiring place to work every day, and I’m lucky to have it.
What combinations of gear are you using on “F***ed Up?”
That’s an old Kay Fuzz with my Gibson 335 and an old wah pedal. Pretty much the entire record was recorded with an old Ampeg Gemini amp. I have a Gemini I, which is the most favorite amp I’ve ever owned. It’s everything. Most of the record is that with a couple of exceptions where I used an Alamo from the ’40s. I used an old Unidyne microphone placed about a foot away.
The groove on “I’m In Love” is mind-altering.
“I’m In Love” is the only cover on the album, and it has a lot of that Junior Kimbrough, Fred McDowell, and R.L. Burnside influence. It also has a lot of afro-beat influence on the groove. I can play that “I’m In Love” groove for an hour and be totally satiated. There are probably hours of us playing that kind of stuff. I’m singing live right next to the drums.
Did you play any other guitars?
I have a ’40s L-50 that has one pickup, and used it on “That’s When You Know That You’re Down” and “Want What I Don’t Have.” I also have a brand-new Echo Park guitar with Teisco pickups that I used on “The Devil Is Always Watchin’.” I also have an old Jazzmaster built from parts that’s tuned down to B like a baritone guitar. I used that on “Recovery” and a couple of other things. I play slide on all of them. They’re all set up to play.
Anything new your fans can expect?
We’re finishing up a long U.S. tour with 40 dates. So far, we’ve gotten through it without anyone getting sick. I’m in the middle of a couple movie-score projects I’m trying to wrap up. That’s dominating a bigger portion of my life, which is awesome. I’m also producing a band in March, so I’ll be very busy. We’re doing another run in April and May and a support tour that hasn’t been announced. Lord knows how much of this I will actually be able to do with the present state of the world (laughs), but that’s the plan. Otherwise, I’m eating M&Ms and hanging with the family.
This article originally appeared in VG’s April 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.