The British blues movement of the late ’60s lost one of its original proponents and practitioners when Savoy Brown lead guitarist Kim Simmonds died December 13, following a year-and-a-half bout with colon cancer. He was 75.
A native of Wales, Simmonds became aware of the blues thanks to the record collection of an older brother. He founded the only band in which he was ever a member when his family moved to London in 1965.
“It was literally a case of being in the right place at the right time,” he told Vintage Guitar in an August ’93 interview. “I dºecided I wanted to play Chicago blues as opposed to Delta blues, and formed Savoy Brown with that musical style in mind.”
Savoy Brown became known as one of Great Britain’s preeminent blues ensembles, often cited alongside Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. However, Simmonds sought to clarify his band’s concept for playing blues.
“We didn’t want to be absolute traditionalists,” he said. “We wanted to add our own embellishments. I’ll admit, however, that Eric Clapton and Peter Green influenced my playing style. The first instrument I had was a Telecaster; to get a warm, sweet tone, I only used the neck pickup. I ran it through a Vox AC30.”
Blues guitarist Duke Robillard was an early fan.
“When I first heard Kim, it was apparent he was dedicated to the blues form,” he said. “I loved the spirit of the band. The tunes were great and I liked the combination of his sound and the traditional aspect of his playing, but he had his own musical personality.”
Savoy Brown’s history was marked by numerous personnel changes.
“I’ve always thought I’ve had the pulse of the band and what direction it needed to take,” Simmonds explained. “That’s not to say I’ve done it all by myself; I’ve had a lot of other talented players and singers over the years.”
“I don’t think Kim was averse to calling it the way he saw it,” added guitarist Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash. “He was good at being a bandleader. I can relate to that.”
For many fans, the definitive Savoy Brown lineup was the late-’60s aggregation that included Simmonds, Chris Youlden (vocals), Dave Peverett (guitar, vocals), Tone Stevens (bass), and Roger Earl (drums). Their masterwork song was the live, side-long “Savoy Brown Boogie” (on the 1969 release A Step Further), which featured Simmonds’ searing tone evoked from a rare-in-the-U.K. Gibson Flying V.
Peverett, Stevens, and Earl departed Savoy Brown in late 1970 and, shortly after, founded Foghat. Later incarnations of Savoy Brown included vocalist Dave Walker, whose first go-round included lead vocals on fan favorites like “Tell Mama” and “Hellbound Train.”
“Kim’s slide tone on ‘Tell Mama’ knocked me out,” said Buddy Whittington, who did a long stint as guitarist for John Mayall’s Bluebreakers. “When I asked him about it, he said it was a single-cut Les Paul Junior.”
Simmonds eventually moved to the U.S., settling in Oswego, New York. Various incarnations of his band continued to record and tour; it and the Bluebreakers would sometimes share a bill.
“We had quite a few memorable times,” Whittington remembered. “He was always gracious and friendly with us.”
Simmonds’ primary instruments included Gibson guitars and Stratocasters, as well as a Zion and a Bacorn thinline. He continued to develop his slide and fingerpicking skills, and in 1997 released a critically acclaimed solo acoustic album.
In 2001, Savoy Brown was the last band that played in the summer concert series on the plaza of the World Trade Center before the terrorist attacks of September 11.
Savoy Brown released 44 albums in its 57-year history. Simmonds fostered relationships with his peers in America, and influenced younger players.
“When I was trying to resurrect my band’s fortunes in the United States, he was invaluable in terms of very practical advice,” said Powell.
Miami guitarist Albert Castiglia cited Simmonds’ primary influence as “…his phrasing, plain and simple. Tasty licks for days! He had great tone, of course – all the great ones do. But I loved the way he spoke through his axe. No wasted notes.”
Blues guitarist Sean Chambers was also an admirer.
“He had a distinctive raw, gritty-from-the-heart kind of sound,” he said. “There was something just so real and true about his playing. It hit home with me, instantly, and his songwriting was unique. He had his own thing, his own sound.”
“Kim was a wonderful, sweet guy and a real blues lover,” Robillard summarized. “He will be remembered for a long time by everyone who knew him.”
This article originally appeared in VG’s February 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.