Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What Happened To Savoy Brown?

by Jim Farber, Music Aficionado: https://web.musicaficionado.com/main.html?utm_source=email&utm_campaign=WeeklyRecommendations#!/article/what_happened_to_savoy_brown_by_jimfarber

PHOTO COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES

Savoy Brown has never had a song on the pop charts and none of their albums have ever inched above the top thirty anywhere in the world. Yet, for aficionados of British blues, they hold a unique place. Between 1967 and 1974, Savoy Brown released nearly a dozen notable albums that took a holistic approach to the blues, snaking through an ever-evolving mix of boogie, R&B, jazz, and psychedelic rock.


The story of how those albums came to be contains a drama rife with personality clashes, exacerbated by a pitched resistance to the slickness of pop stardom. Over the years, the band switched line-ups as often as Imelda Marcos changed shoes. Yet their music achieved a consistent quality that deserves a rehearing by anybody who appreciates blues with a hard rocking edge.

Simmonds At The Center

Kim Simmonds - Savoy Brown's stalwart leader, and sole consistent member - rates as one of the most emotive and flexible guitar heroes Britain has ever produced. His love of the blues began after he heard the American pioneers featured in his brother's record collection. "It was the honesty of the music that attracted me," the guitarist said. "There was none of the nonsense of pop. It's simple music, yet at the same time there's great art in it."




Savoy Brown

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Simmonds formed his baby step version of Savoy Brown in 1965, when he was just 18. Their initial line-up featured six players, including harmonica player John O'Leary, and singer Bryce Portius, perhaps the first black musician to be part of a British rock band. The latter hire reflected Simmonds' upbringing in a racially mixed area of South London. In their early gigs, Savoy played the same clubs as Fleetwood Mac, opened for Cream at some of that group's earliest shows and even served as John Lee Hooker's band on a full U.K. tour. Their growing reputation as a live act got them a deal with Decca Records. But by the time they cut their first album, Shake Down, they had already replaced two of their initial players and added a second guitarist: Martin Stone. The band's debut, 'Shake Down', released in September of '67, featured production from Mike Vernon, blues-rock's ultimate go-to guy for his work with John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, and later, Ten Years After.


Savoy Brown

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Cover versions of classic blues songs ate up their debut, with the exception of one cut written by Stone. From the album's first song, the focus fell on Simmonds' shivering tone and limber leads. Yet only one track gave him room to stretch out, a final 6 minute take on the traditional blues Shake 'Em On Down.

Going On A Firing Spree



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The band's tentative first-steps necessitated a strong rethink before Simmonds cut album No. 2. Four of the band's six members got pink slipped, leaving only their leader and pianist Bob Hall. (For a blink-and-you-missed-it moment, Savoy had at its drummer Bill Bruford, who went on to great success with Yes). The band's more defining hires turned out to be second guitarist "Lonesome" Dave Peverette, a friend of Simmonds' from childhood, and frontman Chris Youlden. Though he owns one of rock's burliest, and most emotive voices, Youlden lacked the look of a showman. So the band's manager (Simmonds' brother Harry) created an image for him, outfitting the frontman with a distinct bowler hat and a monocle. The unit's debut, Getting To The Point, released in July of '68, bold-faced their reboot with eight original pieces. The slow blues, Flood In Houston, offered a nice showcase for Youlden's inventive vocals, as well as Simmond's intuitive guitar. But a cover track - Willie Dixon's You Need Love -


Savoy Brown

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has intrigued historians most. Youlden's cry of "deep down inside, woman, you need love," later struck some listeners as a precursor to Robert Plant's famous use of those lines in Whole Lotta Love, released one year later. Simmonds believes some of his licks also had an influence on that track. "We did dates with The Yardbirds when Jimmy Page was in the band," Simmonds said. "I wouldn't doubt that he heard some of that material."

Expanding The Blues




Savoy Brown

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Savoy greatly widened their melodic reach on 1969's Blue Matter. The key track, Train To Nowhere, threaded four muted trombones behind Simmons' valiant solo, while the vocal from Youlden nailed the existential pull of the lyric. The band devoted half of the album to live tracks, cut the previous December at a gig which Youlden missed due to a bad case of tonsillitis. His loss gave the band two gains: Guitarist Peverette got to show off his own skills as a vocalist, and the musicians got to stretch out on tracks that lasted up to nine minutes. The concert format re-emphasized Savoy's forte as a live band. Subsequently, the group began to concentrate on touring, particularly in the U.S., where they headlined the Fillmore East and West several times.





Savoy Brown

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Youlden more than compensated for his absence on the live part of 'Blue Matter' by dominating the writing on the first side one of the band's next album, A Step Further, released in late '69. He proved a striking songwriter, even on the instrumental track Waiting In the Bamboo Groove, which was fired by a charging horn section. Again, the second side of the album went the live route, devoting 22 minutes to Savoy Brown Boogie, a fast-paced medley of songs like Chuck Berry's Little Queenie, Hendrix's Purple Haze and even Hernando's Hideaway. It introduced fast and loose boogie to Savoy's usual repertoire of hard and steady blues.

Enter Jazz




Savoy Brown

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The band made an even greater leap on their fifth album, Raw Sienna, resulting in what some see as their studio masterpiece. Released in March of 1970, 'Raw Sienna' seemed to provide a U.K. answer to the jazz-rock trend exploding out of America in bands like Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago. In fact, Simmonds took his inspiration from Ray CharlesLittle Milton and the classic recordings of Blue Note. The full-bodied horn section, used throughout, added muscle to the best compositions of Youlden and Simmonds' careers. Youlden wrote six songs, including the heartfelt I'm Crying and the sexy Stay While The Night Is Young while Simmonds contributed the emotive That Same Feelin', along with the album's most animated track, Master Hare. A jazz-rock instrumental, "Hare" suggested a caffeinated version of a Dave Brubeck classic. Regardless, the album underperformed on the charts, inching up to just No. 121 in the U.S.



Savoy Brown

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For another blow, Youlden announced right after finishing recording that he was finished with the group as well. "He wanted to go in a more singer-songwriter direction, and I wanted to go more towards the guitar," Simmonds said. Personal problems also contributed to the split. "We didn't get along too well," the band leader said.

Lose One Singer To Discover Another




Savoy Brown

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Luckily, the band had Peverette in their back pocket as a vocalist. More, Simmonds had already written material he knew was among his strongest for a potential follow-up work. Released just seven months after 'Raw Sienna', in October of 1970, the Looking In album not only revealed a new lead singer but a whole new sound. With its tighter, four man line-up, Savoy Brown set its sights on hard rock, giving the music more punch and weight. After opening with a gorgeous solo guitar piece from Simmonds, the band launched into Poor Girl, a titanic rocker that honed the new tone. Peverette, a formerly shy singer, presented a newly assertive vocal style, while Simmonds kept the songwriting level high with the slinky Money Can't Save Your Soul and the jazz-tinged title track. The latter boasted dueling guitars from Simmonds and Peverette that wouldn't be out of place in the Allman Brothers. Together, it gave the band the highest chart score of its career, cracking the American Top 40 for the first, and only time.



Savoy Brown

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You'd think that success would encourage Simmonds to stick with the formula. But, in an exceptionally gutsy move, he challenged the other players to explore something dramatically different for their follow-up. "I wanted to go for a tighter, R&B sound." he said.


When the rest of the band proved ill equipped, or unwilling, to make that change, he fired all of them. The three - Peverette, bassist Tone Stevens and drummer Earle - took some ideas Simmonds had blueprinted and used them to form a new group, Foghat. By buffing up the sound, and simplifying their approach, Foghat became a huge act in the U.S. Their willingness to standardize Savoy's style, offers a key explanation for why they, rather than Simmonds' group, achieved sustained stardom.

Simmonds insists he "was very happy for them. And we remained great friends. I still get a thrill when I hear Slow Rideon a Nike commercial," he said.

The Move To R&B



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A shake-up in a fellow blues band helped the resourceful Simmonds rebound from the three man loss. As it happened, Stan Webb, czar of the Brit blues at Chicken Shack, had just jettisoned three members of his band. Recognizing an opportunity, Simmonds hired every one of them. The new line-up jelled remarkably well, especially with the addition of singer Dave Walker, whose deep voice had some of the throaty command of Youlden. The unit's debut, Street Corner Talking, released in September of '71, made good on Simmonds' goal to bring steely R&B to the blues, evident in a convincing cover of The TemptationsCan't Get Next To You

The song received wide play on FM rock stations as did a catchy original, Tell Mama. Both cuts showcased a slicker, more streamlined production sound.


Savoy Brown

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The groove on 'Street Corner' proved deep enough to inspire a strong restatement on its follow-up, Hellbound Train, released just five months later. The album found a highlight in the nine minute title cut, which remains a part of Savoy Brown's set to this day. The mix of R&B, boogie and blues hit a trifecta with 'Lion's Share', released late in '72. But, like all shades of Savoy Brown, this incarnation wasn't built to last.


By the end of that year, frontman Walker bolted to join the equally peripatetic Fleetwood Mac. His replacement, Jackie Lynton, proved a pale substitute, something the group tried to camouflage by surrounding him with scores of female backup singers on his sole album with them, 'Jack The Toad'. After Lynton left, Simmonds made another ballsy move by hooking up with peer Stan Webb for a double-guitar assault of an album, 'Boogie Brothers' in 1974. After that, Simmonds himself took over the singing, though he never considered himself a top vocalist. Savoy Brown's audience began to taper at that point, a trend which didn't dissuade Simmonds from continuing to lead some version of his brand through all the decades since. Along the way, he has released scores of albums and toured regularly.




The Yardbirds, John Mayall and 16 others

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In the 50 years since Savoy Brown released their debut, they've run through over 60 (!) musicians, with Simmonds serving as their sole through line. "I can be a difficult person," the band leader admitted. "And I don't want to stand still. Once I've climbed a mountain, I want to climb another. If a band weren't willing to do that, I would get another band."


The subsequent roller-coaster ride hasn't deterred Simmonds. For the band's fiftieth anniversary this fall, Simmonds will release yet another new Savoy Brown album and tour to back it. "I have a strong motivation to continue,' he said. "A famous poet once said "the deed can never be done without need.' There's something in me that's gotta come out. Through all of it - the band's changes, the music, and the fifty years - the one tie-in is my guitar playing. That's what keeps it all going."