Kim Simmonds (Savoy Brown) was born Kim Maiden Simmonds on Dec. 5, 1947 in Caerphilly, Wales, to Henry Simmonds, an electrician, and Phyllis (Davies) Simmonds, a homemaker. As a child, he was drawn to the early rock ’n’ roll albums owned by his older brother, Harry, who later worked for Bill Haley’s British fan club.
“My brother took me to see all the rock ’n’ roll movies,I grew up with all that: Little Richard, Bill Haley and, of course, Elvis.”
By age 10 he had moved with his family to London, where his brother took him to jazz record stores that also sold blues albums. The singer and pianist Memphis Slim — one of the sophisticated blues guys that could keep one foot in the jazz world and one foot in the blues world became a favorite.
Simmonds bought his first guitar at 13 and began imitating the blues licks on the records he loved. So intent was he on a music career that he never completed high school.
A chance meeting at a record shop in 1965 with the harmonica player John O’Leary led to the formation of what was initially called the Savoy Brown Blues Band. (The first word in the name echoed the name of an important American jazz and R&B label) The group’s initial lineup featured six players, two of them Black — the singer Brice Portius and the drummer Leo Manning — making them one of the few multiracial bands on the British rock scene of the 1960s. The mid ’60s brought, among many other musical revolutions, a blues boom centered in the U.K. Bands like the Animals, the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Cream took a core American roots music, rocked it up and filtered it through their own sensibilities. One such band was Savoy Brown, led by guitarist-singer-songwriter Kim Simmonds. Formed in London in 1965, as the Savoy Brown Blues Band (later shortened), the group went strong with frequently changing lineups—but with Simmonds always front and center—for more than five decades.
While playing supporting gigs with Cream and John Lee Hooker, the band developed a reputation for its intense live performances, leading to a contract with Decca Records in 1967. The band’s debut album, “Shake Down,” consisted almost entirely of blues covers. By its second album, “Getting to the Point,” issued in 1968, most of the lineup had changed. The most significant additions were the soulful singer Chris Youlden (who also wrote memorable original songs, often with Simmonds) and the forceful rhythm guitarist and singer Dave Peverett (Lonesome Dave).
Half of the band’s third album, “Blue Matter,” issued in 1969, was recorded live, highlighted by a revved-up version of Muddy Waters’s “Louisiana Blues,” which became a signature piece. Its 1970 album, “Raw Sienna,” forged a dynamic new direction that reflected the emerging jazz-rock movement, best evidenced by Simmonds’s Dave Brubeck-like instrumental, “Master Hare.” And when singer Youlden elected to leave for a ‘misguided’ solo career, Dave Peverett stepped up impressively to sing lead on the band’s “Lookin’ In” album later that year.
Kim Simmonds’s desire to add more R&B influences led to the band firings that paved the way for Foghat. The resulting sound on the album “Street Corner Talkin’,” released in 1971, earned heavy play on FM radio in the U.S., where the band enjoyed a larger following than in its native country.
Though Savoy Brown’s subsequent albums over the following decades weren’t as commercially successful, Simmonds kept producing them at a steady clip, resulting in a catalog of more than 40. His last releases, both in 2020, were a studio album, “Ain’t Done Yet,” and a set of live performances from the 1990s, “Taking the Blues Back Home.” He also released six solo albums.
Blues music appealed to me early on because of its honesty. There was simply talent on display with the records I was listening to. The showbiz element was secondary. The grittiness was also a factor. I liked the tough music and lyrics. Blues guitar playing was my calling and I simply have been true to that. It’s the way I can express my inner feelings. I can get my emotions and frustrations out in a positive way. Lots of other blues and blues-rock artists are around and they inspire me to keep going myself.
Kim Simmonds changed the band’s lineup often, bringing to mind a subway turnstile at rush hour, making it difficult to build an audience. The most notable firing happened in 1970, when he got rid of all the other members — who then went on to form a far more commercially successful band, Foghat. In all, more than 60 musicians played under the Savoy Brown banner.
“I don’t want to stand still,” Simmonds said in 2017. “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.”
Throughout all the personnel changes, he maintained a musical vision anchored in the skill of his guitar work, the melodicism of his songwriting and his commitment to American blues.
As a guitarist, he could be stinging or sweet, lithe or robust. He also drew attention for the speed of his playing, and for his ability to spin long solos without losing the melodic thread or breaking a song’s momentum. Though Savoy Brown never had a hit single, and though only two albums from the group’s vast catalog broke Billboard’s Top 40, it held an important place in the British blues movement of the 1960s alongside bands like John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Ten Years After and the early Fleetwood Mac. A recent album release (Witchy Feelin’ in 2017), reached #1 on the Billboard charts. Despite this significant music catalog, he and his band are probably best known for their live performances while headlining many of music’s most eminent venues such as London’s Royal Albert Hall, the Fillmore East, the Fillmore West and Carnegie Hall. Kim Simmonds was inducted into a variety of “Halls of Fames” in the United States and Canada. His handprints are enshrined at the Hollywood Rock Walk of Fame.
He mentioned during a 2019 interview that blues great Freddie King was one who stood out to him among the legendary blues artists now passed away. Freddie wasn’t smoothed out and always played with energy and passion. He copied him. He also played Gibson guitars rather than Fender guitars and that influenced Simmonds too. Freddie had the energy now associated with rock ’n’ roll. His blues rocked and was straight-ahead.
During the same interview Simmonds said “reaching my 80s will be a milestone”. Sadly he did not make it.
Kim Simmonds died from a rare form of colon cancer on Dec. 13, 2022 in Syracuse, N.Y. He was 75.
One of Kim’s last requests was to thank the fans of Savoy Brown. “Your support was, and shall always be, immensely appreciated.”