Saturday, August 14, 2010

Savoy Brown

Looking InImage via WikipediaBy Ben A Martin

To many blues guitar fans, Savoy Brown is a band that should be mentioned in the same breath with outfits like Cream, John Mayall and The Blues Breakers and The Yardbirds; true powerhouses of the 60' British Blues Invasion. These same people will tell you that Savoy Brown rode the final wave of that initial invasion to America's shores and enjoyed an enormous popularity before interest in the blues began to wane in the early 70's. And yet despite a revolving door lineup, Savoy Brown soldiers on.

Formed by Welsh guitarist Kim Simmonds at 19, The Savoy Brown Blues Band quickly established residence at the Battersea blues club, Kilroys, in 1966. At the time of their formation, Britain was in the midst of a love affair with American blues musicians and supported tours of bluesmen like Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Big Bill Broonzy and that love affair spawned a spate of blues bands like The Rolling Stones, John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac and others. Although Simmonds and the other members of Savoy Brown were too young to have learned their blues directly under these other bands, they certainly absorbed the sound and quickly became accomplished blues musicians.

The band came to attention of producer Mike Vernon (who had worked with Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack and Ten Years After as well) who, after briefly working at DECCA Records, formed his own label, Blue Horizon and their off shoots, Purdah and Outasite Records. Vernon was impressed with Savoy Brown saying that 'they had a style that took no prisoners' and quickly signed them to his Purdah label and released their first single 'I Can't Quit You, Baby'. Shortly after its release, harmonica player, John O'Leary left the band and was replaced by guitarist, Martin Stone. It set a pattern that was to run through the career of Savoy Brown; it's near constant changing of musicians and line ups.

Through their deal with Purdah, Savoy Brown signed a long term deal with London DECCA and its subsidiary, Parrot Records and recorded their debut album Shake 'Em On Down (a collection of blues covers) in 1967 to a limited U.K. release. Despite getting some notice in the U.K. Savoy Brown broke up immediately following the release of their debut album but Simmonds, perhaps in a moment of foreshadowing, opted to retain the name Savoy Brown and immediately reformed the group with a new line up. This line up became the motor for SB's heyday. Simmonds added 'Lonesome' Dave Peverett, vocalist Chris Youlden (complete with bowler hat and monocle), drummer Roger Earle and bassist Rivers Jobe (although Jobe was eventually replaced by Tone Stevens.

The re-formed band released their second album Getting To The Point in 1968 in both England and the U.S. But getting the band together and getting the album out had their moments. "It was at the end of 1967. We'd had our equipment stolen, and Hughie Flint had his drums stolen and was still thinking of doing something different anyway, so that was kind of the last straw. Bob Brunning left at the same time and I think Kim wanted a change and so we auditioned and Roger Earl came to auditions and he got the gig. The first time he came with a bass player friend and they auditioned together. We weren't keen on the bass player, so we passed on that rhythm section, and the next day I said 'How about that drummer, I thought he was good.' So we called him again and he got the gig. We got a bass player called Rivers Jobe. He was very young, about 15 or so. And that was the lineup for the Getting To The Point album," recalled Peverett in an interview.

With the release of two additional albums in 1969, Blue Matter and A Step Further, and a ferocious touring schedule, Savoy Brown took hold in America. Curiously enough, they never achieved the same level of fan acceptance in their native England. In 1970, the band released two additional albums, Raw Sienna and Lookin' In which helped cement their growing cultish like fame in the United States. Raw Sienna is considered by many to be the bands high point. As critic Peter Kurtz has written "There's not a bad cut here, with enough variety to warrant frequent late-night listening". However vocalist Youlden left the band shortly after its release leaving a huge hole in the lineup that has yet to be filled adequately. Youlden, perhaps the most impressive and distinctive voices in British blues left for a solo career that never found legs.

Following the release of Lookin' In, the band lost three more members when Peverett, who had been asserting himself as more of a lead guitarist, Earl and Stevens left to form Foghat. Simmonds was beginning to get used to the idea of a constantly changing menu of musicians and again re-created the band with lineup after lineup.

But with losing Youlden and the others, Savoy Brown was never able to quite re-create the power house sound that that they had cultivated in their glory years. Although Simmonds gave it an all out effort by adding Paul Raymond, Andy Silvester and drummer Dave Bidwell, all former members of British blues band, Chicken Shack (another band with trouble retaining a steady line up). This line up held together for two more Savoy Brown albums, the solid efforts Street Corner Talking and Hellbound Train (1971 and 1972 respectively).

Savoy Brown continued on throughout the Seventies and beyond but with a myriad of ever changing lineups, it had become nothing more than a vehicle for the mad, frenetic guitar lesson work of Simmonds, the only remaining original member. The band continues to record and tour, now a favorite of blues and rock festivals all over the world.

Those early Savoy Brown albums are some of finest boogie-blues / electric blues albums available and to student players, practically blues guitar lessons. And even now, Kim Simmonds can be counted on to deliver some of the grittiest, down and dirty blues guitar around. In a strange, an unintentional way, Savoy Brown could have been considered a training ground for British blues and blues rock players of that era.

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