Savoy Brown + Stan Webb's Chicken Shack
Friday 12th April 2019
Under The Bridge, London
Savoy Brown are an English Blues Rock band formed in London in 1965 by guitarist Kim Simmonds and harmonica player John O'Leary. They gained a growing following at a Monday night Blues club that Kim and his brother Harry started up in 1966, called Kilroy’s, located in the upstairs room of the Nag’s Head Tavern in Battersea. Kilroy’s Blues club became very popular with London Blues enthusiasts, and subsequently went onto to become the birth place and home of the Blue Horizon label run by Mike Vernon. Vernon went on to produce many of Britain’s best loved Blues bands like Chicken Shack, Ten Years After, Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall’s Blues Breakers.
Savoy Brown have existed for fifty-four years, released thirty nine studio and live albums, with approximately sixty two different members passing through the ranks at one time or another. The only original member and mainstay through out their career is guitarist, vocalist, writer and producer Kim Simmonds.
The original line-up of Savoy Brown included singer Bryce Portius, keyboardist Trevor Jeavons, bassist Ray Chappell, drummer Leo Manning and harmonica player John O'Leary (O'Leary appeared on record with the band on its initial recordings for Mike Vernon's Purdah label). Jeavons was replaced by Bob Hall shortly after the band's formation and Martin Stone joined on guitars. Not long after Stone's arrival, O'Leary left the band as a consequence of a dispute with Manager Harry Simmonds. The line-up of Simmonds, Portius, Hall, Chappell, Manning and Stone recorded the band's 1967 Decca debut album, ‘Shake Down’. A rough and ready album of mainly covers which was recorded in three days!
By the time of the release of their second album, almost the entire line-up was overhauled! Out were Portius, Chappell, Manning and Stone, in were vocalist Chris Youlden, guitarist "Lonesome" Dave Peverett, bassist Bob Brunning and drummer Hughie Flint. Both Brunning and Flint were replaced after one single release by Rivers Jobe and Bill Bruford respectively. Bruford lasted a couple of weeks before the arrival of Roger Earl on drums. This line-up recorded two albums in 1968, the brilliant 'Getting to the Point', and the great 'Blue Matter'. Jobe was replaced by bassist Tony Stevens for the excellent 1969 albums 'A Step Further' and 'Raw Sienna'. After the release of these two fine albums, Youlden departed, leaving the remaining band to record the 1970 album 'Looking In'. Following this album, Peverett, Stevens and Earl left to form Foghat with guitarist Rod Price. Foghat went on to achieve great success in America.
Simmonds remained and went on to recruit three quarters of the classic Chicken Shack line-up of the time, including Paul Raymond on keyboards and guitars, Andy Silvester on bass, and Dave Bidwell on drums, with Dave Walker (Redcaps/Beckett/The Idle Race) brought in on vocals. Originally from Walsall in the West Midlands, Walker is a hugely talented powerhouse vocalist, with a hard edged rasp to his voice making him the ideal candidate for the harder edged Blues Rock material. This being one of the strongest Savoy Brown line-ups, they went on to record the much heavier and powerful albums 'Street Corner Talking' in 1971, 'Hellbound Train' in 1972, which was a Top 40 album for them in the US, and 'Lion's Share', also released in 1972. Silvester departed in late 1972 to be replaced by Andy Pyle on bass, with Walker leaving shortly after the 'Lion's Share' album. He went on to enjoy a brief stint in Fleetwood Mac, featuring on their 1973 album 'Penguin', and then going on to replace Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath, all be it but for a very short time, until Ozzy returned to the band for the 'Never Say Die' album.
Walker was replaced by the formidable feisty vocalist Jackie Lynton for the tantalisingly vibrant 1973 album 'Jack the Toad'. Lynton, originally from Shepperton, Middlesex, moved to London in the early 60’s where he had a fairly successful solo career playing mostly Pop music covers, later going on to start his own Jackie Lynton Band to play more hard edged R&B. Surprisingly by 1974 it was all change again in Savoy Brown! Out was Lynton and all the previous Chicken Shack musicians, and in was former Chicken Shack leader Stan Webb! Along with guitarist/vocalist Miller Anderson they released the top quality 'Boogie Brothers' album, which also featured Jim Leverton on bass and Eric Dillon on drums. This album marked the end of their most successful period and the end of their association with Decca records.
Once again the line-up was overhauled with Simmonds being the only remaining original member, and only member to feature throughout Savoy Browns history. The late seventies saw such notable albums as 'Skin ‘N’ Bone' (1976) and 'Savage Return' (1978), before entering the new decade with 'Rock ‘N’ Roll Warriors' (1981). The rest of the 80’s and most of the 90’s saw a steady stream of new and archive live releases, with Dave Walker returning for several of these before leaving again in 1991. The band returned to a form of sorts with the release of the solid 2003 studio album 'Strange Dreams' on Blind Pig Records. A further succession of quality albums emerged in subsequent years, including 'Steel' (2007), 'Voodoo Moon' (2011), 'Goin’ to the Delta' (2014), 'The Devil to Pay' (2015) and 'Witchy Feelin' (2017). They will release their fortieth album 'City Night' on Friday 7th June 2019 via Quarto Valley Records (distributed by Proper).
A Savoy Brown gig in London is a rare treat for us Brits, with their main market these days being in the US. This current five-date UK tour is their first UK tour for five years. The last time Savoy Brown played in London was at the Borderline, London on 13th May 2014. The current line-up includes Kim Simmonds - guitars, keyboards, harmonica, vocals (1965-present), Pat DeSalvo - bass (2009-present) and Garnet Grimm - drums (2009–present). The longest running stable line-up the band have ever had!
This gig at Under The Bridge, London was the second of five UK gigs. A good turn out of British Blues fans gave both Stan Webb's Chicken Shack and Savoy Brown a very warm welcome. Most of the early line-up of Chicken Shack has been in Savoy Brown at one time or another, including Webb himself! The last time Stan Webb's Chicken Shack shared the bill with Savoy Brown in the UK was on 21st August 2003 at the Mean Fiddler, London.
The current Chicken Shack line-up consists of Webb on lead guitar and vocals, Neil Archer on rhythm guitar, Rob Newell on bass and Steve Atkins on drums. The set kicked off in style with the beguiling and haunting ‘The Thrill Is Gone’, featured on the 1993 album ‘Plucking Good’, a mesmerizing performance from Webb and band. Next up was the tasty shuffle of ‘Going Up, Going Down’, from the album ‘Going Up, Going Down... The Anthology 1968-2001’. Stan's in between song banter is always quite amusing with his deadpan dry humour coming to the fore.
'You Shook Me' greeted us with intense and chilling bottleneck slide guitar from Webb that cut straight down deep into our souls, and played with fountains of emotional intensity. Magnificent stuff! The stellar ‘Tell Me', from the 1969 album ‘OK Ken’, showcased Webb's amazing vibrato vocals to great effect. The longing in his voice was emoted to perfection, truly awe-inspiring! Next to overwhelm us was the epic ‘Sweetest Little Thing’ from the 1991 album ‘Changes’, written by Webb about his mother. A fantastic moody and dark song that builds in intensity and allows Webb to stretch out and show us what he can really do on his Les Paul guitar, which he executed with pure elegant style and the coolness of a true seasoned pro. Hypnotising stuff!
Onto the heavy section of the set with the towering ‘Poor Boy’ from the 1972 album ‘Imagination Lady’, a monumental riff with a catchy melody and energetic rhythm section. This is one of Webb's best-loved songs that goes down a storm with the attentive crowd. Another great track from the 'Imagination Lady' album followed in the form of the dark and wild ‘Daughter Of A Hillside’. A dirty and gritty riff that grumbled and snarled like a demon! Extremely loud and incredibly heavy, cracking stuff! The set closed with the delectable ‘Dr Brown’ from the 1978 album ‘The Creeper’, and is another heavyweight track that shuffles along nicely. The band was locked in, grooving and swinging! Awesome stuff!
After a short break it was time for the great Savoy Brown to blow our minds! Simmonds is looking fit and well and was in good spirits, all smiles and jovial chatter. You can see he loves what he does by the way he talks enthusiastically about his work. The set kicked of with 'Why Did You Hoodoo Me' from the 2017 'Witchy Feelin' album. A steady paced song with a cool intro riff and some delectable guitar soloing, set the groove nicely. Simmonds playing was sublime, fluid and hypnotising! These days Simmonds handles all the vocals, unfortunately his vocals do not reach the dizzying heights of such greats as Chris Youlden or Dave Walker, but he does a fair job. The time had come for a couple of new songs from the forthcoming 'City Night' album, 'Walking On Hot Stones' and 'Payback Time'. They might be new songs but they sound authentic and relevant. This is a band that is still excited by what the Blues can offer today, which they execute with abounding energy, style and grace.
It was back to the 2017 'Witchy Feelin' album for the enticing 'Livin’ On The Bayou'. A cool riff with some tastefully controlled string bending and vibrato from Simmonds, each note having its own accent, emotion and expression. Grimm and DeSalvo provided a powerful and tight rhythm, anchoring the song with skilful precision. Next up was a dip into the past with 'Poor Girl' from the 1970 'Looking In' album. A luscious steady rocker, with an infectious groove. Fast forwarding on to the chugging instrumental 'Cobra' from the 2014 'Goin' To The Delta' album, a sublime and alluring boogie shuffle! Things slowed down with 'I'll Keep On Singing the Blues' (Memphis Slim) from the 2007 'Steel' album, a nice slow Blues gave the head bangers a rest!
Time for a couple of great tracks from the fantastic 1970 'Raw Sienna' album in the shape of 'Hard Way To Go' and 'Needle and Spoon'. A couple of old classics there and very welcome additions to the set. Bringing the main set to a close was the transcendental Psychedelic Blues Rocker that is 'Louisiana Blues' (Muddy Waters) from the 1969 'Blue Matter' album. A monstrous track with a sensational hypnotic riff and some far out mind-blowing string bending from Simmonds! For the encore we got the mammoth and staggering 'Savoy Brown Boogie' from the 1969 'A Step Further' album. The band got to stretch out on this one, with Simmonds just flying with inventive soloing. A full force boogie explosion! The smile on Simmonds face showed us that this man was in his element, and we were too! At the conclusion of this rave-up, the crowd showed their appreciation by enthusiastically clapping and cheering for more. Simmonds took his guitar off and came to the front of the stage to shake hands with the front row before exiting the stage for a well-earned rest. Unfortunately the popular Savoy Brown live staples 'Hellbound Train' and 'Tell Mama' was not played at this gig. Despite these omissions, the set list was strong, well balanced and interesting. Overall, it was an absolutely fantastic evening of electric blues. A good time was had by all!
Steven C. Gilbert