Savoy Brown is something of a British Blues/Rock institution, having been formed in 1965 as the Savoy Brown Blues Band by guitarist Kim Simmonds and harmonica player John O’Leary. Sadly, O’Leary, who is still active on the London Blues scene, never recorded with the band and soon departed after a disagreement with the band’s manager, Kim’s brother Harry. That rather set the tone for an ever-changing cast of band members, with Kim remaining as the only constant feature.
For many fans the band’s heyday was 1967-1970, when it recorded a handful of fine albums on Decca with Chris Youlden providing strong vocal contributions. His departure, followed by those of second guitarist “Lonesome” Dave Peverett and the band’s rhythm section, who then formed the fine rock band Foghat, left Kim very much in sole control.
Savoy Brown’s popularity in the USA led Kim to relocate there and the band’s UK visits have become less frequent as a consequence, yet there remains a great affection for the band. This was quite evident when ‘City Lights’ was showcased at Under The Bridge (the 550 capacity club at Chelsea Football Club’s Stamford Bridge stadium) on 12th April, with Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack providing appropriate support (indeed some of those present could remember Stan’s own brief 1974 stint as a Savoy Brown guitarist!).
Whether due to a mellowing with age or for some other reason, Savoy Brown’s ever changing cast is a thing of the past and Kim has led the same trio for the past decade; his vocals and guitar are now ably supported by the rhythm section of Pat DeSalvo (bass) and Garnet Grimm (drums). After a handful of well-received albums on the German label Ruf Records, ‘City Lights’ represents the band’s debut for the California based Quarto Valley Records.
The opening track ‘Walking On Hot Stones’ has a rhythm reminiscent (at least to these ears) of David Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie’; this is no bad thing, of course, and doesn’t detract in any way from Simmonds’ fine guitar work. Indeed, even at the age of 71, Kim could still give any Blues/Rock guitarist a proper run for their money!
The same recipe of rock solid rhythm underpinning Simmonds’ soaring guitar continues until almost the midway point of the dozen tracks; it never becomes boring, but some may have preferred the light and shade which a bit of variation in tempo might have provided. Track six, ‘Neighborhood Blues’ starts slower, before increasing the pace, and the following ‘Selfish World’, a classic slow Blues, is the album’s standout song for me, partly because it is so different from the others. The return to up tempo for the final few tracks culminates in ‘Ain’t Gonna Worry’, which has the sort of boogie rhythm which would have made John Lee Hooker smile.
The absence of the band’s classics from the Under The Bridge setlist suggests that the band is confident about its new material and, with Simmonds displaying an energy in his playing which belies his advancing years, there looks to be plenty of gas left in the Savoy Brown tank. Anyone who enjoys Blues/Rock guitar played in the classic trio format will find plenty to enjoy in ‘City Lights’.
Walking On Hot Stones; Don’t Hang Me Out To Dry; Payback Time; Red Light Mama; Conjure Rhythm; Neighborhood Blues; Selfish World; Wearing Thin; City Night; Hang In Tough; Superstitious Woman; Ain’t Gonna Worry.