He's still singin' the blues
Kim Simmonds, an elder statesman of British blues, will put on a solo performance at the Hawaiian Hut on Friday
"Well, if we live, we gotta grow old, baby |
And I know just how you're going to be
Well, your feet are already a little chilly, baby
And you're gettin' a little cold to me"
-- "Growin' Old," as performed by B.B. King
ROCK 'N' ROLL was supposed to be a flash in the pan, wasn't it? The big band sound of swing -- that musical genre that defines nostalgia -- lasted less than a decade. Luckily, rock came along at the same time as cheap records and world-wide radio, and so rock 'n' roll is here to stay.
Few know that better than Kim Simmonds. As a wee lad in Wales in the 1950s, his older brother turned him on to American jump blues, and Simmonds never looked back. His band Savoy Brown is still roaring and stomping after four decades, and Simmonds has become a kind of elder statesman of the British blues scene, becoming a big brother himself.
And he never thought it would last.
'BRITISH BLUES EXPLOSION TOUR'
Featuring British blues legends John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and Savoy Brown's Kim Simmonds
» Place: Hawaiian Hut, Ala Moana Hotel, 410 Atkinson Drive
» Time: 8:30 p.m. Friday
» Tickets: $40 advance, $50 at the door
» Call: 808-941-5205 or online at Hawaiis-BestTickets.com
» Also: 7 p.m. Saturday at the Palace Theater in Hilo, call 808-934-7010 or 808-934-7777
Simmonds will be tearing the house down with a solo performance before John Mayall takes the stage Friday night at the Hawaiian Hut as part of an interisland "British Blues Explosion Tour." Mayall tends to yank Simmonds back on stage for a guitar duel, so put on your boogie shoes. (If Simmonds is an "elder statesman" of British blues, then Mayall is Gandalf.)
British Invasion fans of a certain age well remember Savoy Brown's contribution to party records, particularly their live albums, which boogied with blistering intensity. Several ex-Savoys would later form Foghat, just to cool off their smoking fingertips.
We caught up with Simmonds by phone while he was at a mainland airport. He has been playing American blues so long that his native Wales accent has gone glimmering into the mid-Atlantic.
"Been to Hawaii before, many times, but this is the first time solo and acoustic," Simmonds said cheerfully. "Travelling light! Just a Gibson Blues King for slide playing and a funky old Fender 12-string. For jamming with John, they'll dig up somebody's electric guitar."
Rock'n'roll, defines Simmonds, is just "blues with more energy. You can draw a straight line back. Elvis was playing Arthur Crudup, Bill Haley was just chompin' on jump blues from the '40s. People buy a Savoy Brown record, and discover we're really covering Muddy Waters.
"It's a kind of legacy. That's how I found out about the blues myself. I was under the wing of an elder brother and several lads who discovered jazz records. Nurtured by an older crowd! I listened to the rock 'n' roll and investigated where it came from. Virtually all blues fans today have down the same thing."
SIMMONDS bought a guitar and started practicing. And practicing and practicing. For British lads in the '50s, though, particularly those who weren't in a big city, the idea of making a living playing "American Negro music" was rather farfetched. At 15, Simmonds left school and entered a goverment-service job, primarily, he says, for the security it afforded.
"I was plugged into the system. At 15, I had a job with a pension plan!"
But he kept practicing, and formed little bands, started playing gigs at night, and started falling asleep at his desk during the day.
"Hardest decision of my life, leaving that government job. I was 17 by then and making money as a musician. But playing nights and working days -- I was going to get canned."
He kept that pension plan alive, though, in the back of his mind. A fallback position for when he got really old, say, 30.
FILE PHOTO / 1999
John Mayall headlines the interisland "British Blues Explosion Tour."
"There were no rock 'n' rollers in their 30s then. Are you kidding? Absolutely not! You simply didn't think about music beyond your 30s. Wasn't done. I always expected that my music career would last a couple of more years. Never thought more than two years ahead."
Then, suddenly it seemed, Simmonds was in his 40s and still a journeyman rocker. "Well, thinks I -- I guess this is going to be my life career after all. Still, insecurity dogged me all these years."
Hey, B.B. King is still on the road. Old blues guys get better with age.
"What is he, 80-something? Remarkable! People who are still at it, who keep doing it for their fans, are such an inspiration for me. I have the greatest respect for those who stay on the road."
He paused. "And it works through chaps like me as well. Now I'm an elder statesman. What an odd thing, to look back, and there are kids who are picking up the music through me."
He laughed. "Wonderful thing, being a role model! You've committed your life to perfecting your craft and stuck to your guns, as should we all."
He mused. "I didn't spend 40 years deliberately playing music. It just happened. It does feel good to know that your life has amounted to something ... something that inspires others."
He then rang off. There was a plane to catch, another night of playing the music that has given shape to his life.