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Monday, February 15, 2016

Blues 101: Now for a Little Morning Maniac Music

Simmonds get sets to take the stage
Live rock music has always been considered night music. But what if a 10 o'clock start meant 10 a.m., not 10 p.m?

Well, that was exactly the unusual situation that Kim Simmonds, one of Britain's most heralded blues guitarists and the founder of the band Savoy Brown, found himself in recently in the Atlantic Ocean as the day's opening performer on the Rock Legends IV Cruise., which offered live music from 10 a.m. until 1 or 2 a.m. each day of the 4-day trip.

"Tonight ... Oh man I mean this morning we're going to try to wake you up," Simmonds told the crowd, which was collectively yawning and stretching before him in front of the 11th deck outdoor stage. "If you had seen me at 8 a.m. in the coffee shop, you would have been pretty scared. Looking at me drinking my coffee you would have thought, 'Can this guy really play?'"

As you might expect, a morning performance is more relaxed than its nighttime counterpart. Before launching into Savoy Brown classics with his trio, Simmonds wanted to test his guitar. "I can see where you're at. You're in a good mood for morning," Simmonds said. "Now let's see how the guitar feels. If I'm going to play the blues, I've got to find some melancholy." Simmonds tried a few slow runs. "OK is that melancholy?" he asked. "Guitarists (like me) don't have tons of confidence. Sometimes you can't get a sound out. It's sort of like a ventriloquist's dummy. The guitar talks to me. You may think I'm joking, but I'm not".

After adjusting his guitar, Simmonds warned the now more-awake crowd that in addition to music, they would be hearing a lot of words today. "I talk a lot," he said with a smile. "I'm Welsh. We're not in the age of the Welsh preacher anymore; it's the age of the Welsh musician".

Simmonds soloing
Simmons is known for his fiery solos in some of Savoy Brown's more rock-oriented blues. The guitarist used this more slow-paced show to give his fans insight into his solo playing. "I have no idea where I'm going with a solo. That's the great thing about playing a solo. You can go wherever it takes you," he explained.

"A lot of these licks I'm playing, I got from the people who came before me," he continued. "But if you have some personality, they come out fresh. It's good not to have too much technique. Then it comes out like the people you're copying. The trick is finding the right balance between a lot of notes and no notes".

Following his introductory lecture to Blues 101, Simmonds proceeded to give a 90-minute master lesson on the subject, playing hits from past Savoy Brown albums like "Louisiana Blues," "Hellbound Train" and "Tell Mama," a few songs off their latest CD, and even one new tune that he was trying out on the ship. Of the new song he said, "If you don't like it, you'll never hear it again".

In between songs, he continued his explanation of his career as one of the pioneers of British Blues.

Simmonds says he has often been asked the question - why blues? "I freak some people out when I say I don't like THE BLUES," the guitarist noted. "But there has to be something in the catalog of blues that you like. I like the Chicago-style turned into the British-style".

The Savoy Brown leader said he was inspired to create his particular style of blues after seeing a "esoteric, science-fictionary" performance in London by the legendary Captain Beefheart. "I started the band in 1965. We've been playing for 50 years. I was young then, not as young as Peter Frampton (who was also performing on the cruise), but I was quite young".

Indeed, when it exploded on the scene in the 1950s and 60s, rock was music for the young performed by artists who were young themselves. But,  now of course, both those artists and fans (who have survived) are something quite the opposite; they are old.

Pretty sure they didn't have those big screens when Simmonds started Savoy Brown in 1965

Simmonds says he is well aware of that fact. But he has come up with a plan to keep playing. "What ages you very quickly is if you stay too much in the past. What keeps you young is staying in the present and thinking about the future," he explained.

But the guitarist did acknowledge one big problem he has as an older artist continuing to perform in contemporary times.

"Back in the 60s I was a pretty sharp dresser," Simmonds contended. "But now I have no idea how to dress. I saw a band the other day with all their top shirt buttons buttoned. Should I button my top button? Last night (at a show) somebody said to take it all off. I mean take everything off".

At this point, a loud cheer exploded from a group of female fans standing to the right of the stage. "Hey, I'll see you after the show," Simmonds joked. But he quickly reconsidered. "Don't tell my wife I said that. Is she around here somewhere?"

Then Simmonds was off into yet another song with yet another solo. He might no longer be a fashion-plate. Age and love for his wife might keep him from partying with groupies like in days gone by. But here he was, 50 years on, still playing music that had inspired his fans for decades.

And it was as clear as the sky on this bright blue morning that on this day - at 10 a.m on a giant cruise ship sailing in the Atlantic Ocean - a man with his guitar playing his beloved blues music for the fans who had been following him was more than enough. In fact, at that moment, it was all that mattered.

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