By Danny Coleman
“Kim was a prolific writer who kept the band going for almost 60 years, which is a marvel in itself,” says Savoy Brown bassist Pat DeSalvo. “When he first started, Kim was a traditional blues guy and then he started evolving the band; he did “Loisiana” and “Hellbound Train” and they started taking the blues concept and evolving it into more of a progressive rock blues situation and what’s going on now is that the record is out, me and Garnett (Drummer Grimm) are doing interviews and playing with Sean Chambers who played guitar for Hubert Sumlin and who has eight records out of his own. In October we toured with him in Europe and it went very well, we were feeling it out and so we’re gonna do a record with him now and we’re starting to do dates with him.”
Pat DeSalvo became a member of the ever evolving Savoy Brown circa 1988, joining with the legendary Kim Simmonds and staying loyal to the group up until Simmonds’ passing.
As DeSalvo states, Kim was a “Prolific writer” and prior to his recent death, left quite a large catalog of unreleased material and such is the case with the band’s latest record, “Blues All Around” which was released back in the early Spring of this current year. DeSalvo spoke openly about the record, the difference in the recording process, his fondness of Simmonds and the future of Savoy Brown.
“Blues All Around” was different from how we normally do our recordings where we’d all be in the studio together,” he explained. “We would’ve rehearsed either at soundcheck or the three of us would get together once a week and work out the songs, try different keys, different tempos, different grooves; with the demo situation we had a drum machine, guitar and vocal and occasionally an idea for the bass but with this, just me and Garnett went in and in one day, with no practice because I’m not living in the New York area right now; we went in the studio and recorded 14 songs. Then we went back the next day; the first day Kim could not be in-studio because he was in the hospital being evaluated, so, the whole process was different. We had a different guy mixing us, a different studio, it was a lot different; normally we’d play off each other, you’re looking at each other, you could tell when somebody was gonna do something by looking at them and this was not there. So, we just listened to the tracks and we played around Kim; it was completely different. It was a bit of a challenge because there were a few parts that I wanted to play exactly like he did and I really had to be in the moment; there were some challenges but we got it done.”
“Personally, I’m very happy with the record, it’s a great story when you look at Kim’s history with the blues and where he had taken it,” he continued. “This record was a little bit more blues based where he pays homage to how he got his start and to people he had played with, toured with or recorded with; it’s like the story of his life basically. He started the record by himself with the acoustic and that short little intro and then he did that outro song with just him on guitar and there are a lot of good stories within the record.”
Over parts of the last five decades, DeSalvo came to be very close friends with Simmonds whose Savoy Brown launched the careers of many performers and resulted in bands like Foghat and several others but it’s the stories Simmonds told during their offstage moments that still resonate with him today.
“We would travel and we would talk; we would rarely play the radio and we would sometimes be on a 10-hour drive from Chicago to New York and we would just talk and talk but you had to pry things out of him. He was very humble, I’d ask him; Did you see The Who? He would say, “I toured with them.” He did the first Zeppelin tour, he did the first dates with Cream. He was so lucky to be around the area where he got to see all of these people that nobody realized would become legends and icons one day and back then they were like a bunch of kids. They would steal each other’s musicians; Black Sabbath would need a singer, Fleetwood Mac; off Dave Walker went; it was kind of interesting. The UK is so small and a lot of those guys were based out of the London area so all of them were seeing each other, they knew what was going on with each other and a lot of bands changed players frequently.”
In many ways, today’s music climate is similar to those bygone days; players hop from gig to gig and band to band and the thought of being loyal to one group as it seemed to be in the 1970’s and early ’80s is definitely a thing of the past. DeSalvo recalled those times, Kim’s songwriting and how musicians and their music affects themselves as well as those who listen.
“I started young, I was like 15 years old playing five nights a week in bars and the band was like your family no matter how dysfunctional that may be and you’d never think about leaving. It was like being young and having your first girlfriend and saying, we’re gonna get married; that rarely happens but staying with someone forever is just not the way of the world anymore. Even people with jobs, if you notice, people are always jumping around from jobs; there is no loyalty that I see with people anymore. The thing with Kim, Garnett and me; I met Kim in ’88 and we became friends. I did two acoustic records with him and three other records where I either engineered or played on them. So, we had a bit of a relationship and Garnett had also done some work with Kim on the “Blues Like Midnight” record. So, there was already a formation with the three of us and we started to become very good friends and that was one of the reasons why we got the sound we got and why we lasted so long in the group. Nobody had to do any babysitting for us, everybody was on point, everybody was there to do the best show they could and we really looked out for each other and Kim really respected and appreciated that. He rewarded us in a lot of ways and it was like a really good family. There were always moments; you know when you’re in a band and especially when you’re recording music; well, I’ve got an idea and nobody ever wants to hear that they have a bad idea but we do have bad ideas. Kim would come in with the songs and it was like a blueprint. He had an idea on how he wanted to do it and he was so focused. We would take songs and do them in six or eight different keys or try different tempos to fit the song and then we would go from a shuffle or swing to rock; let’s try something completely different with it; where can we take the song? A lot of it is about the story, if you’ve got a good story, you should be able to just sing it or play it with an acoustic guitar or piano and have it resonate with people. Sometimes people are really keying in on the vocals but some people key in on a groove. Like that Gary Glitter song; nobody knows what he’s talking about but that groove that is happening is on (laughs). Listen to “Hellbound Train” and if you listen to the bass and drum part, it was very innovative and complex actually but the song itself is this story about chaos and what’s going on. They were actually ahead of themselves with songs like “I’m Tired” and “Headline News,” he was very on point with what was going on socially but you don’t want to get in anybody’s face. You don’t want to be that person who says, “Hey, this is my viewpoint,” music should be very subjective to people where they listen to it and they take away what they want to take away from the song. It’s great when you listen to a song and it brings back a memory and when you record a record it’s also a snapshot of that moment in your life. You can go back and listen and some memories might start flooding in either about the session or some place you were in at that time; or something you were doing something with your family. I always took the studio home with me a lot or on tour and I’d come back and go to work because I still do a full-time day job and just start thinking about a moment and what happened and what it means to me sometimes; you know?”
Change is inevitable and with Simmonds passing and the Savoy Brown fan base aging; what do the remaining members plan on doing to support this latest release? DeSalvo says, there is not much readily available.
“All we can do is interviews and try to get press because record stores are down the road now,” he said rather melancholy. “The days of eight or nine record stores and 10 music stores in your town have all gone away and everything has changed. Sometimes change is good but I really think for us musicians that change really wasn’t good with the internet where the music is just out there now. It’s good that it’s out there but I really miss the record and having the vinyl in my hand and reading the liner notes; it’s like it was a possession of yours; you know? Then when CDs came out it became minimized and now everybody downloads something so it doesn’t have that impact on me anymore. I stopped buying CDs for a while; they don’t sound as good sometimes but I’m back to picking up stuff now, especially if it comes out on vinyl I try to grab the vinyl more.”
“That’s part of life,” he went on. “Things change but just because something changes doesn’t mean it’s good. The thing is, music really meant a lot. You didn’t just go to a record store or a show just because it was someplace to go for the sake of going; there was a reason you went beyond entertainment, you went to almost get educated and it seemed to mean more. When people go to a show now, they’re taking pictures or selfies and I know I’m sounding like the old guy but they are not in the moment and the moment is gone after that and not to be disparaging and I’m nobody really but the music that is coming out; I just don’t grasp it anymore. I look at the Grammy Awards and when Bonnie Raitt won “Song of the Year,” I saw one of the people talking on one of the shows saying, “She actually wrote the song by herself; this hasn’t happened since Amy Winehouse” and I was like, yeah, because she could sing and play and so can Bonnie Raitt and these other people, I’m not sure what they do. Maybe I’m just out of the loop but people don’t play guitar or piano like they used to anymore. Somebody writes a song for them and they go out and sing it and now in the studio, it’s ridiculous what you can do. Now with Pro Tools and all the other recording techniques; I remember I did a record and I was playing an upright bass and I flubbed something up and I stopped and said, I want to redo that and the guy says, “Oh, we’re just gonna cut and paste the verse and chorus anyway” and that was it. Then he said, “OK, we’re gonna do another track; are you ready?’ I was like, yeah, OK and I felt like I hadn’t really played much on the record. It was like being invited to a friend’s house for dinner, having the salad and then leaving (laughs); I wanted to be there for the whole thing but they just chopped things and put them in. When you are playing a song and recording it and it becomes a part of you, you want it to be you. I used to run a lot and do races and to me, if I didn’t finish the race, I didn’t do the race, I wasn’t successful. What we perceive as a mistake, those guys don’t see it that way (laughs).”
Yeah, change; some is great and others not so much. The loss of Simmonds who literally was the foundation of the band does change everything. So, what will Pat and Garnett do without their friend and bandmate?
“You know, Kim started it and he ended it, he was the voice of the band and it’s hard to say this because everybody asks about it. He and I would be driving or just hanging out in a hotel room and he’d say, “You’ve got to do me a favor and keep the band around” and I’d say, I can’t do that. How do I keep it around? Nobody is you, nobody is gonna take your place; it just wouldn’t work. I know there are a lot of legacy bands out there that don’t have any original members in them and they are still going out for the name and I understand that but for someone like this, personally, I don’t see it happening. Maybe another record because he wrote so many songs and he’s got demos and I hate to say this because I’m being hypocritical now but he did use a drum machine so it’s very easy for an engineer to get it and make everything work. I don’t like that whole thing because it sometimes sounds stiff but Garnett the drummer has got a really great groove. He’s very easy to play with, has a really good pocket but I’m concerned about using a click track because it can be very strict and the way he plays, he gives it sway and momentum and it feels good. So, we’re gonna do the best we can but I’m glad to be part of Kim’s legacy and I was very humbled to be able to be perform with someone of his stature.”
To discover more about Savoy Brown, DeSalvo, Simmonds and the latest record; please visit https://savoybrown.com/.
That’s it for this week! Please continue to support live and original music and until next week….ROCK ON!