Led by virtuoso guitarist Kim Simmonds, Savoy Brown were at the forefront of the blues rock movement of the late 1960s. But thanks to various behind the scenes problems, they never quite achieved the success of their peers. Here’s a look at why the London outfit failed to fulfill their initial promise.
Savoy Brown were founded in 1965 after harmonicist John O’Leary and guitarist Kim Simmonds struck up a friendship at a record shop in Soho, London. The pair added to the original line-up with vocalist Bryce Portius, bassist Ray Chappell, keyboard player Trevor Jeavons, and Leo Manning on the drums. But in a sign of things to come, the latter left almost as quickly as he arrived.
After recruiting Bob Hall as Jeavons’ replacement, Savoy Brown went through another personnel change. This time around it was founding member O’Leary who made his exit, following a row with the group’s manager and Kim’s brother, Harry Simmonds. The remaining members then recorded numerous covers of blues classics for their 1967 first studio effort, Shake Down.
Savoy Brown’s line-up then changed dramatically when Kim got rid of all four band mates. A whole host of musicians briefly served as their replacements, including ex-Bluesbreaker Hughie Flint and future Yes drummer Bill Bruford. But this revolving door approach continued for pretty much the entirety of the group’s career.
In 1968 Savoy Brown recorded two LPs, Blue Matter and Getting to the Point, the former of which featured one of their signature songs, “Train to Nowhere.” Showcasing the songwriting talents of one-time vocalist Chris Youlden, A Step Further and Raw Sienna arrived a year later. Unusually for the group, both these albums were recorded with the exact same line-up.
Following the release of 1970’s Looking In, several members quit Savoy Brown to form their own outfit, Foghat. The band adopted a similar revolving door policy when it came to band members. But they also enjoyed more success than the group they originated from, scoring countless gold albums and a U.S. top 20 single, “Slow Ride.”
But Foghat were far from the only act to enjoy success after leaving Savoy Brown. Singers Dave Walker and Jimmy Kunes went on to front Fleetwood Mac and supergroup Cactus, respectively. Keyboardist and guitarist Paul Raymond later showcased his talents in UFO, while bassist John Humphrey provided backing for Gary Moore and Carole King.
Luckily, despite the lack of commercial success, Savoy Brown were given the luxury of time by record label UK Decca. And this faith paid off when they began to shift records across the other side of the Atlantic. In 1972 they reached a career high of No.34 on the Billboard 200 with their eighth LP, Hellbound Train.
However, perhaps due to the constant uncertainty of their line-ups, Savoy Brown struggled to reach the same heights again. Released in the same year, Lion’s Share could only peak at No.151. And, in fact, apart from 1973’s Jack the Toad (No.84), the group missed the Top 100 with every single one of their other records during the ’70s.
Speaking to Musoscribe in 2018, Simmonds reflected on why Savoy Brown experienced so much upheaval. He said, “I think a lot of it had to do with me. And a lot of it had to do with musicians that would, frankly, laugh at me and sort of say, ‘You’re taking it too seriously.’ And I was. I thought it was a serious thing to do.”
Savoy Brown continued to struggle to make any sort of impression in their homeland, too. In fact, they never scored a charting single in the United Kingdom. And they didn’t fare much better on the album chart either, spending just a solitary week there when Looking In peaked at No.50 in 1970.
Nevertheless, ever-present Simmonds continued to persevere with his rotating cast of musicians. Gypsy Stew’s Don Cook, The Joe Perry Project’s Ralph Morman and Heavy Metal Kids’ Barry Paul were just a few of the established names who briefly joined the Savoy Brown line-up. But, then, in the 1980s, the band experienced a second wind.
Indeed, in 1981 the band scored a surprise hit from their Rock ’N’ Roll Warriors LP. First recorded by fellow Brits Smokie, “Run to Me” reached No.68 on the US Hot 100 to become their highest ever charting single. As a result, Savoy Brown were invited to support Judas Priest on their U.S. arena tour.
But, as before, Savoy Brown failed to capitalize on their minor success, and just six months later they were once again essentially a one-man band. Singer Dave Brown did provide some rare consistency after rejoining the group in 1986. The journeyman, who’d first performed with the band in the early 1970s, enjoyed a five-year stint before leaving for the second time in 1991.
Simmonds continued to work with various different musicians in the studio and on stage throughout the 1990s. These included Ten Years After bassist Leo Lyons, Chicago bluesman Hubert Sumlin and Molly Hatchet vocalist Phil McCormack. The group also contributed to the soundtrack of martial arts action flick Kickboxer 2.
The 1990s also saw Simmonds launch a solo career with the release of acoustic album, Solitaire. He went on to record several other studio efforts including Blues Like Midnight, Struck by Lightning and Out of the Blue. The cover of the latter also showcased Simmonds’ talents as an artist.
In 2003 Savoy signed to Blind Pig Records. They released a number of albums through the indie blues label including Strange Days and Steel. They also reached a new audience in 2008 when their classic track, “Train to Nowhere,” was featured in and used as a clue in an episode of long-running procedural CSI:NY.
And from 2009 Savoy Brown enjoyed a surprising amount of stability. Indeed, both bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm managed to keep their place in the line-up alongside Kim Simmonds throughout the following decade. The trio recorded several albums together, including Voodoo Moon, Songs from the Road and Goin’ to the Delta.
And in 2015 the group released one of their most successful albums in years. Credited to Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown, The Devil to Pay peaked at No.4 on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart. This brought Simmonds’ overall album tally close to the half-century mark.
And Simmonds shows no signs of retiring just yet judging by an interview he gave in 2017. He told uDiscoverMusic, “I still write new songs and rehearse every day. I have a new album planned for 2017. If you don’t keep finding the muse, you lose it.” And that aforementioned album, Witchy Feelin’, did arrive later that year through Ruf Records.