Sunday, January 19, 2020

Savoy Brown 1968-1970

There are magical times when forces come together and stars align. When the parts fit together like no other fit. When a band does it's thing so well, it defines itself. For about two years, Savoy Brown had the mojo workin'.  Kim Simmonds guitar, Chris Youlden vocals, Dave Preverett guitar, Bob Hall piano, Roger Earl drums, and Rivers Jobe and later Tony Stevens bass were that blend that made blues magic happen. The combination of Kim Simmonds and Chris Youlden made for a band that benefited from two strong songwriters, Simmonds super-hot guitar, and Youlden's unique vocals.

The first evidence is 1968's Getting To The Point, a crazy good blues-rock record by any standard. The slow blues of Flood In Houston, the fast walking Stay With Me Baby,  the pious Honey Bee, the perfection of Kim Simmonds' The Incredible Gnome Meets Jaxman, and Mr Downchild, hot guitar and fine blues vocals come to the surface at every turn. 

The title track is an incendiary swinging blues-boogie that cooks! Quality dips a bit on the last few songs. But overall an album well worth your exploration. 
Next up in 1969 comes Blue Matter, a consistently strong outing, featuring their biggest hit single, the classic Train To Nowhere, with a fine Chris Youlden vocal, hot Kim Simmonds guitar, and nicely arranged horns. The scary Tolling Bells and Youlden's great lyric for She's Got A Ring In His Nose And A Ring On Her Hand both impress, with Youlden's vocal, fine piano and guitar, and great songs. Vicksburg Blues features only Bob Hall's piano and Youlden, and it's good for that sort of thing. Don't Turn Me From Your Door ends the side with fine ensemble playing on only an OK song.

Side two was recorded live on a night when Youlden was ill and couldn't sing, so Lonsome Dave Preverett took lead vocals, and while he's no slouch, he's no Youlden either. The three songs are all good, and we get lots of Kim Simmonds blazing blues guitar, and a great band cookin' the bluesy boogie on Louisiana Blues. The version of It Hurts Me Too is great.
A Step Further, also 1969, repeats the studio side/live side idea behind Blue Matter almost as successfully, but the live side is somewhat less fine. The four songs on the studio side are consistently great. Made Up My Mind, Life's One Act Play, and I'm Tired are some of Youlden's best songs, both lyrically and vocally. Add Simmonds smokin' guitar and strong arrangements, and they are classics. Simmonds own instrumental Waiting In The Bamboo Grove is fun, fast, and features horns and Simmonds hot guitar.

The live side is either a lot of fun, or a waste of time, depending on your mood and tolerance for screwing around. The side is one 22 minute medley called Savoy Brown Boogie, and a fair amount of it is blazing blues-boogie and Kim Simmonds guitar. But an equally fair amount is unfocused meandering and party pandering. A mixed bag at best, but a huge live hit for the band for several years.
Finally, in 1970 comes Raw Sienna, another strong if imperfect record. Youlden's A Hard Way To Go kicks things off in fine form, just a great song. Simmonds' That Same Feeling shows off a great band, nice piano, hot guitar and strong vocal, all cylinders firing at once. Master Hare is another good Simmonds instrumental, and Needle and Spoon and A Little More Wine show that Youlden didn't write only great songs, he also wrote these. They're not terrible, but they are not his strongest outings, especially lyrically.

Side two features three great Youlden songs, I'm Crying (piano driven blues strut, great vocal), Stay While The Night Is Young (mellow blues), and When I Was A Young Boy (killer song with prominent strings and piano) and one solid Simmonds instrumental in Is That So.

Of these four fine outings, Blue Matter is the strongest, with Raw Sienna coming mighty close.

After Raw Sienna,  Chris Youlden left the band, and Kim Simmonds lost a fine songwriter and singer that helped elevate this band above the fairly crowded English blues band genre. Simmonds continued, and still continues, under the Savoy Brown banner, and has released records and toured consistently for 50 years. There have been many permutations of the band, and while I have not heard those records, Kim Simmonds is a solid blues songwriter and an exceptional guitarist. I have no doubt there is value to be had seeing him live, and several of the recordings have been quite successful.

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