Jazzin’ on the Blues: Q & A with Kim Simmonds

Haven’t you heard? Kim Simmonds, a founding member of the British blues scene, has a new album out.

Disclosure: I may be compensated through the links in the post below, but all opinions are my own.

Jazzin’ on the Blues is an acoustic-style instrumental album and the fifth solo offering from the legendary guitarist — and last original member — of blues band Savoy Brown.

When I heard about the album, I wanted to know more — Kim Simmonds is part of rock history and has shared billings with Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton, for goodness sake!

Simmonds’ music is most popular in the United States.  In 1971, Savoy Brown broke into the Billboard Hot 100 with the release of their album Street Corner Talking, which included the tracks Tell Mama and Street Corner Talking. So, it isn’t surprising that the US is where the Welsh-born guitarist is based these days.

Of course, Crazy ‘Bout Guitars is a New Zealand-based online guitar magazine. So, did geographical distance stop me from getting my story? I think not. Thanks to the magical Worldwide Web, nothing can stop me. To find out what Kim Simmonds has to say about Jazzin’ on the Blues, read on.

Savoy Brown performing Tell Mama.

Why did you choose to make an instrumental album?

I wrote a few of those tunes and realized I had a cool project in the making. It just happened as I was practicing in my studio. And it showed off my guitar playing, which is what people want to hear. My Facebook guy catalogues all the song demos I write, and he persuaded me to make the album.

Did you have a particular goal when recording the Jazzin’ on the blues? If so, did you achieve it?

I’m not a goal-orientated person. I don’t set goals. I wing everything. I had to be persuaded to release this album because I wasn’t sure it would be received well. Happily I was wrong.

What are the challenges when recording an instrumental album, rather than one with vocals?

I find it easier to record and write instrumentals. Without the vocal, it’s one less instrument to have to consider and arrange. The songs on Jazzin’ on the blues came easily to me, and often that is the road to take…..the easy one. I hope I have a follow up in me!

Who are the other musicians on the album?

Just Ron Keck plays percussion. Ron was also the engineer, so it was just the two of us putting the album together. It was great just having that intimacy and working without any commotion around. I played my own rhythm guitar and also the bass guitar.

So, it is you playing the harmonica?

Yes, I play harmonica, and this album was a good way for me to feature it. I love the instrument, and over the years, I’ve found my own style. I’ve never wanted to play the clichés and wasn’t good at playing those anyway!

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Who produced the album?

I produced the album, and Ron Keck engineered, mixed and mastered it.

Did you record the album with record company support? If so, which record company?

No record company support. I make and produce all my own albums. Sometimes I lease them out to record labels, but Jazzin’ on the blues was my first national release on my own label, Panache Records.

A taste from Jazzin’ on the Blues.

“I’m not a goal-orientated person. I don’t set goals. I wing everything. I had to be persuaded to release this album because I wasn’t sure it would be received well. Happily I was wrong” — Kim Simmonds

Can you describe the recording process?

If I remember correctly, I believe I recorded the rhythm guitar tracks first…then I played the lead guitar. Then I added bass. Then Ron added percussion. It was all very simple and straightforward.

How about your writing process?

With instrumentals, it’s just a question of me sitting down with an acoustic guitar and starting to play. Something always comes out. I play along with a drum machine to keep my tempos correct and to give me a bigger-picture look when I re-listen. Once I have a few tunes that work, I can then start to add accordingly.  I’ll look for keys I haven’t used or grooves I haven’t used so as to give an album or set of tunes balance.

How did you achieve the wonderful acoustic guitar sound?

I’d have to ask Ron. I believe he used old ribbon microphones on the guitars. But they do say it’s all in the fingers!

Can you describe some of your playing techniques?

I use a pick and often play in a minor key. That allows me to play in a moody blues style that has feeling. I have a soft touch, and I believe that is needed for good technique….especially if you want to play with subtlety.

Even when the song is pitched in a major key, I often will play the blues scale. That’s what I am…a blues guitar player.

If I play country blues I will still use a pick for a bass drone and then finger pick the top strings.

What guitars did you play on the album?

I used a fairly new Martin D-28 and a 1990s Guild DV-52.

What was a highlight when recording the album?

Just the fact that I was making it all work, virtually on my own, was a great kick. I thought I could do it, but there was always the possibility I could flop!

Do you have a favourite tune on the album? If so, which one and why?

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any particular track, but I do like the ballads on the album. They appeal to my wistful side.

You’ve been in the music business for a long time and have seen many changes. What advice would you give an aspiring guitarist trying to make it in today’s environment of downloads and streaming?

Focus on one style. Be known for doing one thing. Find out what it is you love and were meant to play. Do that. Don’t expect riches. You’re an artist.  Don’t follow popular trends.

Musicians make a living playing live gigs. Play live always. Very few make a living from record royalties. Even Michael Jackson was getting himself out of debt by doing a world tour. Be unafraid to make a fool of yourself in order to play live. Get on stage and let others say, “I wish I had the nerve to do that.” You will be applauded for trying.

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Andrew Healey

Editor

Andrew is an Auckland-based writer and musician.

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