Kim Simmonds is a guitar player’s guitar player. Long underrated and always left off the list of British legends like Clapton, Townshend, and Richards, the Savoy Brown frontman has spent the better part of four decades putting out solid LPs and touring relentlessly. Savoy has always been more popular stateside than in their native London, and the constant overhaul in the band’s lineup probably gave the impression of an instability in their boogie blues sound. If you believe Simmonds however, the revolving door in his rhythm section kept the records fresh and created a culture of accountability within the band — hold your own, or move on.

I had high expectations for Savoy’s recent performance in San Juan Capistrano. My father initiated me as a kid, frequently spinning their early 70s classics, “Looking In” and “Street Corner Talkin’.” And while you never know what you’re going to get from a live performance with a group entering (or already in) the twilight of their career, Simmonds proved that he still has it. They played classics like “Street Corner Talkin’,” “Poor Girl,” and “Wang Dang Doodle,” and dipped into some new material, which was played with feeling. The set was rounded out by a transcendent cover of the standard “Little Red Rooster,” with the audience engaging in an energetic call and response with the band.

Kim Simmonds plays The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano


Released on Decca in 1970, Black Cat Bones’ first and only record is an interesting window into London’s burgeoning blues scene of the late 1960s. Named after a line in a Muddy Water’s song, the band originally boasted a lineup including Paul Kossoff and Simon Kirke, who would go on to form Free. The group was something of a revolving door though, and Kossoff and Kirke do not appear on this release. The cast here includes Stu and Derek Brooks who later formed Leaf Hound, and Rod Price who played lead in Foghat for many years.

The album’s opening track, “Chauffeur” establishes the immediacy of their sound with Brian Short’s deep, moody vocals, and Derek Brooks’ full, warm tone on guitar. “Death Valley Blues” is a slow-burning track that feels like Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” which was released on “Zeppelin III” in the fall of 1970.

“Please Tell Me Baby” ups the tempo, reeling between tightness and a tongue-in-cheek jam where Robin Sylvester’s guest piano work slows, halts and kicks. The bands seems to be having a ball here. On “Save My Love” the album takes a heavy turn, as the bass and lead guitars follow the same line. When Derek Brooks breaks off from his brother Stu’s bass, the solo is executed to great effect and is in service of the song. No noodling or needless pyrotechnics here (think Alvin Lee), just straight ahead lead phrases that build upon the song’s central riff.

“Four Women” is the only cut that feels stuck in time. An unfortunate treatment of Nina Simone’s original, the opening acoustics and Short’s vocal styling feel a bit dated. The track is filled with a misplaced sadness that fails to resonate given the authenticity of the source material.

The album moves ahead with “Sylvester’s Blues,” a Price-penned homage to the delta sound. The band alternates between acoustic and electric sections, and pulls the record back from the brink of inconsistency threatened by the Simone cover. Another Price original, “Good Lookin’ Woman,” rounds out the set, with vocals and guitar hitting the same notes in a satisfying hard blues workout.

In all, Black Cat Bones’s “Barbed Wire Sandwich” does what good blues should do. It breathes new life into the form and makes a unique mark on the scene with a compelling combination of tradition and invention.

Highlights: Chauffeur, Death Valley Blues, Please Tell Me Baby

Leaf Hound grew out of the London-based band Black Cat Bones, one of the many groups that dipped into hard rock, blues, and proto-metal in the late 1960 and early 70s. They are a curious band that sounds like everyone else and no one all at once. Much of the 1971 LP, “Growers of Mushroom” draws on Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but the aggressive playing and raw production give the album an edge that those two groups lacked.

The comparisons to Zeppelin and others are obvious. Guitarist Derek Brooks does his best Jimmy Page, but doesn’t have the same pedigree, chops or inventive phrasing of Page. Vocalist Peter French’s style sounds like an amalgamation of Robert Plant and Terry Reid, and listeners will likely conjure those two singers within the first few minutes of “Freelance Fiend,” the album’s opening track. To French’s credit, he does have an idiosyncratic delivery and uncommon confidence which make his performance intensely listenable. Leaf Hound is rounded out by rhythm guitarist Mick Halls, bassist Stuart Brooks, and drummer Keith George-Young, all of whom are serviceable and keep the tunes moving.

“Growers of Mushroom,” originally released on Decca, is a quick listen with 11 tracks, only one of which is longer than 5 minutes. In the end, all the comparisons to other heavy rock bands don’t mean much — this is the kind of record that ought to be played loud and late at night.

Highlights: Freeland Fiend, Drowned My Life In Fear, Work My Body, With A Minute To Go