Blues is not for the faint-hearted. Since the genre first drew breath, its greatest practitioners have embraced the darkness, spinning tales of hardship and death, hellhounds and devilry. If the sleeve of Witchy Feelin’ suggests that Kim Simmonds, too, has a tendency towards the macabre, then Savoy Brown’s iconic leader is happy to confirm it. “Blues has always dealt with themes of the Devil, witchcraft and so forth, and I’ve always written along those lines. At least three of the songs on Witchy Feelin’ have that hoodoo vibe… Released in 2017 on Ruf Records, Witchy Feelin’ proves the Devil still has all the best tunes. From the thrillingly brittle guitar riff that opens Why Did You Hoodoo Me, we are in the hands of a master, with Simmonds reigniting the seismic vocals and searing fretwork that established Savoy Brown as linchpins of the ’60s British blues boom. “On this album, I tried my best to get my voice in its power zone,” he explains. “I’m a baritone singer. I like listening to singers I can relate to, such as J.J. Cale, Mark Knopfler, Tony Joe White and Tom Rush. For my guitar playing, I still get inspiration from Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and all the Chicago players I grew up listening to back in ’63… but I always listen to new music too.” Recording alongside Pat Desalvo (bass), Garnet Grimm (drums) and engineer Ben Elliott, Simmonds leads us into a world of dark nights, wild weather, women and whiskey: all perennial themes given a modern twist by this ageless bluesman. “The songs on this album have been two years in the making,” he reflects. “I tried to write songs that had a personal point of view yet can be relatable to everyone. On Vintage Man, I wrote about being the type of guy who doesn’t change as he gets older. I wrote about the power of love on Why Did You Hoodoo Me. And with Guitar Slinger, I wrote a song about seeing a great guitar player in an old country bar – as I did when I first saw Roy Buchanan in ’69.” Anyone who witnessed Savoy Brown leave the blocks in 1965 would speak of a similar epiphany.Back then, the band were the spark that ignited the blues-boom, signing to Decca, opening for Cream’s first London show and boasting a lead guitarist who was being namedropped in the same reverential breath as peers like Clapton and Hendrix (with whom Simmonds jammed). Already, the guitarist was emerging as the band’s driving force. “I had a vision,” he reflects. “When I started the band back in 1965, the concept was to be a British version of a Chicago blues band. And the exciting thing now is, that vision is still alive.” Soon, Savoy Brown had achieved what most British bands never did – success in America – and became a major US draw thanks to their high-energy material and tireless work ethic. “There’s far too much said about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” Simmonds told Classic Rock. “It’s a cliché. We were all extremely hard-working guys. When we came over to America, we were like a little army. I look at that time as being filled with incredible talent.” Times changed, of course, and by 1979, Simmonds had moved from a London he no longer recognised – “The punks were everywhere!” – to settle permanently in New York. The Savoy Brown bandmembers came and went, and the music scene shifted around him, but the guitarist stuck thrillingly to his guns and reaped the rewards, performing in iconic venues like Carnegie Hall and the Fillmore East and West, releasing thirty-odd albums, and later enjoying a well-deserved induction into Hollywood’s Rock Walk Of Fame. Even in the post-millennium, while his peers grow soft and drift into semi-retirement, Simmonds retains a vision and an edge, spitting out acclaimed albums that include 2011’s Voodoo Moon, 2014’s Goin’ To The Delta, 2015’s The Devil To Pay – and the emphatic new addition to Savoy Brown’s catalogue, Witchy Feelin’.“I'm amazed that I still have the energy inside me to play guitar, create music and write songs,” he considers. “I’ve been blessed in my life and I thank God for that. I’ve never been a believer in holding on to the past – I don’t look over my shoulder and congratulate myself. I always want to climb the next mountain – and I’m very pleased with this new album…”
In 2011, three of the hottest female musicians on the contemporary blues scene embarked on a tour calling themselves "Girls with Guitars." Their appearances at clubs and festivals unleashed a wave of enthusiasm on both sides of the Atlantic. Nearly everyone involved - both audiences and the performers themselves - hoped the band wouldn't simply break up and fade into memory once the tour was over.
The good news: The fun is about to continue! Starting in January 2012, the 8th edition of the annual Ruf Records Blues Caravan hits the road, this time under the heading "More Girls with Guitars."
Kansas City native Samantha Fish may have been the least experienced member of last year's "Girls with Guitars" trio, but she quickly became a powerful presence at the very center of the show. Her performances lived up to - no, check that - surpassed all the pre-tour hype surrounding this rising star of the blues. Just 22 years old, Fish sings and plays at an astounding level of maturity. She made that clear on her debut album Runaway, released during Blues Caravan 2011 - a convincing blend of blues, boogie, rock and country. "Smoking, amped up blues/rock that just doesn't quit and keeps you coming back for more. Hot stuff." (MidwestRecord.com)
Dani Wilde already has plenty of experience on the Caravan. 2012 will mark her third go-round on the tour. Like Samantha Fish, the native of Brighton, England is a true triple threat as a singer, guitarist and songwriter. She combines the intensity of the "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin with a rugged and unique fingering technique. With her performances of songs like "Abandoned Child" and "Red Blooded Woman" from her current CD Shine, she delivered some of the most gripping moments of last year's concerts. "Wilde's soulful voice ... conjures up both deep emotion and a real feel for the blues." (GetReadytoRock.com)
Joining her from Brighton is Victoria Smith, a newcomer to the tour who will complement the "Girls with Guitars" on bass. This in-demand musician has already played in countless rock bands (including the popular punk outfit The Ramonas), but was originally inspired by the soul music of Motown Records and particularly by the revolutionary playing of Motown's bass legend James Jamerson. Considered one of Britain's finest young bass players, Smith will join the always dependable Blues Caravan drummer Denis Palatin in a top-flight rhythm section.
If you were lucky enough to witness the "Girls with Guitars" in 2011 - get ready for an evening of blues that is sure to be just as dynamic and musically compelling. For further information on "More Girls with Guitars," go to: www.bluescaravan.com
In the blues, years or even decades of "payin' dues" is the norm. Most blues musicians toil in relative obscurity, and those that have been at it a while wear their struggles like a badge of honor. By those standards, Ana Popovic's rise has been meteoric. Within five years of leaving her native Yugoslavia, the 29-year-old singer/guitarist has played all major European music festivals like Peer, Bishopstock and Notodden. She has shared stages with Bernard Allison, Kenny Neal and Solomon Burke and recorded with hitmaker Jim Gaines. Perhaps most impressive of all is her W.C. Handy Blues Award nomination for Best New Artist of 2003 - a rare honor for a European blues artist.
Ana Popovic was born in Belgrade in 1976. Her father first introduced her to the blues, through an extensive record collection and sessions hosted at the family home. Ana took to the guitar and founded her first serious band at age nineteen. Within a year, she was playing outside of Yugoslavia and opening shows for American blues icons like Junior Wells. By 1998, her band was doing 100 shows annually and appearing regularly on Yugoslavian television. Her debut CD, "Hometown", provided a first glimpse of her talents as a singer and guitarist.
In 1999, Ana relocated to the Netherlands to study jazz guitar. She quickly became a fixture on the Dutch blues scene and soon ventured into neighboring Germany. Ruf Records took notice and a few months later, she was on a plane to Memphis to record her successful debut album on Ruf Records, "Hush" (released in 2001). Since then, Ana's star has been rising like mercury on a Mississippi summer's day. With "Comfort to the Soul" (2003), Popovic took her burgeoning career to the next level, she delivered another diverse package of blues, rock, soul and jazz. The album makes one thing clear. Ana Popovic is not about recycling worn-out clichés. Her blues are fresh, positive and genre-expanding.
Now she's back with a brandnew live album - "ANA! Live in Amsterdam" (2005). It was recorded at the Melkweg in Amsterdam/ Netherlands. The refrain of her first song "Don't Bear Down On Me" can be taken straight away as the motto of the whole evening: "I'm Here To Steal The Show". And indeed, that's what she does! 29-year-old Ana Popovic proves with her own songs and fresh interpretations that she is an excellent and expressive guitarist with a powerful voice. The most impressive aspect of her music is its diversity of techniques and styles - smoking electric funk slide guitar, jazzy instrumentals and tight blues grooves.
Clearly, Ana Popovic takes her music seriously. It is her road home, to herself. Or - to paraphrase John Lee Hooker - her Healer. "We're living in a time when everything is rushed," she observed recently. "But where are we in all of this? And where's the music?"
Chemistry. You either got it or you don’t. When the five members of Royal Southern Brotherhood convened in February at Dockside Studios, Louisiana, there was magic in the air. Just seven days later, the acclaimed US soul-blues collective emerged triumphant with The Royal Gospel: the fourth album in their rocket-heeled rise and further proof of a lineup born to play together.
Enough has been said about Royal Southern Brotherhood’s illustrious backstory. Enough has been written about the critical acclaim and sell-out crowds that greeted the original lineup’s 2012 breakout. Right now, fans would rather hear about the questing new material and finger-on-pulse worldview of The Royal Gospel, released 2016 on Ruf Records. Amen to that.
Like all the best groups, Royal Southern Brotherhood have evolved. Having bonded on 2015’s Don’t Look Back, the MkII lineup of Cyril Neville (percussion/vocals), Bart Walker (guitar/vocals), Tyrone Vaughan (guitar/vocals) and Yonrico Scott (drums) have found another gear on The Royal Gospel, bolstered by new recruit Darrell Phillips (bass/vocals), plus guest B3 from Norman Caesar. “As far as the men making the music and playing the songs,” says Neville, “the mission of the band has never changed.”
Scan the credits for The Royal Gospel and you’ll recognise that while some bands operate a songwriting dictatorship, this one thrives on material penned in partnership (or even originated between three members). Neville is as prolific as you’d expect – given the fistful of projects he’s kept spinning over the decades – but so too are Walker and Vaughan, who collaborated remotely with their bandleader, trading ideas back-and-forth via the Web.
“It’s not often that you find a connection like me and Cyril,” explains Walker, whose Nashville home is some 800 miles from Neville’s base in New Orleans. “It got to the point where we were almost in each other’s heads – and we had already worked out what the other one was gonna say.”
“It’s a very spiritual thing,” agrees Neville. “I kinda laughed, because Bart was getting ahead of what I was even thinking. Last time, we actually got together in the room to do the demos. This time, it was all done by iPhone and stuff like that. But when you taste this musical gumbo, you’re gonna be very satisfied, however we approached the kitchen.”
When the band and famed producer David Z arrived at Dockside, the recording ethos was unapologetically old-school: simply cut the songs live in the room, eyeball-to-eyeball, in a minimum of takes. “We walked in not really knowing what we were gonna do,” recalls Phillips. “Cyril and Bart come to us with chord progressions, tempos and ideas, and we build together. We’d just fall right into the thing and all of a sudden, there’s the song. On this record, we came together as a band. It was a magical thing to witness.”
ian parker - 21st century blues man
Expressed through a distinctive bitter-sweet vocal delivery and harrowing guitar work, Ian's songs hold nothing back. His ability and willingness to share with his audience, naked honesty and genuine emotion, is what sets him apart.
Drawing on an eclectic range of influences, this young man is fast becoming Britain's best loved blues/roots performer. A songwriter genuinely literate, sometimes almost literary, Ian is an original craftsman rooted in the blues but not trapped by any desire to replicate the past. He is without doubt a relevant contemporary blues man.
Ian signed to Ruf Records following a personal introduction to US record producer, David Z (Prince - Purple Rain). His debut album 'INSIDE' (Ruf1094) was released in October 2003.
" I was truly honoured to be involved in this project." David Z
In March 2004, Ian appeared on Germany's top live music TV show, 'Rockpalast' as part of the 'Crossroads Festival'. Ian and his band were voted the number one act of the festival and a live DVD of this incendiary performance was released in June 2005, entitled '...WHILST THE WIND' (Ruf3007).
In addition to the DVD, a live album documenting Ian's performance in Hannover during his December 2004 European Tour, was also released in June 2005 under the same title (Ruf1102). Both releases met with high critical acclaim and continue to notch up impressive sales.
In September 2005, Ian wrote and recorded five songs for a Ruf Records project album, 'PILGRIMAGE' (Ruf1112) which was recorded in Clarksdale, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee, and released in January 2006. The recording of Pilgrimage, not only extended Ian's touring activities throughout Europe and importantly into the US, it also had a profound effect on the artist's musical direction and focus.
On return from America in September 2005, Ian began a lengthy artistic process based around his rediscovery of the blues and soul artists who had inspired him to begin playing as a teenager. This period of consolidation culminated in the recording of the album 'WHERE I BELONG' (Ruf1120), released in February 2007.
'WHERE I BELONG' was recorded in Cheltenham, England and produced by Matt Butler, whose extensive CV includes none other than Sir Paul McCartney. Recorded analogue to tape, the album has the rich and warm sonic characteristics associated with the pre-digital age, but there is nothing retro about this release. 'WHERE I BELONG' has something for all blues fans, purists and progressives alike. It catalogues the pronounced growth and self-discovery of a modern blues artist who is here to stay.
"The best band I've seen in a decade - Ian's voice, feel and guitar technique are what his contemporaries can only dream of!" WALTER TROUT
"Skilfully crafted, emotionally expressive and honest original songs." BRYN SLACK (Austin Slack Music)