18th annual NYS Blues Fest Saturday and Sunday

Russ Tarby 07/07/09More articles
Welsh-born blues-rocker Kim Simmonds, leader of Savoy Brown is also an accomplished painter.
Electric & acoustic: Guitarists Kim Simmonds and John Hammond headline the Festival

While both Kim Simmonds and John Hammond rose to prominence during the mid-1960s, they represent two totally different spectrums of the blues. As Savoy Brown bandleader, Simmonds wails on electric guitar, while Hammond – primarily a solo performer – coaxes the blues from acoustic and National Reso-Phonic guitars.

Simmonds, 61, will front Savoy Brown, the band he founded in London in 1965, on the first night of the 18th annual New York State Blues Festival at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, July 11, in Clinton Square. That same day, former Blues Brothers harmonica hotshot Dan Aykroyd will act as the festival’s master of ceremonies.

On Sunday, July 12, Hammond’s quartet will play the final set of the festival’s 17 live performances over the two days.

Admission is free to the two-day festival sponsored by Budweiser beer.

Born in South Wales, Simmonds has lived in Upstate New York for three decades. He recently augmented his stage gear with an old Ibanez Destroyer 2 guitar.

“I’ve had the guitar since the 1980s when it first came on the market,” he said. “I replaced the pick-ups with a pair of vintage PAFs from the 1950s, and the guitar has a nice biting tone.”

Simmonds revisits Savoy Brown’s golden days by using Twin Reverb as he did, to excellent effect, in the 1970s. “It doesn’t color my sound so much as the previous amplifiers I was using, good as they are, and I feel my touch on the guitar comes through more,” he said. “It’s a cleaner sound which means I have to work harder at playing. In the process I think my personality comes out more.”

The most recent version of Savoy Brown also features Brooklyn-born bassist Gerry Sorrentino and Long Island drummer Mario Staiano.

The trio will likely perform tunes such as “Monday Morning Blues” and “I’ll Keep on Singing the Blues” from the band’s most recent disc, Steel, on Greg Spencer’s Baldwinsville-based Blue Wave label, as well as sizzling Savoy Brown hits like “Street Corner Talkin,’” “Tell Mama” and “Needle and Spoon.”

Any day now, Panache Records is set to release Too Much of a Good Thing: The Savoy Brown Collection 1992-2007.

While Simmonds stands as a blues-rock pioneer, Hammond’s acoustic approach harkens back to the Delta blues. Having debuted in 1962, at the Gaslight Café in Greenwich Village, Hammond was influenced by blues pickers such as Mississippi John Hurt and the Rev. Gary Davis.

Some critics have described Hammond, 66, as a white Robert Johnson, and Hammond does justice to classic blues by combining powerful guitar and harmonica work with expressive vocals and a dignified stage presence.

His newest disc, Rough & Tough (Chesky Records), quickly rose into the Top 20 of Billboard’s Blues Charts. Its tracks include “My Mind is Ramblin,’” “Statesboro Blues” and even “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”

Hammond’s quartet – as it appears on record – features drummer Stephen Hodges, bassist Marty Ballou and keyboardist Bruce Katz.

Katz is scheduled to appear at the festival with Rochester blues-belter Joe Beard at 3:45 p.m. July 12. Hammond’s set starts at 9:30 p.m.

During the festival, headliners will rock the Budweiser Main Stage on South Clinton Street, and eight regional acts will perform on the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Stage near South Salina Street at the east end of Clinton Square.
The Dino Stage will host a tribute to the late “Voice of Syracuse,” Roosevelt Dean, at 8 p.m. Sunday. America’s top female country-blues artist, guitarist/singer Rory Block, will grace the Dino Stage at 5 p.m. Sauturday. Block honed her chops playing with folkies in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park.

“One thing we’re doing differently this year is focusing on blues musicians who have direct ties to New York,” said Dave Katleski, president of the NYS Rhythm & Blues Festival, Inc. “The marketability of ‘NY-Born Blues’ will help us meet our attendance goal of 75,000, engaging a younger audience and encouraging ethnically diverse blues fans to join us in Clinton Square.”

Beside Simmonds and Hammond, other festival performers with Empire State roots include Rochester-bred six-stringer John Mooney & Bluesiana (6:30 p.m. Sunday), and two hot Big Apple acts, Poppa Chubby and the Alexis Suter Band (3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Saturday).

The festival presents non-stop music from noon to 11 p.m. July 11 and 12, and local bands will entertain late-night audiences at downtown clubs.

For the entire Clinton Square schedule, visit nysbluesfest.com/schedule.html.

Welsh-born blues-rocker Kim Simmonds, leader of Savoy Brown.

TAGS: Dan Aykroyd,Blues Brothers,Kim Simmonds,John Hammond,New York State Blues Festival,Savoy Brown,Panache Records,John Mooney & Bluesiana,Poppa Chubby,the Alexis Suter Band
EDITION: The Eagle

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