A Cloud of Psych-Blues Rolls in From The South
Rock-blues trio SIMO are in London on a promo visit, we meet up with them in the basement of the St Moritz Club in Soho (where they will play live later in a showcase) for a chat about their forthcoming album on Mascot / Provogue, song lyrics, playing live, Duane Allman and much more….
To explain, participants in this piece are: band members guitarist JD Simo, bassist Elad Shapiro and drummer Adam Abrashoff – with our Pete, plus his guitarist Shakey Howell for JLTT
P: Welcome to London, chaps…Glenn and Kieran saw you open for Walter Trout on Saturday, I had to be with Warren Haynes BUT you’re playing here tonight, so..
E: Oh cool!
P: I’ve been listening to the album coming out in January..let’s start with a spiky question – Joe Bonamassa is tipping you for great things and as a good signing, how are you guys going to live up to the hype?
J: (Warmly) You don’t, you just do the best you can. You do what you do and try to do it as best as you manage..Joe’s been extremely gracious, he’s very good friend of mine. I have lot of respect and love for him as a brother and regardless of what happens next, I will be forever grateful for him going to bat for us and he didn’t have to.
P: Years ago he helped me do a piece on Rory Gallagher, who he loved and I saw often..but the fact that you chaps are not eighteen means that you have enough experience and stage time to overcome any hype and just play out. I hope!
J: Yeah, one would hope. As far as experience is concerned, I have been laying since I was very very young and I left home very young, to just play. Spent years playing on records in Nashville and then I played in a club band there, that several other successful session musicians preceeded me in, for most of my early twenties I’d do two sessions a day and then play four hours at night
S: Was that Don Kelley’s?
J : Yeah!
S: I was visiting there last year, in Nashville ! I was told I had to see Daniel Donato. And I saw a video of you playing there, last night
J: Wow! I did five plus years there..five nights a week..I have been playing bars and stuff since I was 8,9 years old…but that core time spent there, that’s something no one can take away from you..as the world continues to change it is harder and harder for young musicians to get that kind of exposure. In varying degrees that is something we’ve all had, yeah
S: When did Daniel follow you there?
J: I finished about two years ago AND Daniel had been coming to see us since he was 12, 13. He’d come with a recorder once a week. Johnny Hyland, Guthrie Trapp..all played there..Kenny Vaughan who plays with Marty Stuart. I hadn’t played that style of music, I had no money and was about to be homeless. Then they needed someone and I got the chance so I followed Guthrie Trapp, who plays with Jerry Douglas. It was intimidating playing that style of music. Bluegrass, Western Swing..but such great experience.
S: Did you get the sessions from playing with Don?
J: Yeah, because producers would go to see his band. To find someone new to use. You start on minor stuff than after a while you get to play on masters…
P: The Stranger Blues that starts this record is Elmore James, of course. Do you play slide in standard tuning?
J: Yes, just so I don’t have to change guitars a lot. I try to make it so I if want to use a slide at any time, then I can
P: You already have a G chord sort of with the D,G and B
J: Oh yeah, so you base off that and there’s ways to fudge around it ..
P: The sound is Elmore but the feel is closer to ‘I Wish You Would’, the tempo. And that’s down to these guys isn’t it? Elad, how do you approach this number..it’s a real groove
E: I took a pick, though I’m not a pick player usually, this sounded like it need that
P: Two Timing Woman is choppy, with the slide..Adam do you go into double time here?
A: There’s not any real double time there …ah wait! There’s the breaks…(goes into elaborate demo mode on various tempos, much hilarity ensues – P)
E: He’s a teacher! So we get this!
P: Can’t Say Her Name, I like the emphatic chording on this
J: That’s our Free tribute
P: But there’s a James Gang track called My Door Is Open, Dom Troiano days..
J: Yes !!! well they’re hugely influential on us, for sure
P: I was convinced you knew the James Gang stuff…
J: What a great band they were!
P: And they didn’t get in each other’s way
J (enthused) : Very sympathetic players to one another and you listen to the Live In Concert record, they had these great songs, you’d get a short well-crafted song then go off on some odyssey…they did both really well
P: There’s a Hendrixy riff on I Lied..you’re using Duane Allman’s gold top Les Paul on some of this disc?
J: On a lot but not this one. We wrote that as we were recording
A: Weren’t we soundchecking or something?
P: I was talking to Edgar Winter, and Frankenstein comes from a Ray Charles riff, originally. Are you using an octaver on Please?
J: No I don’t use any pedals, a wah wah occasionally. But on that one there’s a backwards guitar bit, I plugged straight into the mike pre and overdrive’d it at the desk
P: Great vocals on Long May You Sail, but the guitar sounds a bit like bagpipes!?
J: That’s exactly what I was trying to make it sound like !
A: We had a guy play actual bagpipes, on the original version…
P: I liked I’ll Always Be Around, but the slide bit sounds like a Derek Trucks tribute ! but it is my favourite track, as it has terrific dynamics in it.I hate bands that don’t look at each other, live
J: Oh thank you. Improvisational music, you just HAVE to listen to each other, what the other does will then influence what you then do. We don’t really have defined parts, all the time
P: Who’s Becky?
J: Er……oh yeah Becky’s Last Occupation. No Becky, it’s about the Banks bailout we had in America
P: Kind of a nod to Led Zep, isn’t it?
J: Absolutely! But lyrically it’s about frustration of common people, if you will, against what happened in America
P: We had that here! I’d Rather Die In Vain has that pinched B Gibbons guitar, I don’t do a lot of that but it’s effective here. Today I’m Here is a lovely acoustic track but on the other softer track Please Be With Me, it doesn’t sound like you singing, was it your brother? Or?
J: There’s an explanation – we had recorded most of the record at The Allman Brothers old home, in Macon. We had only gone down there to record some bonus tracks but then we recorded a lot of material in a couple of days, so we ended up scrapping a lot of what we’d finished earlier. Please Be With Me is the last song we recorded and it was meant as a tribute to the space and the house..and the reason why my voice sounds funny is that I had been singing for too long and my voice was shot, so I was sitting on the stairs in this beautiful old hose, looking into Duane’s old bedroom and it’s just me and a guitar and a microphone..the song is about asking for help. The take met the frailty of the piece..
P: OK, JD that makes sense to me now,,I wasn’t a Allmans fanatic BUT Duane on John Hammond’s Southern Fried and moreover Johnny Jenkins’ Ton Ton Macoute..just fantastic
S: Did Duane play slide in standard tuning?
J: Sometimes or in Open E on occasion..I agree, Duane just in general, with his work on Layla, with Aretha Franklin
P: Wilson Pickett!
J: He was just a great musical force, burned brightly and quickly, unfortunately
P: Adam, what’s your favourite track on the album?
A: That’s a tough one. I really like I’d Rather Die In Vain. That’s probably my favourite song that we play. If I had to pick one !
P: Elad, I’m playing a cut on the radio to put over what you guys do, which track do I choose?
E: Maybe..Peace. Cos it projects this hippie vibe. It’s a vibe thing, more than a sound thing…cool, peace & love..
P: Generally speaking JD, your songs and lyrics are about the human condition, that come across very strongly
JD (Surprised) Thank you for saying so, Pete…I’m a hippie, I’m very much a humanist, someone who’s positive..I’m a hopeful person, even in times like these..that are very heavy, with negative things
P: Randy Newman or say, John Hiatt..or me..will write about human situations..breakups, troubles, whatever. But you don’t seem to have been soaked in vinegar yet, like many of us
J: It’s a conscious decision..I do love and respect their work but there’s a ying and yang involved and I do think that the world needs both, y’know? I try really hard not to go to a dark place. Being a fan of music, being a voracious listener of music, what seems to give me lift is anything that’s conveying positive to me. We three have been given an opportunity to make some music that is being exposed to gentlemen like you and other people..and we don’t take it all lightly…
P: Are you pleased at the welcome you’ve had, here?
J: Overwhelmed! it means a lot that there’s interest
SIMO’s new album ‘Let Love Show The Way’ is out now on Provogue/Mascot Label Group. You can read our review of SIMO’s album here: http://bit.ly/1QEeYTm
In addition, SIMO will be embarking on a three-date headline UK tour and will also appear at several UK music festivals. The dates are as follows:
Tuesday 5th April 2016 – The Basement, York, United Kingdom (Headline Tour) http://bit.ly/1SPTitT
Wednesday 6th April 2016 – Greystones, Sheffield, United Kingdom (Headline Tour) http://bit.ly/1R59vI8
Thursday 7th April 2016 – Barfly, Camden, London, United Kingdom (Headline Tour) http://bit.ly/1mDMUr8
Friday 8th July 2016 – The Cornbury Music Festival, The Great Tew Park, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/1SslWkz
Sunday 24th July 2016 – The Blues Stage, Ramblin Man Fair, Mote Park, Maidstone, Kent, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/1UNhvyj
For more information visit SIMO’s website: http://bit.ly/1oi95nV
(Thanks to all present and to Lee, Steve, Lulu)
(Joe Bonamassa Image credited to Laurence Harvey. SIMO Live shots credited to Kieran White at KW Media. Feature Image SIMO group shot credited to SIMO Official Website.)