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The Ones To Watch In 2016

We're all set for 12 months of stunning new blues acts breaking through, but just who’ll be leading the pack?

The Blues profiles the six new bands you’re going to be hearing a lot more of in 2016...

SIMO

Bonamassa-endorsed Chicago prodigy who spent his formative years on the road

JD Simo relives his musical lightbulb moment: “I was three years old,” he tells The Blues. “I saw The Blues Brothers and Elvis ’68 Comeback Special and man, they blew me away. The Blues Brothers is such an amazing movie: you’ve got John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, they’re all in their prime. And then with the Elvis special, he’s in his black leather suit singing his ass off. It was like he was from another planet. He totally mesmerised me and from that point on, I knew what I was going to do.” 

Two years later, he was playing guitar.

“I remember learning how to play [Elvis’] Heartbreak Hotel, and the solo in particular, which most people get wrong, where with the last note Scotty Moore bends a semitone from E flat to E. It’s just so nasty.”

Aged 10, with the support of his parents, Simo was performing underage in bars in his native Chicago, and at 15 he was on the road, helming his own band and living out of the back of a van. “I just wanted to get out there and play,” he says, “but you can’t help but grow up quick when you’re thrust into the adult world so young.”

Then in 2010, aged 25 and based in Nashville, he formed Simo with bassist Frank Swart and drummer Adam Abrashoff. Their self-released, self-titled debut arrived in 2012 and by meshing influences spanning R&B, soul, psych and blues rock, it marked them out as musical freethinkers. Shortly after, Swart left the band to be replaced by Elad Shapiro. “Luckily though, the three of us clicked immediately,” Simo says.

The proof is in Let Love Show The Way, the group’s ace second album which, situated at the crossroads of 60s Brit Invasion blues and 70s southern rock, captures the group in thrall to rock’n’roll over 10 originals and two covers.

Issued on Provogue/Mascot Label Group, thanks to the endorsement of Joe Bonamassa – who described Simo as “one of the best out there right now” – it’s the first album to be recorded at Macon, Georgia’s Big House, the communal home of The Allman Brothers Band in the late 60s and early 70s.

“We’d completed a whole record, mixed and mastered it, and were in the process of setting up the release, then the label asked us to record a few bonus tracks. Long story short, we went to Macon to record the bonus tracks at the Big House for two days and ended up recording an entirely new record,” says Simo.

I’m proud to say the new album is how we sounded in the room that day – we live and die by the take

The three set up their gear in the entryway of the house. Drums were placed at the bottom of the stairs, with guitars in one side living room and bass in the other. The old kitchen was turned into the control room and the old music room into an echo chamber. Then, huddled in the stairwell, the three set the tapes rolling and recorded everything live.

“We cut three songs within the first hour, which left us a ton of time to run some new material, plus some stuff we hadn’t worked up,” says Simo.”

Two Timing Woman, which frames Simo’s raw holler in a frenetic blues, was put down in 15 minutes flat; Ain’t Doin’ Nothin’, a 14-minute improv, was the result of a jam. “It was the start of the second day of recording there and Adam and Elad started playing that groove. I walked in the room and picked up Duane Allman’s old Goldtop, and what you hear is what happened.”

Allman had used that 1957 Les Paul on the first two Allman Brothers’ albums and he also played the riff on Derek & The Dominoes’ Layla on it. “Man, playing that guitar was a dream come true, an honour,” Simo says. “Duane’s a big hero, and to play it in his old house was very special.”

Simo pays homage to another hero with the group’s cover of Elmore James’ Stranger Blues. “I liked opening the record with something that isn’t so brash. A lot of records open like that and I liked it creeping in and building dynamically, rather than bashing the listener right from the get-go. That was a song we’d never played and we just did when we had more time to record at the Big House. I love Elmore James and this is a tune I’ve dug for years. It just felt right and we got a good performance of it.”

There’s also reference made to beat poet Allen Ginsberg in the heavy rockin’ I Lied.

“Glad you caught it!” he laughs. “I spliced some of his letter, Why Is God Love, Jack? in that song. There are certain phrases I love from that letter that fit the subject of the song – ‘Because I get scared’ being the most stark – with I Lied being about my inability to be truthful when I should be about my inner being or wellbeing to others who inquire. Ginsberg, like Kerouac, Tom Robbins, Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey, are all big influences on me. I’m a fan of the beat poet-inspired surrealism and writings of the 50s and 60s. The writings are sublime. I love Ginsberg’s stark style. He’s extremely direct, bordering on making his reader uncomfortable with how direct he’s being. That’s real, man.”

As is Simo’s approach to music-making: “There are a million ways to cheat these days,” he says. “And I don’t want to cheat, whether myself or the audience. I’m proud to say this album is how we sounded in the room that day. We live and die by the take. For me, the music that always resonates most is when a performance is captured. That’s what I love, and that’s what we go for.”

Let Love Show The Way is out on January 29 via Mascot/Provogue. See simo.fm for more details

See www.eddysmithmusic.com for more information

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