Monday, September 26, 2016

Guitarists You Should Know About: J.D. Simo

A few years back, while attempting to play some faux-country guitar for the first time with my singer/songwriter friend Josh Patch, he came back from a trip to Nashville absolutely raving about a guitarist he had just seen. Now, if you've never been to Nashville, the first thing to understand is that the guy delivering your pizza is a better guitarist than you. So is the guy driving your taxi, or pouring your beer. The town is just overloaded with exceptional musicians, especially the six-stringers. So for Patch to be this excited about one cat in particular, he had to be something special.

Next thing you know, I was watching YouTube video after video of the Don Kelley band, a longtime fixture at Robert's Western World on lower Broadway in Nashville, the kind of honky-tonk joint where you expect to hear some Merle Haggard or Marty Robbins songs expertly performed by the best around. Playing guitar with Don was a bushy-haired ginger named J.D. Simo, dressed like half Woodstock hippie, half Carnaby Street mod, effortlessly ripping incredible chicken' pickin' runs on a white Telecaster that looked like it belonged to Michael Bloomfield.


J.D. Simo at Robert's Western World, Nashville
                               


                                     




I'd never heard country guitar played like this before... this was Jimi Hendrix meets Johnny Cash. As a country novice, I was just trying to get some of the basic James Burton and Waylon Jennings licks under my belt, while the more technical playing of Johnny Hiland and Brent Mason was more frustrating than inspiring for a blues/rock player like myself. Now, along comes a guy with the feel of a blues player, the tone of a '60s rocker, and such incredible technique that you don't even notice it as technique, it's just pure personality coming through the instrument... I mean, that's the goal of all this, right? 

After listening to damn near every clip available online, an iTunes search yielded the then-just-released debut album by his new trio, simply called Simo, featuring Adam Abrashoff on drums and Elad Shapiro on bass. Much to my surprise, this wasn't country guitar... this was BLUES. This was ROCK. This was Disraeli Gears meets Zeppelin I meets the Allman's Live at the Fillmore.  This was an ode to Bloomers, to Clapton when he plugged his "Fool" SG into a Plexi, to Duane's slide, and to Zep when they were the New Yardbirds and just steamrolling over everyone with the most powerful rhythm section around. And the vocals! J.D. can sing, man. Warren Haynes might be the closest example of someone who can do both as well, and that's a tall order. Besides the original tunes, there's a cover of Muddy Water's "That Same Thing" that inspires sounds of Truth-era Jeff Beck sitting in with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, a reworking of Howlin' Wolf''s "Evil" that could be on Zep's debut, plus the beautiful "What's On Your Mind", a Bloomfield-jamming-at-Stax dream session masterpiece. Needless to say, this album was on repeat for months in my earbuds. 




I soon discovered Simo's vintage blog and rig rundown video, and became immediately impressed that the majority of his playing both live and on record is done with just a guitar and amp, maybe a wah or fuzz occasionally, but that's all. Just crank up a good amp, be it his '67 Deluxe Reverb & Tele with Don Kelley, or '62 ES-335 and purple Marshall Plexi with Simo, and all the tones are right there between your hands and guitar knobs. As someone who has always relied on pedals, this was a new approach, and it was incredibly eye-opening. Simo is a vintage connoisseur, and has an eye and ear for detail that few can match. Much can be learned from the insight in his gear demo videos. 



Simo rocking out on his '60 Les Paul
J.D.s favorite guitar, a '62 ES-335, and purple Marshall Plexi 100-watt stack


Simo's insightful Rig Rundown video for Premier Guitar


For the next album, Let Love Show The Way, Simo ended up cutting most of tracks at The Big House, the Allman Brothers' former home in Macon, Georgia, which is now a museum. J.D. played Duane's old Goldtop Les Paul on much of it, along with his own '60 Les Paul and an original '58 korina Flying V (currently owned by Joe Bonamassa). Couldn't wait to hear the results, and it did not disappoint... as much as I love the first album, they topped it, as the band has grown tighter in the four years between, and the songwriting has developed quite a lot, especially on tunes like "Long May You Sail" and "I'll Always Be Around". It's got a bit more of a raw blues-rock sound, likely influenced by their surroundings, and a little less 60's psychadelic, but still contains all of the elements that make them a unique and killer power trio.





Naturally,  I couldn't wait to catch them on tour when they hit NYC, but then something else happened... my buddy Patch noticed they had a night off before their Mercury Lounge show, and contacted them to offer a gig at a great spot he books talent for, The Strand Smokehouse in Astoria, Queens. He'd booked some great touring acts there before, like Sturgil Simpson and Hellbound Glory, and since his band was scheduled to perform that night anyway, they just became the opening act. We got an incredibly spontaneous Simo show, and a great hang with J.D., Elad, and Adam before and after. Not gonna lie, I was geeking out pretty hard. 


Simo at The Strand


J.D. with his '55 Tele and Deluxe/Showman stack


Simo joining Josh Patch & the Hell Dwellers for the barnburner "Life's Fool Again"


Aside from the incredible show, the real surprise came when Simo joined my buddy Patch for a couple tunes, including an original, "Life's Fool Again"... J.D. even said he hadn't played that fast since the Don Kelley days. In a guitar geek moment for me, he showed up without the usual purple Marshall stack, but instead with his old '67 Deluxe from the Don Kelley days, a Showman 2x15" cab (with original JBL D130Fs), and a vintage '55 Telecaster he had just acquired that same day. And what did he do, being one of the nicest guys I've ever met in this industry? He simply handed it to me to check out...


Your author, in full-on guitar-geek mode with Simo's '55 Tele

Great hang with this guy on the left

A great night with a great band, and can't wait to see them again. An older fella at the Strand mentioned he had seen both the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream back in the '60s, and Simo was right up there with both of them. It's only a matter of time before J.D. is regarded as one of the great guitarists of our modern era, with a respect and nod to the legends of the past. Do yourself a favor and check out Simo's two studio albums, plus their live EP Love, Vol. 1, and by all means necessary, catch them on tour! 


Follow us on Twitter! http://twitter.com/guitargeargblog


4 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. great article...love JD SIMO...saw him plenty of times at Roberts with the Don Kelley Band...check out the vid with he and Tommy Emmanuel playing Turn on your Lovelight...great! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTgbRgPL8E4

    i met him at Gruhn's once when it was still downtown...super nice guy...hey, it's not hard to be nice when a stranger comes up to you and tells you you're great, but nonetheless, he was nice...i havent seen SIMO live yet, but I will...have certainly seen plenty of vids....great article...thx!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete