High Hopes: Simo

They call it the Big House. And when it comes to Allman Brothers folklore, the sprawling pile at 2321 Vineville Avenue in Macon, Georgia has seen it all.

During the Allman Brothers Band’s residency there from 1970 to 1973, they wrote Blue Sky in the lounge and Ramblin’ Man in the kitchen, and it was from the front drive that guitarist Duane Allman set off on his doomed motorbike ride in October 1971.

No wonder Nashville trio Simo felt a shiver down the spine as they tracked their second album on this sacred turf (now an Allmans museum), with frontman JD Simo even entrusted with the late guitarist’s Les Paul. “A lot of heavy stuff went on there,” Simo says. “So that, combined with playing Duane’s instrument, I was humbled. And I don’t feel deserving of it.”

In truth, JD is well worthy, as a virtuoso player dubbed “one of the best out there right now” by Joe Bonamassa, and a lifer who has been around the block. “I started playing professionally at nine,” he recalls. “There was a place in Utah where they wouldn’t let me in because I was underage, so we put my amp on stage and I played four sets from outside the club.”

When Simo formed five years back, they ran with the Allmans’ ethos of real music, played by the seat of the pants. “We just wanted to make pure music,” he says, “and we love to improvise. Our shows are very spontaneous. We have our repertoire, but so many songs have springboards, and it’s different every night. It’s a beautiful communion when it’s going well. If heaven exists, that’s what it is for me.”

Simo released their self-titled debut album in 2011, but it’s this year’s blues-rocking Let Love Show The Way that really trumpets the band’s arrival; the trio’s peace and love worldview implied by both the album’s title and the swirl of hair on the sleeve. “We’re a very hairy group,” JD admits. “We’re a bunch of hippies.”

Let Love Show The Way is a timely sentiment, given recent events in Paris. “I’m an optimist,” says JD. “I like to look at the world in a positive light. But obviously, when these things happen, that becomes incredibly difficult, because there’s nothing beautiful that comes out of it.”

Further dark clouds are addressed by the lyric sheet. “Becky’s Last Occupation is a working-class response to how our government bailed out our banking system,” JD explains. “I’d Rather Die In Vain is about my own personal internal struggle to not let the negative overtake me. Because we all have dark thoughts, dark times.”

Simo’s future looks so bright that the trio need shades. “For five years I played in a club band in Nashville, right across the alley from the Ryman Auditorium,” JD muses. “I walked by it twice a day, probably thirteen hundred times. I always wanted to play in that room. This last year I finally did, and it was with my band, playing our own music. I hope for the opportunity to continue. Whatever is meant to happen will happen.”

FOR FANS OF: At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band

“Our bassist [Elad Shapiro] comes from a classical background, our drummer [Adam Abrashoff] comes from a jazz background, and I love American rhythm and blues, as well as rock music of the sixties and seventies,” JD explains. “The playing on At Fillmore East is so free and so beautiful, that album is obviously hugely influential to us.”

Classic Rock 220: News & Regulars

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.