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Fiery fretwork, vulnerable vocals

JD Simo to drop new album, perform at 118 North

Chicago-born and Nashville-based singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer JD Simo will appear with GA-20 at 118 North on Sept. 29. Image | Adam Abrashoff

Chicago-born and Nashville-based singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer JD Simo connects the missing link between Motown and Woodstock as he fuses fluid and fiery fretwork with vital and vulnerable vocals. You can catch him and GA-20 at 118 North on Sept. 29. For tickets and information, visit 118northwayne.com.

Logging hundreds of gigs annually, he has collaborated with Jack White, Tommy Emmanuel, Luther Dickinson, Blackberry Smoke, and more. He also graced the bills of festivals, including Bonnaroo, Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, and Mountain Jam. Phil Lesh, iconic co-founder of The Grateful Dead, invited him to join Phil Lesh and Friends. 

Throughout 2019, he maximized rare time off to write what would become “JD Simo.” Returning home after 150 gigs, he worked out of a “funky little eight-track studio” in his house. When it came time to record, he sought out a co-producer for the first time. Enlisting Eddie Spear behind the board, he recorded the album to tape in just three days during January 2020.

And then the pandemic hit.

“Like everyone, I was unprepared in how to deal with this new ‘normal’ so I turned to the thing that always helps me: music,” he said. “I just started playing, opening up my socials and jamming and from that, ‘Mind Control’ was born.”

“Mind Control,” which is being released on Nov. 5, is Simo’s most unique, original and rawest effort to date. During lockdown in 2020, along with playing live weekly on his socials, he began cutting tracks in his makeshift studio joined by longtime collaborator Adam Abrashoff on drums and the addition of his good friend, bassist-producer-engineer Adam Bednarik (Justin Townes Earle), where they mused and fused a proverbial “stew” of shared musical influences.

PW recently caught up with Simo to talk about his career and new album.

Let’s go back to the beginning. When did you first become interested in music? Who were some of your earliest influences?

I saw Elvis on TV when I was 3 and that was it! I wanted to be Scotty Moore, his guitarist. Not long after that, my older sister showed me the Blues Brothers movie and I was just as obsessed with Steve Cropper (the guitarist from Stax and Booker T & the MG’s).

I was a real loner as a kid and all I did was sit in my room with my records. I’d take my allowance money for my chores and go to the Pickwick Record Store on the north side of Chicago not far from the apartment I grew up in and get three to five records a week and just obsess over them.

I also had access to the Lincoln Park Library that had every record ever made, hahaha!! I’d check out piles of records!

Elvis, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Link Wray, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino. Then it just expanded from there. The first blues I was exposed to was John Lee Hooker. Buddy Guy too. It just never ended. 

Who are some of the musicians you are listening to today?

I love Brittany Howard a lot! Mad respect! Khruangbin is dope! Budos Band, The Altons, Antibalas, anything Daptone-related I’m way into. Michael Kiwanauka, The Wood Brothers, Aaron Frazer, Durand Jones, Common, Dinosaur Jr, King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard, Swamp Dogg, Yola!

Anything Colemine-related too! Kelly Finnegan, Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio with my bro Jimmy James! My tour mates GA-20! I could go on and on!

JD Simo’s new album, ‘Mind Control,’ drops in November. Image | Adam Abrashoff

“Mind Control” drops in November and was developed largely during the pandemic. Talk a little about both the challenges and the opportunities the pandemic offered in how “Mind Control” came about. How will people be able to get it?

Since about 2015 I’ve done at least 150-plus shows a year. As many as 250 in 2016!

I was running from project to project and the pandemic allowed me the first time in my adult life to STOP!

All of a sudden music was not my job anymore. Nothing was. It was terrifying! However after a few months, stuff started falling out of the sky seemingly and all started to become better than it had ever been.

After several weeks, I had to make music, so me and my buds would get tested on Monday and if clear, we’d get together later in the week masked up and distanced. 

There was no album to make or anything. It was just to have fun and mess around!

Out of that, a rather huge amount of material amassed. In February of this year, I went back through it all and several things really stood out and they seemed to fit together too.

They were like Hill Country raw as hell Trance Blues on Top, and Afro Beat type grooves underneath. It was a combo I’d never heard or thought of before. It just happened. So we started to formulate the album afterward out of what was rad instead of having a plan and making a specific kind of record. 

It allowed me to get out of my own way and really BE for the first time. 

People can stream and pre-save on all platforms – Spotify, Apple Music etc – or pre-order it now at jdsimo.net and it will be available in local record shops when it drops on Nov. 5. Also, we’ll have advance copies at all the shows on the tour.

You have just launched an ambitious tour that runs through January. How excited are you to get back before live audiences? What will your fans see at your show on Sept. 29?

Wow, It’s hard to really put it into words! I mean, I haven’t had this kind of break since I was like 13 or something like that!

There is so much pent up emotion that I’m not sure how it’s going to feel.

The folks are going to see a bunch of guys super grateful to be playing. That’s for sure.

What are the best ways for your fans to stay current with what you’re doing?

The socials are the way! Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter. I’m @jdsimomusic on all platforms. Follow me on Spotify.

My website is jdsimo.net. Bandsintown has all my up to date tour info.

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  • Eugene Zenyatta was raised on old-time Memphis 'rasslin' and strongly prefers the company of dogs to people. His greatest heartbreak came in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.

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