|Escrito por Manuel L. Sacristán|
|Martes 30 de Octubre de 2012 00:00|
|Sala Reciclaje, Guadarrama
Parecía el lugar idóneo para un concierto acústico con el que abrirle la puerta al invierno. En el mítico Reciclaje, con la chimenea encendida, el estreno en España de Stephen Simmons -cantante/compositor norteamericano proveniente de Nashville, Tennessee- redondearía una tarde apacible de lento anochecer. Andaba el cantautor con dolores de espalda, deshecho tras una gira europea de cuatro semanas por Noruega, Países Bajos y Alemania que había elegido finalizar en España. Y fue un estreno pleno, mágico por momentos, repleto de sentimientos y canciones, de pequeñas historias, de cuentos desmenuzados gracias a una garganta privilegiada, llena de hondura.
Comenzó con «Spark», captando la atención de una audiencia afortunada de tenerle allí. Desde el inicio supe que sería la gran ocasión de ver a Simmons, a quien considero un maestro anónimo, un referente de cuantos aprendices puedan tener Dylan y Springsteen. Rápidamente el autor intentó tener al público en la palma de su mano, y se arrancó con una versión de «Tougher than the Rest», de nuestro admirado Tunnel of Love, el disco de ruptura y ajuste de cuentas sentimentales del Boss, que rellenó cada borde de la cabaña de romanticismo. «Just What I Got», de su último disco The Big Show, tendió los puentes con la carretera americana antes de emprender una fase donde enseñó algunas de las canciones que irán a parar a su próximo disco, titulado Hearsay. Intercalando historias, acercándose por momentos al blues y al rockabilly, desembocó en una serie de baladas y medios tiempos estremecedores, en especial el tramo que incluyó «Don’t mind me», «Loserville» y «Empty Belly Blues No. 32», pertenecientes a Something in Between, Last Call y The Big Show, sus tres discos más conocidos. «Loserville», una canción que hacía 14 años que Simmons no interpretaba en directo, y que me confesó como “bastante real”, es la clásica historia de adolescencias perdidas que combaten el aburrimiento con alcohol y conducciones temerarias, con un final dramático y absorbente. Fue la segunda vez durante el concierto que me hizo llorar, gracias a una voz templada que cala e hipnotiza, agreste o dulce según lo requerido. Acunado en nostalgias, pensaba en lo difícil que es mantener la atención y el ritmo de un show armado únicamente con una guitarra acústica, pero Simmons pertenece a esa rara especie de artistas capaces de entretener y emocionar sin altibajos. Continuó con otro par de canciones inéditas antes de subir al escenario a Hotel Valmont, que le acompañaron durante otros cinco temas de un repertorio que había terminado por conquistar al personal, no más de 50 personas entre las que se encontraban bailarinas etílicas que hubiesen bailado en un funeral, viejos camaradas del Reciclaje de barba blanca y gesto complacido, y en general un solemne grupo de bebedores que van cada viernes a escuchar música a un bar cuyo futuro como sala de conciertos es tan incierto como brillante y genuino fue su pasado. El sonido, sin tantos vatios ni tanta pompa como se dan algunas salas de injusto renombre y lamentables prestaciones, fue apabullante, absolutamente nítido. El Reciclaje siempre fue una especie de cabaña con un punto de misticismo, como teletransportado desde algún recóndito pueblo de Canadá, con transistores colgantes, viejos bancos de madera y recuerdos imborrables. Y a ellos quiso brindarles Simmons, que terminó con un bis de cuatro canciones entre las que incluyó una fabulosa rendición al «These Days» de Jackson Browne, terminando en clave folk con «Spinner of Tales» y una nueva versión de «Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door» (mitad Dylan, mitad Guns N’ Roses) junto a los Valmont. Fue un concierto intenso, arrebatador, aplaudido, bailado y bebido a modo, en compañía de uno de los cantantes/compositores más infravalorados y emocionantes que ha dado Norteamérica en lo poco que llevamos de este siglo confuso, convulso y nada gratificante. Todo lo contrario que la música de Stephen Simmons, luminosa, profunda y auténtica, americana en el mejor sentido de la palabra, llena de sentido y de fuerza, de pasiones encontradas, de vibrantes narraciones de muerte y deudas de fe, reconfortantemente familiar, definitivamente plácida, que honra la tradición y proporciona un tributo a la clase de autor que no debería desaparecer jamás, la del perenne desconocido que cada noche se adueña de nuevos corazones. Al acabar el concierto Simmons se fue a la barra a beber su whiskey neat, con un porte de artista legendario, experto en su anonimato, aparentemente inmune a la soledad. Apenas vendió discos, y la sala se quedó vacía muy deprisa. Estaba cerca el final de otro periplo como aventurero en tierra extranjera. Y justo en el momento en que se bajó del escenario, ya se le echaba de menos.
Manuel L. Sacristán
MANCHESTER ARTS CENTER
The MAC Plans Fundraiser For April 28
Songwriter Stephen Simmons And This Modern Station Will Perform
Songwriter and musician Stephen Simmons is appearing at the Manchester Arts Center on April 28. He will be joined by Dave Coleman on guitar, Duane Blevins on bass, and Tim Blankenship on
Simmons will perform material from his six recorded albums, and new music from his soon-to-be released seventh album.
Also part of the MAC fundraiser, which begins at 7:30PM, is the band, This Modern Station.
Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at www.millenniumrep.org.
According to Simmons’ bio on his website, www.stephensimmonsmusic.com, he “is, in many ways, still that Church of Christ kid––humble, good-natured, but more than a little dark––but as a songwriter and a road dog, his revelations are as exhilarating as a Tilt-a-Whirl. On his new record, The Big Show, Stephen combines his trademark insight and dark imagery with the wry humor and irony of a gifted songwriter who’s been around and seen more than his share of the true human psyche.”
MTA: When did you become involved in music?
Simmons: My Dad, Uncle, Grandparents, etc all played guitar for fun. So growing up we would always pick and sing at different family members houses when we got together. But around the age of 17, I started writing my own songs and I started to get more serious about playing guitar. That eventually led to my wanting to perform out in public and share what I’d created.
MTA: How would you describe your music?
Simmons: It seems to fall somewhere in the nexus of Folk, Rock N’ Roll and Country Music. Depending on the arrangement and instrumentation each song probably leans a little more one way or the other.
MTA: Do you see yourself primarily as a performer or a songwriter?
Simmons: I see myself as equally both at this point, which is why “Singer/Songwriter” is such an
appropriate description. Initially I was more of a songwriter, but almost a decade of playing
around 125 shows a year has evened things up a bit.
MTA: How do you approach writing a song?
Simmons: In all kinds of ways. Things have always just sort of “come to me” so to speak. But sometimes it’s just the title, or just a verse or part of a chorus so I have to go back and work on them. Even when they tumble out almost complete they often need a lot of editing. I have notebooks and recordings of everything I write, finished or not. And sometimes I’ll finish a song that’s over ten years old I haven’t touched in ages, sometimes I’ll work on a particular song for years, and sometimes I’ll write one in a few hours and it’s done. They each seem to have their own
MTA: Where do you draw the inspiration for songs from?
Simmons: Everywhere. Initially a lot of it came from Family and friends and folks I knew growing up.
My family is originally all from Cannon County and then we moved to Coffee County where
I finished school; and there’s a rich cast of characters around the South to draw from. But for
most of the past decade I’ve been able to add to that my own experience as a traveling musician.
I’ve gotten to see a lot of different places and gotten to know people from many different
MTA: You just spent some time in Europe. What did you do? And what were your
Simmons: I just finished a month long music tour in Germany and Switzerland. I was on tour with another band that I’m on the same record label with in Germany (Blue Rose Records). It was 23 shows in 27 days, so I didn’t do much of anything except drive all day and then play the night’s gig and get up and do it all over again the next day.
It was around 1 degree F part of the time I was there, so it was difficult to do much anyway if you could find the time. I was able to spend an off day in Berlin and one in Dresden, that was something new for me. I’ve been touring all over Europe about twice a year for the past five years, but this was the first time I’ve gotten to East Germany. But most of my experiences come from playing the shows and hanging out with the people you meet along the road.
MTA: If you couldn’t be a musician, what would you use as a creative outlet?
Simmons: Well, when I was growing up I thought I was going to be a comic book artist and not a musician. But even though I still draw, that’s just one creative outlet. I also write poetry and short stories, but they’ve taken a backseat to traveling, performing and writing songs for now. So maybe I would just have more time to work on those writings.
MTA: What is the theme of your upcoming and seventh album?
Simmons: It’s a bit of a throwback to 70ss Country Folk sounds ala’ Don Williams, Waylon Jennings, etc. The songs are about love (both won and lost) in bars, clubs and truck stops all across the country. It will likely be available for sale later in the summer.
THE COUNTRY STARTPAGE: (The Netherlands) 9.7.2011
Why country music ?
~ The easy answer is it’s what I grew up listening to. But I also grew up listening to Rock N’ Roll…but most of the radio stations played Country only in Tennessee when I was growing up. I also feel like it speaks to where I’m from. I grew up in a very small rural community in Southern Central Tennessee, and (Traditionally) Country Music “had” been written and sung by people from similar backgrounds to mine.
If everything would be possible (waking the dead included) , which two people should sing the ultimate country duet?
~ Interesting question. My favorite combination is still George & Tammy. Having said that, I’d love to hear Charlie Rich (whom I think had the greatest voice) sing with anyone….and it would be great. Maybe Charlie / Patsy ?
What song you ever recorded means the most to you and why?
~ Usually it’s the one I Just finished. I don’t have favorites….I write them the best I can and record them the best I can and then move on to trying to finish all the others floating around in my head. The process is the satisfaction.
Who would you like to write a song for you?
~ It’s never occurred to me to have someone write for me. I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, so I never think about it from that angle. But Bob McDill wrote some amazing Country songs that were on the radio in the 80′s when I was a kid, and I would sing anything he wrote for me. And likewise writer/artist Rodney Crowell has always been one of my favorite songwriters…and seems to be able to write beautiful songs for others as well as himself.
Whisky wine beer or water?
~ Whiskey (technically Bourbon) is my favorite…and it makes me want to write.
Wine is my second favorite…and it makes me want to dial old girlfriends.
Beer is my third favorite….and it just makes me want to go get into trouble.
What is the question interviewers never seem to ask you and…you wish they would? (Please provide your answer as well.)
~ People usually ask about what records I have out…but not what I’m currently working on. Most albums by the time you hear them have long been finished.
I am currently working on a project where I’ve put music to short stories by a West Virginia writer. I also have a “almost finished” very Country record that I did with my band a few years ago that needs getting back to. And I have a loud Rock N’ Roll album I’m wanting to get in the studio this year to start with my band, with the hopes I can finally take them all to Europe with me on one of these tours.
Describe the ultimate recording studio (not the technique but the facilities)
~ Really just a nice old building with lots of wood and an old 70′s API board and a 2″ tape machine would do it for me.
Johnny or June ?
~ I gotta go Johnny. June was great, but Johnny was something special…in some ways, not even of this Earth.
Give us your top 3 country songs ever.
~ 1 Wedding Bells
2 Good Ole Boys Like Me
3 Dreaming My Dreams
What was the most memorable day in your musical career and tell us why.
~ Probably the Blue Highways Festival in Utrecht, NL back in April of 2007. It was my first time in Europe (on tour or otherwise) and that show in particular was a highlight of the entire trip. Luckily for me there are some videos of the show and Rounder Europe Records recorded and released my show as a live album, so I’m able to re-live it from time to time. But that was a great night.
NASHVILLE SCENE : Critics Pick: Feb. 19, 2011
Simmons’ gifts sometimes go underappreciated in these parts — probably because, just like him, everybody and their bartender is a singer-songwriter. It’s not that he’s reinventing twang rock or country-folk. What he is doing is writing down-to-earth songs with emotional intelligence and a melancholic streak, and singing them with the raggedly direct attack of Steve Earle. He’s taken up topics as varied as broken-down romance, an insider’s religious disillusionment and working-class war protest, but on his upcoming full-band album, The Big Show, there’s stuff that hits even closer to home. Like “Kool in Nashville”, a tongue-in-cheek song about what constitutes success for those who definitely aren’t trying to get on CMT. In it, an upstart covets a local legend’s artistic cred, PBR-drinking groupies and glowing write-ups, to the point that the newbie takes the guy — and his vintage guitar amp — hostage. Sounds like he’s seen it happen.
— Jewly Hight
CONCERTS REVIEW: TOOGENBLIK, BELGIUM: oct 15, 2010
AB Club, le 3 octobre 2007, tu assistes au concert du singer/songwriter du Tennesseee, en double bill avec Jeffrey Foucault, tu es conquis par la sincérité de son americana.
Octobre 2010, Luc le signe au Toogenblik, wij daarheen natürlich…
Il y a 3 ans, il était accompagné d’une pedal steel. En 2010, il a emmené une violoniste dans ses bagages, la troublante et douée: Becca Smith.
Non, Becca n’est pas un matelas, cher matelot, la native de l’Iowa manie l’archet et tapote des claviers chez The Nadas, combo folkrock basé à Des Moines.
Willy, la moustache, a quelques difficultés à trouver le son adéquat, le set commencera à 22h45′.
Une acoustique impeccable, well done, Verkoelen!
‘Parchcorn Falls’ qui sera sur le nouvel album…gonna make it after all…, toujours ce timbre nonchalant et légèrement éraillé, une guitare sombre et un violon agressant ton estomac… there’s a hummingbird on my window seal…veux bien être éveillé tous les matins par un oiseau-mouche aussi joli que Becca.
‘Spark’ des étincelles, Toogenblik en mode mute, écoute silencieuse et attentive.
Stephen est du calibre Steve Earle.
‘Betty I’m married’, une country song… j’en écris une tous les 50 ans.
C’est qui cette Betty, fieu, pas celle de Big Brother?
‘What I got’ du rock folky, style John Mellencamp.
Los Angeles et le smog, une image connue: le mélancolique ‘Cloudy in L A’.Un coup de cafard: … I’m alone in my hotel room, my heart is cloudy too…
Où j’ai rencontré Rebecca?
Pas dans un honky tonk, les gars, tous les deux on se trouvait chez un acupuncteur.
Pour acheter du miel?
Bert, t’es bourré, mec!
On a fait connaissance & we play together.
La suivante est un mix de murder ballad et de horse song, déguisée en lovesong, c’est clair?
Comme l’eau du robinet, pleine de calcaire, gars!
‘Shirley’s Stables’, aux couleurs Nashville prononcées.
Ecrit lors de mon séjour à Bruxelles: ‘T Serclaes’.
Il a été caresser le monument du seigneur de Cruyckembour, c’est sûr.
Jolie carte postale décrivant les Brussels streets.
Cette nuit, les lignes de fiddle de Becca vont éclairer tes rêves.
‘I ain’t lonely’ un downtempo aux tons gris.
Je la joue partout: ‘The Road’ de Danny O’Keefe.
Toogenblik kiffe, ce titre lancinant est superbe.
Un harmonica pour un de ses hits alternatifs, le formidable ‘Don’t mind me’.
Barman, I need another wine to play next one.
Tiens, mec, mais tu devrais essayer la Leffe!
‘Devil’s work is never done’ , une chanson qui mettait ma grand-mère au désespoir.
Ce titre profond, à la Loudon Wainwright III, se trouve sur ‘Drink ring Jesus’.
Pas à classer dans la catégorie Christian rock.
Du même album, le titletrack ‘Drink ring Jesus’, tout aussi pénétrant.
Tu veux du futile, tu évites Stephen Simmons, tu veux du réfléchi, tu consommes à forte dose.
‘Shine’, le dernier titre pour ce soir, a été enregistré aux Pays- Bas.
Toogenblik applaudit à tout rompre et le duo revient pour un double encore étourdissant.
Hank Williams ‘ Wedding Bells’ (1950) , bel hommage à une des grandes stars de la country music.
La poignante ballade ‘By my side’ mettra fin à ce set brillant .
Il est 00:15′, another great night in Toogenblik!
Becca et Stephen reviendront le samedi pour une soirée privée, ils ont accepté de jouer pour l’anniversaire de Marco.
J’avais mon ticket pour Steve Winwood, sinon j’aurais bien pris une nouvelle ration d’americana maison.
ROOTSTIME.BE : STEPHEN SIMMONS @ TOOGENBLIK HAREN – 15/10/10
Ook singer-songwriter Stephen Simmons had voor een heerlijk ogende verrassing gezorgd in de vorm van zijn sensuele violiste Becca Smith, die Simmons had leren kennen tijdens een acupunctuurbehandeling op één of ander Amerikaans folkfestival. De verleidelijke Becca Smith, die overigens een vaste job heeft bij folkrockgroep The Nadas, injecteerde met haar sfeervolle, kleurrijke vioolspel fraaie, subtiele nuances in de stuk voor stuk aangrijpende songs van Simmons, zodat ze een extra dimensie kregen. Becca Smith deed je wegdromen en dat niet alleen vanwege haar lyrische vioolspel. Simmons’ rauwe, dwingende stemgeluid haalde je echter keer op keer uit je heerlijke dagdroom en kwam net zo bars over als de al even gekartelde stem van Otis Gibbs enkele dagen voordien op het Roepaen Festival.
De dromerig ogende Simmons opende overigens ijzersterk met de gloednieuwe songs “Parchcorn Falls” en “Spark” uit zijn nieuwe, nog te verschijnen album “The Big Show”. Uit dat nieuwe, veelbelovende album kwamen verder alleen nog “Just What I Got” en “By My Side” langs, maar met slechts vier stuks was die nieuwe plaat toch het best vertegenwoordigd in de set. Overigens is het nog lang niet zeker of “The Big Show” in fysieke vorm zal verschijnen.
Ook zijn vorige album “Girls” was immers enkel te verkrijgen als download en eigenlijk is dat een schande. Hoe jammer is het immers niet geen tastbaar souvenir te kunnen kopen na zo’n begeesterd concert als dat van Simmons? Zeker als je weet dat “Girls” vertegenwoordigd werd door “T’ Serclaes”; een gebroken hart verpakt in een ontroerend mooie liefdessong die Simmons overhield aan zijn kortstondige verblijf in Brussel enkele jaren geleden. Even vreesde ik boe-geroep vanuit het publiek toen Simmons in het refrein refereerde aan Brussel met de woorden “French Belgium’s never far from my thoughts”. Nogal een geluk dat Bart De Wever niet aanwezig was of de burgeroorlog was gegarandeerd uitgebroken in Toogenblik! Enfin, gelukkig maar dat iedereen zijn manieren hield tijdens dat wondermooie “T’ Serclaes”, want een mooiere song over onze hoofdstad heeft niemand voordien bedacht. En ja, ik ken nochtans mijn vaderlandsche klassiekers. “T’ Serclaes” was simpelweg hét allermooiste moment dat ik tot nog toe heb meegemaakt in Toogenblik.
Simmons trachtte dat grootse moment te evenaren middels de bloedstollende murder ballad “Shirley’s Stables”, zijn bevlogen versies van de Danny O’Keefe-song “The Road” en de Hank Williams-klassieker “Wedding Bells”, het on-waar-schijn-lijk gruwelijk mooie, ontwapenende “Shine”, het eerder al genoemde “Devil’s Work Is Never Done” en het bespiegelende “Drink Ring Jesus”. Tevergeefs echter. Het leidde er alleen maar toe dat Simmons ons van het ene naar het andere hoogtepunt van bekoring bracht. “T’ Serclaes” bleef daar hoe dan ook fier en hoog bovenuit pieken.
Enfin, u hebt het alweer al lang begrepen; het was alweer een onvergetelijke avond in Toogenblik. De 37 aanwezigen zullen zich na afloop gelukkig geprezen hebben dat ze zich ondanks de striemende regen en de barre kou toch naar het gezellige Toogenblik verplaatst hebben. De Hall Of Fame van Toogenblik oogt met de toevoeging van de namen Barnaby Bright en Stephen Simmons voortaan nog een stukje indrukwekkender.
Stephen Simmons answers 20 Question (Interview)
Stephen Simmons is a powerful songwriter of considerable skill and depth, his music draws from an extended family child hood and reflects many modern social concerns. He has gained a reputation for honest appraisal and truthful analogy, FSR asks the questions.
1. WHERE WERE YOU BORN, WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I was born in Murfreesboro, TN and grew up in nearby Woodbury, in Cannon County, TN.
2. WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MUSICAL MEMORY?
My Uncle Glen playing guitar and singing. The first song I learned the words to was “Night Moves” by Bob Seger and I’d ask him to play it over and over so I could sing it. Except I sang “Night Moon” for the first few years, till I realized the real words.
3. WHAT WAS THE FIRST RECORD YOU OWNED?
I remember having the 45 of “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” by John Denver and playing it on a kids record player.
4. WHEN AND WHERE WAS YOUR FIRST PERFORMANCE?
I think it was in an old Roadhouse bar called “VI’s Lounge” in Manchester, TN. That’s the first time I ever got paid to sing on stage.
5. WHO IS THE SINGLE BIGGEST MUSICAL INFLUENCE ON YOUR WORK?
My Uncle Glen. He constantly played Jackson Browne, Eagles, Hank, Cash, etc, etc….and I think that’s the main reason I write like I do.
6. WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE CONCERT YOU’VE ATTENDED?
First time I went to the then newly refurbished Ryman in Nashville. It was to see Bruce Springsteen solo on his ‘Ghost of Tom Joad’ tour. The single most amazing performance I’ve ever witnessed.
7. WHAT IS THE WORST JOB YOU’VE EVER HAD?
I worked nights in a Factory in Murfreesboro, TN while I was in college. It was hard ass work and you got so dirty and sweated so much you had to change your uniform in between two hr breaks.
8. WHAT IS THE BEST JOB YOU’VE EVER HAD?
The one I have now. Writing and recording the music I want to….and getting to tour the World and travel.
9. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS MEANT BY THE WORD ARTIST
Someone who creates and expresses themselves through their work.
10. WHAT IS THE BOOK YOU’VE READ THE MOST
A tie between “The Evolving Self” and “East of Eden”.
11. IS THE MUSIC INDUSTRY BETTER NOW OR WHEN YOU STARTED?
Hard to say. I made more money selling records when I first started, but I’m more established and know what I’m doing business wise now…kind of ironic.
12. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE SONG YOU’VE WRITTEN (AT THE MOMENT)?
A song called “Spark”, that I hope is on my next record…soon.
13. WHAT IS THE FAVOURITE SONG SOMEONE ELSE HAS WRITTEN (AT THE MOMENT)?
Can’t get enough of that “Ruby” song on the new Dave Rawlings Machine record.
14. WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT SONGWRITING COLLABORATION?
It’s nice when someone brings a different melody that blends well with what you already have going on. Truly makes it something unique you would’ve never created alone.
15. WHAT’S THE WORST?
Any attempt at “cold-writing” or coming up with something from scratch with someone. I still believe the greatest works of art are created in the mind of a lonely man as Steinbeck said (but I admit Lennon/McCartney put that to the test).
16. WHAT SINGLE THING HAS HELPED YOU MOST IN YOUR CAREER?
I like to work.
17. WHAT SINGLE THING HAS HINDERED YOUR CAREER?
Money. Or the lack of it.
18. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE DRINK?
19. WHO’S YOUR FAVOURITE POLITICIAN?
At the moment, Obama. I’m hoping that he proves to be an even better President when it’s all said and done than Clinton was (which would be quite an accomplishment in this age).
20. WHAT WOULD BE THE BEST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN IN 2010.
That the World gets a little bit better for people at the bottom. And that normal, everyday people’s lives get a little easier and are able to feel secure again. And if we could get closer to ending these Wars I think we’d all sleep better at night.
02.08.08 The Washington Post
Stephen Simmons isn’t related to anyone famous, but he sounds so much like Steve Earle that they could be nephew and uncle. That’s not a bad thing, for not many singers achieve such a confident, full-bodied sound while delivering conversational confessions. Simmons’s songwriting on his fourth album, Something in Between, differs from Earle’s in its emphasis on such classic country fare as broken marriages and drunken regrets. It’s odd to hear those themes set against the Dylanesque folk-rock arrangements fueled by producer David Briggs’s organ and Simmons’s harmonica, but it works. The Nashville singer-songwriter never whines and always offers a clear-eyed assessment of his own failures and lingering hopes. Those hopes come to the fore on “New Scratches,” a boast that he’s sticking out a new relationship despite all the cuts and bruises.
— Geoffrey Himes
10.01.07 Birmingham Post
MUSIC IS ALIVE AND VERY WELL IN NASHVILLE
Stephen Simmons tells Chris Field why he wouldn’t want to change who he is or where he’s from.
Stephen Simmons may be an unfamiliar name to many people but he represents one of the next breed of singer songwriters coming out of the United States in general and Nashville in particular. Sounding not unlike Steve Earle, he currently has three cds available in Britain and makes his debut appearance in Birmingham on October 1st, supporting that other fine singer songwriter, Jeffrey Foucault, at the Tower Of Song in Cotteridge. When I spoke to him in Nashville last week, he told me that this tour was something of a return visit. “I toured in April and May this year and did maybe five dates or so in the UK, but this will be the first time I’ve played Birmingham”. The tour coincides with the release of his third album, Something In Between, which sees him return to the full band format of Last Call, an album he calls “my proper debut record”. In between he released what was to all intents, a solo record called Drink Ring Jesus and he went on to explain how this record came about. “Last Call was my first release and it was an album I had been gearing up to for some time and I had a certain sound in mind. With Drink Ring Jesus I was really involved in touring and not ready to go back into the studio with the band. Originally the plan was to make an EP and take it with me on tour, but the guys at Rounder Europe wanted to release it as a record.”
Growing up in Woodbury, Tennessee, Stephen was raised in the Church of Christ and despite the fact that his was a rural upbringing, his family were the first generation not to work on the farm. Humble and softly spoken, he seems initially to be the embodiment of such an upbringing but his writing gives him a much more complex edge. The songs on Drink Ring Jesus tell stories of country’s dark side and demonstrate what it must be like to stand at the edge of piety and sin. Listen to The Devil’s Work Is Never Done or Dante’s Blues Number Seven for a truly original take on morality. He explains that those songs came about because “you can’t separate yourself from who you are or where you’re from, so where I come from is bound to influence me even subconsciously. I write about a lot of different things but I guess I’m shaped by the environment I grew up in – the religion and the storytelling aspect of the South all play a part. The pace of life is different; it’s a lot slower with a certain vibe, whereas in a large city life is more frantic.” He added with a chuckle that “even though I live in Nashville which is about an hour from Woodbury, my relatives seem to think I live in New York!”
When I went on to ask him about his main influences while he was growing up, I expected a list of musical heroes but his first answer was “my uncle – he was the guy who taught me to play guitar and I would listen to whatever he played.” Then the names come out – George Jones, Jackson Browne, top 40 country, Eagles, Bob Seger and so on. “I went through my Beatles phase, my hard rock phase but one of the things that really flipped me on my ear was Springsteen’s Nebraska. He’s just a great storyteller and a great lyricist.”
On the evidence of his recorded output, maybe Stephen Simmons will one day be regarded as highly as Bruce Springsteen. He has the necessary talent to be taken seriously as a singer songwriter. It no surprise that he says that his cd collection “is heavy on singer songwriters and if you can get to that quiet place when you’re writing, who knows what will come out?” Judge for yourself on Monday October 1st.
Tickets are still available and for details of the venue go to www.towerofsong.co.uk
10.01.07 Birmingham Post
Jeffrey Foucault and Stephen Simmons
Tower Of Song Birmingham
The Tower Of Song is a tiny club sandwiched between a pub and a petrol station in King’s Norton, but it was the centre of a musical feast on Monday night with the appearance of two of America’s finest new singer songwriters in Stephen Simmons and Jeffrey Foucault. Accompanied by steel player Alex McCullough, Stephen Simmons opened the show with a set based around his three cds plus a couple of unrecorded songs. He possesses an incredibly powerful voice which grew in confidence as the set progressed. The imagery in his songs evoke the heart of rural America and his lyrics are intelligent and at times very pointed – never more so than on The Devil’s Work Is Never Done and County Lines. The small but very enthusiastic crowd certainly took him to their hearts and he was given a deservedly rousing reception.
Jeffrey Foucault took to the stage unaccompanied and delivered a set of great quality featuring some stunning guitar work and great songs. These were sung in that gorgeous smoky world weary voice of his which truly belongs to the 1930s or 40s. He too featured material from his three recorded albums, the last of which Ghost Repeater was one of the best releases of 2006. Like Stephen Simmons, Foucault’s lyrics are wonderful aural pictures painted on a landscape of melody, dealing with a whole range of topics both personal and imagined. In the sparse setting of a solo performance the songs stand by themselves and indicate that he is one of America’s great talents. Americans In Corduroy and One For Sorrow were amongst the many high spots.
Towards the end of the show, the three musicians played together on a glorious version of Neil Young’s Out On The Weekend with Simmons on lead vocals and Foucault on harmonies – musical heaven! The whole show was just a stunning demonstration of the work of two of America’s finest new generation of singer songwriters. They deserve a wider audience and no doubt through their hard work they will achieve it.
– Chris Field
Spring 2007 Heaven Magazine
Stephen Simmons – Grappen & God
Dat Stephen Simmons voordat hij op Blue Highways zal spelen eerst de Crossroads studio van Jos van den Boom aandoet, is volkomen begrijpelijk. Het waren immers van den Boom en Heavenman Bert van Kessel die Simmons ontdekten. Net voor zijn eerste optreden in Nederland steekt Simmons van wal.
Woodbury is een klein stadje in Tennessee op ongeveer een uur afstand van Nashville. Mijn hele familie komt hier vandaan. Mijn vader werkt in een fabriek in Nashville. Mijn moeder is onderwijzeres op een basisschool. Mijn beide opa’s en oma’s waren boer. Ze werkten nu en dan voor een baas en hadden een family farm. Ik woon nu zo’n zes jaar in het oude gedeelte van Nashville. Ik ging naar college en deed een art major. Ik was nog jong en weet nu de reden waarom ik er niets mee kon. Het ging om zaken als commercieel grafisch ontwerpen. In die tijd ging ik me steeds serieuzer bezig houden met gitaarspelen en liedjes schrijven. Terwijl op school alles vast lag, waren er hierbij geen beperkingen. Ik haalde mijn diploma en ging toen werken. In het weekend speelde ik veel. Muziek maken heb ik van mijn oom, een broer van mijn vader, geleerd. Hij is een heel goed gitarist. Hij schreef liedjes net zoals mijn oma liedjes schreef. Toen ik een jaar of zeven was hoorde ik hem de liedjes spelen die me beïnvloed hebben. Country van George Jones tot Don Williams. Maar ook Jackson Brown, Bob Seger en The Eagles. Ik luisterde ook veel naar de radio. Veel hoorde ik eerst van mijn oom en pas later in de originele versie. Ik schreef wat in me op kwam. Sombere liedjes met veel fingerpickin’. Toen ik wat ouder werd hoorde ik Steve Earle, Townes van Zandt en Rodney Crowell. Je denkt dat er geen plaats is in de wereld voor wat je op je slaapkamer aan het maken bent en dan ineens ontdek je mensen die hetzelfde doen als jij en die er erg goed in zijn.
Ik maakte eerst een akoestisch live-album, dat al een tijdje niet meer leverbaar is. Misschien ga ik het opnieuw uitbrengen. Een aantal liedjes kwam op Last Call, dat ik als mijn werkelijk eerste album zie, terecht. Eric Fritsch is een producer die in oostelijk Nashville woont. Hij werkte eerder met Scot Miller, Marty Stuart en Sheryl Crow. Onlangs maakte hij nog een plaat met RB Morris. Hij is ook een goed muzikant. Hij speelt veel gitaar voor me. Ik had nog een aantal religieuze liedjes die zo op Last Call hadden gekund. Ik dacht, mijn nieuwe plaat zal toch anders zijn, laat ik deze maar opnemen voor een ep die ik mee zou kunnen nemen op tournee. Van het één kwam het ander. Zo ontstond Drink Ring Jesus. Akoestisch en eenvoudig, opnieuw met Eric Fritsch. Last Call bevat meer story songs, letterlijk verhalen. Murderballads. Thema’s als zonde, vergeving en small time rural life zijn echter ook, zij het in een wat meer abstracte vorm, op Drink Ring Jesus te vinden.
Ik ben in een zeer conservatieve kerk opgegroeid. Ik was altijd vol verwarring. Je komt erachter dat mensen zich helemaal niet aan de regels houden die ze jou opleggen. Dan komt de leeftijd dat je met zoiets in het reine moet komen. Wat vind ik van het geloof? Wat vind ik van God? Ga ik mezelf de rest van mijn leven straffen voor iets dat ik niet gedaan heb? Veel van de liedjes op beide platen gaan over dit proces: ik als jongeman die worstelt met deze vragen. Op dit moment van mijn leven ben ik meer spiritueel dan ik ooit was, maar ik ben niet erg religieus. Feitelijk ben ik als ieder ander. Van elke tien liedjes die ik schrijf gaan er negen over een meisje. Maar voor de platen gold het concept. Niet alleen muzikaal maar ook thematisch moet alles bij elkaar passen. Op mijn nieuwe plaat, Something In Between, die aan het eind van dit jaar zal verschijnen, wordt nergens gesproken van zonde, duivel, Jezus of God. Ik heb daar nu wel over gezegd wat ik erover wilde zeggen. Voor sommige mensen is het misschien een schok dat ik ook grappige liedjes schrijf (lacht). Het nieuwe album is geproduceerd door Richard McLaurin. Al Perkins speelt pedal steel en Tammy Rodgers speelt viool.
Ik ben opgegroeid met comics. Toen ik op de middelbare school zat tekende ik graag cartoons. Volgens mijn moeder ben ik daarom een goed lezer geworden. Een history professor in college liet me de Natty Bumpo serie lezen. Hij was eigenlijk de eerste Amerikaanse superheld. Half boef en half keurig. Vriend van de Indianen. Superman, Batman, Rambo, ze zijn allemaal terug te voeren op Natty Bumpo. In het Zuiden staan Elvis en Jezus tegenwoordig op gelijke voet. Aan beiden worden daden toegeschreven die ze niet gedaan hebben. Daarover gaat Cryin’ Elvis. Er was een schilderij van Elvis waarover een traan liep. In het liedje vergelijk ik Jezus, Elvis, Johnny Cash en Natty Bumpo met elkaar.
– Wim Boluijt
04.24.08 IN RICH.com
It’s no surprise that singer-songwriter Stephen Simmons, who was born and raised in the small town of Woodbury, Tenn. (population: about 2,500), is steeped in a sense of rural Americana.
Perhaps more unexpected is how Simmons’ songs have been embraced in locales far, far from home. Simmons has gathered rave reviews from the triumvirate of major British music magazines (Mojo, Uncut and Q), and his Web site features video clips of him performing to appreciative audiences in Denmark and the Netherlands. Maybe that’s because the subjects of his songs — faith, love and regret — have their own global language.
– Ryan Muldoon
07.01.08 Manchester Times
Go where the music leads
CHS graduate and singer-songwriter Stephen Simmons carries his unique sound around the globe.
“Under Simmons’ intense gaze, hope, despair and human striving earn greater meaning,” Jewly Hight of American Songwriter magazine said in its four-star review of Drink Ring Jesus, a 2006 release by Manchester singer/songwriter Stephen Simmons.
His music has led him on a journey around the world; across the majority of the United States, to small pubs in the green hills of Ireland and then back again to his Tennessee roots.
Simmons, the son of Wade and Melinda Simmons of Manchester, spent his early years in Cannon County and attended Woodbury Grammar School. When he was in seventh grade, his mother started teaching at Westwood Junior High School so he attended there, as well. A few years later, his family moved to Manchester. Simmons, a CHS Class of 1991 graduate, enrolled at MTSU that fall.
“I went to MTSU as an art major, but then switched to Industrial Management just to get out of school and get a job,” said Simmons in a recent interview with the Manchester Times.
While in college he worked nights at Lewis Brothers Bread Factory in Murfreesboro in addition to taking a full course load, leaving little time to perform the music that had become his passion.
After graduating from MTSU, Simmons went to work at Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Cooperative in Murfreesboro. He performed some in college, but mostly at parties with his friends, or when he spent time with his uncle.
“I wrote a lot during this time, but rarely shared anything with anyone,” he said.
It was during the time that he was working at MTEMC that in his off hours he also began to get paid for performing.
“Actually, my first paid gig was at what used to be VI’s Lounge in Manchester,” he said. “I can’t remember what it was called when I played there — ‘Big Daddy’s’ or something like that. Anyway, a friend from high school was related to whoever owned it then. There were about seven people there and I probably graduated with five of them – and one was my sister,” he said.
Later he started playing gigs, mainly at a dive bar in Murfreesboro called the Campus Pub. He also drove to Nashville two or three nights a week and played ‘writer’s rounds’ at places like Douglas Corner and the legendary Bluebird Café.
From there, he put together a band and they started doing shows in Nashville. Keeping his day job, for the next seven years he would play his music at night and be at work at MTEMC the next morning by 7:30 a.m.
“I always wrote songs and played gigs, but never really knew 100 percent that’s what I wanted to do till after I’d been out of college and working for a few years,” he said.
After years of tirelessly working around the clock, Simmons had saved enough money, enabling him to quit his day job and concentrate solely on his music career. By this time he was also nearly through with his first studio record.
“It was a matter of finally cutting the cord,” said Simmons.
Success breeds success, and Simmons now has four CDs to his credit. His current record label in the U.S. is Americana Records and in Europe it is Rounder Europe.
“Nowadays, most people just go plow through it on their own for years and years before things start coming together. The people I work with now only came calling after years of my doing it on my own first,” he said.
His music has taken him on an adventure that many dream about, but few realize. He’s traveled through the Southeast, Northeast and Midwest sections of the United States and has toured France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
“In this past year I’ve played everywhere from Nashville to New York, to D.C. to Nebraska, to Texas to London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam,” said Simmons.
His tours are mainly scheduled through a few booking agents or promoters here in the states and one in the Netherlands who works for his record label. In addition, he works with many individual promoters in their respective countries.
Throughout his travels, not only has he gathered a wealth of material that later becomes soul searching lyrics, Simmons has crossed paths with some who have forever changed his life.
“I have met countless people along the way who’ve inspired me in some way or another. And there have been those who’ve helped me out as well both professionally and personally, but they are way too many to name. Life can be incredibly tough on the road, but I’m so amazed at the kindness and generosity of people I come into contact with,” he said.
And performing from one stage to another, his music has received many rave reviews.
In 2005, Graham Reid of The New Zealand Herald said, “His debut album ‘Last Call’ announces the arrival of a major talent who views life from the perspective of the sinners, not the saved, from those who have driven the back roads, spent time inside, or live with guilt. These finely detailed stories invite comparisons with Steve Earle and acoustic Bruce Springsteen…”
Sylvie Simmons of MOJO said, “He’s a Bible Belt barstool philosopher singing of sin and redemption. Intelligent, intense, and easy to like,” and Bill Friskics-Warren said in a Tennessean article, “Stephen Simmons’ ‘Devil’s Work Is Never Done’ is downright prophetic, a soliloquy in which Satan, expounding the tenets of liberation theology, laments that Jesus and “his Father” embrace the poor and the outcast, leaving him only the souls of the rich and powerful to harvest.”
These are just a sampling of the many reviews from publications all around the world, and all delivering the same message – they like Stephen Simmons’ music.
As his music career evolves and expands, so does the widespread talent he has available in which to surround himself.
“Nashville isn’t so much a town of bands as it is a town full of frontmen who hire backing musicians, with exceptions of course,” Simmons said. “That said, there are a core group of guys who I mainly play and tour with. But it definitely changes over the course of time. Nashville is full of amazing sidemen who all moved here just to make a living playing bass, drums, guitar, etc. So the nights they aren’t playing with you, they are downtown on Broadway or out of town with someone else.”
Something in Between, Simmons latest recording, produced by Richard McLaurin and recorded at David Briggs’ legendary House of David studio, features some of Nashville’s heavy talent on its tracks. Simmons finds himself in the company of greats who have played with Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Rolling Stones, Trisha Yearwood, and Eric Clapton, just naming a few. The all-star cast backing Simmons includes guitarist Joe McMahan, steel guitar great Al Perkins, fiddler Tammy Rogers, bassist Billy Mercer, drummer Ken Lewis and Briggs, the pianist best known for playing many years with Elvis Presley.
While pursing his passion, Simmons has learned many things about the music industry and of himself, the musician and the man.
“You really do get out of life what you put into it. You can sit back and play it safe, but your returns are going to be modest. Not financial returns necessarily, but rather the joy you get out of doing something you love for a living. I’ve learned to truly follow my passion even though at times it’s taken me where I didn’t think I wanted to go,” said Simmons.
“It’s pushed me to the limits of what I thought I could handle for sure. There’s a certain amount of chaos you have to accept to pursue a career as an artist. There are other ways to make money as an entertainer, but they never seemed quite that fulfilling to me.”
And to those whose dreams seem out of reach, Simmons says they should believe in themselves, never giving in to doubt.
“I think anyone who has something in his heart he wants to pursue should listen to that little voice inside of himself. Learning to trust your gut is hard to do. Don’t live life afraid. It’s very short,” said Simmons. “It takes a lot of faith in yourself to pursue your own path.”
— by Rebekah Hurst
Hard-core Troubadours Oct. 29th 2006
It’s podcasting time, people! Let me tell you, this one was a major hassle to edit. Our interviewee was so great that I was half tempted to give you the full 3.5 hours we recorded. But some things shouldn’t be made public, so I’ve edited it down for your listening pleasure and to protect the innocent. [Uh, you do realize the implication here isn't G-rated?--Mimi]
Last week we headed out to see Stephen Simmons play at the Basement here in Nashville. It was great night despite the freezing cold and driving rain. [We live in Nashville, it was chilly and the rain was hard, but hardly driving. It wasn't a No'easter.--Mimi] He played an excellent set backed up by a bunch of amazing Nashville musicians (Eric Fritsch on keys/guitar, Dave Coleman on guitar, Duane “Chop” Blevins on bass, Tim Blankenship on drums, and Jodi Haynes on background vocals). Stephen’s stage presence was unbelievable and not just because we were wooed by his little sardonic smile (the last line in my show notes is “his smile is criminal” and, kids, I hadn’t even had that much to drink). The band members were each individually excellent and taken all together it was a hell of a good time to watch them all play. If you get a chance, if he’s ever anywhere near you, head out and see that show, my friend, you won’t be disappointed.
The show was great but not enough, but luckily for us, Stephen is practically our neighbor, so he swung by the HCT HQ to record a podcast for us (right click and ’save as’ to download). [I like Casa de Troubadours del Hardcore, mainly because bad, made-up Spanish cracks me up.--Mimi]
Here we’ve got talking about trains and mainstream radio, beers opening, cowboy boots walking on wood floors, good conversation and songs off both Steven’s current albums, his forthcoming album and even previously unrecorded songs. Tracks include:
All the Time I’ve Got
The Devil’s Work is Never Done
Shine (previously unrecorded)
Lay on the Tracks
Johnny 99 (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Empty Belly Blues #32
Stephen has two albums out, Last Call and Drink Ring Jesus. [How awesome is that name? Sounds John Prine-y.--Mimi] I recommend buying both as they will bring much happiness to your fall music listening. We look forward to his forthcoming album this spring as much as we look forward to the end of the coming winter.
12.01.04 Nashville Lifestyles
Generation Next: Music City earns its name with up-and-coming acts in every genre
Middle Tennessee native Stephen Simmons draws his dark Americana imagery directly from his rural upbringing. Like a twisted country preacher, his songs of sin and salvation are the aural equivalent of paintings by primitive Southern artists like Howard Finster and James Harold Jennings. In 2004, Simmons released his debut Last Call without record label support and was named “Best Undiscovered Singer/Songwriter” by the Nashville Scene.
– Paul V. Griffith
07.09.08 Sarasota Speaks
Master Storyteller Stephen Simmons to Perform for WSLR – Friday 7/11
Alt Country Artist Stephen Simmons to perform for WSLR Born and raised in the small town of Woodbury Tennessee, Simmons was exposed, at an early age, to a strict, Church of Christ upbringing. “When you’re raised in the Church of Christ, if you’re sensitive at all, it leaves you with a lot to struggle with”, explains Simmons. This sense of struggle is revealed in his songs, which collectively portray the tension between a life of rural simplicity and the opportunities and temptations represented by the city. His latest release, Something in Between, is appropriately titled, as Simmons music could accurately be dubbed introspective pop, rock-tinged folk, or country with touches of the blues, depending on the selection. Simmons will play a benefit concert for WSLR-LP 96.5, Sarasota’s community radio station on Friday, July 11th at Mother’s Musical Bakery, 6525 Superior Avenue.
Simmons writes moving, sharply detailed lyrics about small-town people who spend their lives sitting in church pews or on barstools – and often both. He uses these settings to evocatively portray individuals seeking transcendence or relief while caught in internal conflict, and to talk about the influence families, religion, temptation, and just plain boredom can have on a soul. And, like the best songwriters, he can illustrate how one bad choice, or a series of them, can reverberate long after the person realizes his or her mistake. Working around an acoustic base, but with a rocker’s swagger, Simmons has drawn comparisons to Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen and other master storytellers.
03.12.04 The Daily Times
Nashville shows `where you fall and where you stand’
Growing up in Middle Tennessee’s rural Cannon County, Stephen Simmons wasn’t exposed to a great deal of diversity on the local airwaves.There was country, broadcasting from a half-dozen small towns dotting the hilly countryside, and one rock station out of Nashville. Fortunately for Simmons, he had an uncle who turned him onto the country-rock of the 1970s.
“My uncle is probably the main guy responsible for a lot of that stuff,” he said. “I knew the words to every country song on the radio, because that’s all we got, but my uncle was really big on Bob Seeger, The Eagles, Jackson Browne and that other country-rock stuff.
“I think as I got older, the combination of that literate stuff like Jackson Browne, with the rock edge to a country sound, it was a natural progression for me. The first time I heard Springsteen, it kind of flipped me for a loop. I wasn’t exposed to it until I was a teenager, but when I heard it, I flipped, because it was a guy singing about country issues and all of those themes, except he was singing it to rock.”
Eventually, Simmons picked up a guitar and learned to play. He was writing his own songs before that, and after college, he started flirting with the music scene in middle Tennessee. Encouraged by the response to his songs, he threw caution to the wind and moved to Nashville in 2001.
“Growing up, it was a semi-big deal to go to Murfreesboro, about 30 miles away, and it was a big deal to go to Nashville, because it seemed like it took forever,” he said. “Going to Hickory Hollow Mall in Antioch was a big deal, and we hardly went anywhere near downtown, because my mom and dad didn’t know how to get around down there.
“Living in Murfreesboro, where I went to school, I went to Nashville a lot to listen to music, and after I started playing in clubs around Murfreesboro, I was driving to Nashville two or three nights a week. The great thing about Nashville, and the bad thing, is that everybody’s in the music business. You get to see where you fall and where you stand, and it constantly challenges you.”
In the summer of 2001, he released a five-song sampler and sold enough at local shows to get noticed by local critics. In 2002, he put together a band and began playing regularly at such Music City venues as Douglas Corner Cafe, The Basement, The End, The Stuler and The Exit/In.
“I got to a point where it felt like I could go do a whole show of my songs, and it felt like I was more focused at that point,” he said. “Every year, it feels my writing gets tighter and comes into focus more. Playing with a band, with other musicians, has pushed me to get better, because it’s something I’d never done. I grew up writing songs in my room.”
Call him Americana, alternative-country, roots-rock, whatever label you please — Simmons doesn’t mind, as long as you turn out Saturday night to the Preservation Pub in downtown Knoxville to check him out in person. Because what you’ll get is a guy who discovered his calling and didn’t stop until he’d obtained it.
“When what you’re doing becomes crystal clear to you, it’s just a matter of showing it to other people,” he said.
– Steve Wildsmith
01.01.08 The Nashville Scene
STEPHEN SIMMONS / Nashville Scene Critics Pick
Last we heard from Stephen Simmons, he had one thing on his mind (or two, really)—Jesus and the Devil. On 2006’s Drink Ring Jesus, he was wrestling with religion of the thorn-in-your-side, beer-in-your-hand variety, armed only with his coarse, raw-edged baritone—which bears a resemblance to Steve Earle’s in its texture and range—and acoustic guitar. Before that, Simmons worked a tug of war between carnality and spirituality on 2004’s Last Call, interspersing acoustic tracks with a country-rooted full-band sound. His brand new album Something In Between—released last year in Europe—represents a shift: It’s a different sort of heartache (the kind lovers inflict on each other) and a different sound (more firmly planted in heartland rock territory). But Simmons has his constants: The songs are still thoroughly down-to-earth and, as the opening track, “Don’t Mind Me,” establishes, he’s still got a beer in hand. With the Wrights and Jason Eady. 9 p.m. at Mercy Lounge
– Jewly Hight
10.06.04 The Nashville Scene – Best of Nashville 2004
Best Undiscovered Singer-Songwriter: Stephen Simmons
Simmons writes moving, sharply detailed lyrics about small-town people who spend their lives sitting in church pews or on barstools—and often both. He uses these settings to evocatively portray individuals seeking transcendence or relief while caught in internal conflict, and to talk about the influence families, religion, temptation and just plain boredom can have on a soul. And, like the best songwriters, he can illustrate how one bad choice, or a series of them, can reverberate long after the person realizes his or her mistake. Working around an acoustic base, but with a rocker’s swagger, Simmons will draw comparisons to Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen and Chris Knight and other master storytellers. If he keeps making albums as good as his recent Last Call, someday he’ll be mentioned alongside them.
– Michael McCall
01.25.07 The Southern Illinoisian Flipside
Nashville singer plays Longbranch
CARBONDALE – Stephen Simmons knows what it’s to play Devil’s advocate. The Nashville-based singer/songwriter wrote a few songs from Beelzebub’s perspective on his last album, “Drink Ring Jesus.”
Now, Simmons will bring his spiritually character-driven brand of Americana to Longbranch Coffeehouse at 8 p.m. Friday. Simmons will sing from his last album and his first album, “Last Call,” and will throw in some work from his upcoming album, set to be released this spring.
While his music is spiritual, Simmons stresses that his music is not gospel or contemporary Christian. “It’s kind of all over the map, spiritually,” Simmons said. Simmons said he holds a strong distaste for contemporary Christian music, at least that he’s heard, and said the best gospel music came from artists such as Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Sr. His last album included the songs about the devil, including one in which he has it out with a crooked preacher, and others, including a song based on the Seven Deadly Sins. He said that his upbringing in the Church of Christ in Woodbury, Tenn., the son of a factory worker and a schoolteacher, had a major effect on him as an artist.
“Southern small-town religion had a big influence,” Simmons said. “It definitely played into my writing.” Simmons has been performing in Nashville since 2001 and said he is extremely pleased with it. He said that while the perception of Nashville has been mired by commercial country, it’s a great music town. “As a music fan it’s great because there’s more music than you can literally shake a stick at every night of the week,” Simmons said. “As a musician it’s great because I feel the creative energy here is really off the charts.”
While Simmons often plays with a band, he prefers to go solo for smaller venues like coffeehouses. He said this expands his library, letting him perform songs he’s just written and not having to worry about playing songs the band knows. “Drink Ring Jesus” shared this trait of a stripped down acoustic sound. “Last Call,” however, had a more studio sound with a full band in the back. But as for his upcoming album, Simmons referred to it as a “curve ball” when comparing it to his first two albums and is eager to get the music out.
“It’s just so different from the other two albums I’ve recorded, that I’m excited for folks to hear it,” Simmons said.
– Codell Rodriguez
06.12.06 TRI-CITIES Paper
Stephen Simmons with Mic Harrison at the Down Home
Wednesday, May 24, 2006 – 11:00 AM
Following the hard-bitten singer/songwriter mold of Kris Kristofferson and Steve Earle, troubadour Stephen Simmons will perform his dark musical tales at Johnson City’s premier venue, The Down Home, on Saturday, May 27. The Nashville based singer is touring in support of his latest release, Drink Ring Jesus.
Raised in a strict, fundamentalist household in rural Tennessee, Mr. Simmons has obviously experienced his share of trials and tribulations. Telling musical stories of sin, redemption, and purgatory, Simmons is to country music what Flannery O’Connor is to literature. Often compared to both Johnny Cash and Ryan Adams, Simmons is presently playing without the aid of a backing band. These unadorned performances are ideal for Simmons’ rough hewn songs.
Knoxvillian Mic Harrison will open the show. Harrison, most known for his work as a member of the V-Roys and, later, Superdrag, will also perform acoustically. Harrison’s most recent release, the pop-rocking Pallbearer’s Shoes, was released on the Valley Entertainment label in 2004.