Being THE guy has been adjustment for JD Simo, the Nashville singer and guitarist who’s releasing his first solo album, Off at 11 on Crows Feet Records — premiering exclusively below — this week after tenures in the Don Kelly Band and fronting his own SIMO.
“I was very much the leader of (SIMO) but it was still a democratic band. It wasn’t a dictatorship or anything,” the Chicago-raised Simo, who also plays in Phil Lesh & Friends, tells Billboard. “This is very much the first time where I was just kind of left to my own devices completely, which was actually really nice.”
The eight-track Off at 11, which stirs together Simo’s roots in blues, R&B and rock, is an outgrowth of a solo tour he did during early 2018. “I came back from that realizing there was a lot of older school blues stuff from the ’50s I really wanted to do that I’d never really had the support to do in the band,” Simo recalls. He built a “funky little eight-track” studio at his house and began inviting friends over to record. But what Simo initially thought would be “a kind of ’50s blues record” took a bit of a turn when he got the call inviting him to play with Grateful Dead co-founder Lesh last May.
“It was really fun to go out and play outer space music. It was just beautiful, and I love that, too,” Simon says. “Both of them are about improvising, whether you’re talking about jazz or blues or obviously the central ethos of Dead music — not doing things the same way and being free. Phil and I were chatting backstage and I told him, ‘I got this whole record but I really love doing this, too.’ And he was like, ‘Y’know, you can do both, man,’ and he was right. So I cut some more stuff and now it’s a half and half thing. That simplistic, 10-second conversation led to me saying, ‘Screw it, I will just do both.'”
Off at 11 certainly explores that kindred duality. Simo covers Little Walter’s “Boom, Boom, Out Go the Lights” and Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It” and pays tribute to both B.B. King and Michael Bloomfield on the track “Sweet Little Angie.” “You Need Love,” meanwhile, channels forebears such as Jimi Hendrix, Santana and the Allman Brothers Band, while “Accept” weighs in at an epic 17 minutes of outer space exploration.
“I’m schizophrenic by nature, so this is just me being normal,” Simon notes. “If anything, it was feeling like it’s OK to be that way. If you dig it, that’s the most important thing. And if you feel like you do it pretty well, what do you have to worry about? So I feel very comfortable.”
Simo is just hitting the road in North America with Andraleia Buch (bass) and Adam Abrashoff (drums) to promote Off at 11, which comes out March 1, mixing headline shows with dates with the Allman Betts Band and Tommy Emmanuel. European dates that were canceled earlier in the year are being rescheduled for October. Meanwhile he’s working on other projects — “I’m always five steps ahead,” Simo notes — including collaboration with Luther Dickinson that’s half-finished but hasn’t been named yet.
“There’s tons and tons of stuff cut, all kinds of stuff, definitely some other collaborations that I want to do as well,” Simo says. “I just love working at home. It’s been very freeing and inspiring. I feel a real freedom to do whatever I want now, so there’ll be a lot more to come.”