Chicago-bred, Nashville-based guitarist JD Simo has been criss-crossing upstate New York for the past few years, and while he’s played in Syracuse, Albany, Rochester and Buffalo, he still hasn’t made it to Ithaca.
That will change Thursday night when he comes to the Haunt, with Cortland-based blues-rock trio Digger Jones (Chris Merkley, Stiv Morgan, Chad Dean) opening the 8 p.m. show.
He’ll be joined by his longtime drummer, Nashville’s Adam Abrashoff, and Brooklyn-based bassist Andraleia Buch, who joined the group early this year.
After fronting the trio SIMO for several years, Simo (rhymes with “Sigh-mo”) earlier this year released his first album under his own name, “Off At 11.” It’s a mix of classic Chicago blues and psychedelic rock, all tied together by his powerful vocals and fiery guitar riffing.
He credits Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, with whom he has toured, with inspiring the album’s direction.
“I started working with Phil about a year and half ago as a member of Phil and Friends,” Simo said in a recent phone interview. “I had cut what I thought was a complete record at the time – it was a bunch of traditional Chicago blues, what my manager referred to as my ‘Jimmie Vaughan record,’ because I love all that stuff like Earl Hooker, Jimmy Rogers, Snakeboy Johnson, Magic Sam, and lots of other obscure stuff from 1950s and 60s Chicago scene. I cut that and I was really happy with it and my head was in that space.
“But then I did that stuff with Phil and we go OUT there, and I love doing that, too,” he continued. “We were backstage at one of the first shows I played with him, and I was saying to Phil, ‘I love this record, but I love what we do, too, and I kind of want to do that as well.’ He just looked at me and said, ‘You can do both.” And he’s right!”
“Since then, it’s been a wonderful journey of just letting stuff be and having fun and not worrying about it.”
Part of that journey was recording an instructional interactive video master class for Truefire, an online guitar-lesson company. Titled “Psych Blues,” it provides a forum for Simo to “share with you many of my insights, techniques and most importantly...the inner – sometimes psychological – and mostly spiritual aspects that fuel my musicianship and my life.”
While he initially demurred when Truefire approached him, he eventually changed his mind – and he’s glad he did.
“I was hesitant at first, because I didn’t think I could do a good enough job – I wasn’t the type of guy to analyze my style,” he said. “They respected that, and said, ‘Just come in and do what you want to do.’ So I spent a decent amount of time of laying out a few concepts that were important to me that I knew I could speak about for five or 10 minutes. It was a really great experience and I loved doing it.”
In June, Simo released a new song, “All I’ve Got Is You,” which has a funkier vibe than the songs on “Off At 11.”
“I’m definitely moving toward the funkier, groovier side of things,” he said. “There’s this era of music which is my favorite, but it’s not necessarily been heavily mined – it’s when black music and psychedelic music merged in the early 1970s. That means bands like Sly and the Family Stone, Funkadelic, Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, the Bar-Kays” and others who combined fuzztones and wah-wah pedals with “grooving their asses off.”
Simo has been touring heavily this year – he said he’ll play more than 150 shows in 2019 – but rather than relaxing during his brief breaks, he’s been working on the next album. But he’s still not sure if “All I’ve Got Is You” is an indicator of where it’s heading musically.
“It’s tough for me to say because I’m right in the middle of working on it, and I’m still not sure which way it’s going to go,” he said. “But it’s definitely veering in that direction.”