Blues-Rock Guitar Powerhouse JD Simo Talks New Album, 'Off at 11'

(Image credit: Jeffrey Fasano)

After releasing four albums with Nashville rockers SIMO, JD Simo built a cozy home studio in his Music City basement and went to work on his debut solo disc. Following the homegrown vibe and the feelings it engendered, he cut an album centered around classic blues sounds and approaches. Sure, he felt great about it, but it left some more psychedelic exploration to the side, leaving him pondering which direction to choose. Then a one-night gig with the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh in June 2018 opened his mind.

“We played this incredible show of bluesy approaches to the Grateful Dead repertoire,” Simo says. “Afterwards I told Phil about my conflict between the traditional and the experimental. He just looked at me and calmly said, ‘Well, you can do both, you know. We just went to Mars and came back to land on a Slim Harpo song. Just do that.’ It was a such a simple thing, but so clarifying: You don’t have to pick a lane.

“That freed my mind to combine all these things I love: Magic Sam, Otis Rush and B.B. King, as well as the Allman Brothers Band, Captain Beefheart, Miles Davis’ On the Corner — and now the Grateful Dead, which I threw myself into for the Phil gig, completely altering my perspective on this incredible catalog of music. A switch got flipped and it changed me and my conception of music and what I can do with it.”

The resulting album, Off at 11, is filled with reverb-drenched picking that evokes the blues masters while also staking out a raw trio sound. It’s another step toward the 34-year-old Chicago native establishing himself as a contemporary blues rock giant.

GUITARS 1962 Gibson ES-335 (“which is beat to shit from multiple years of abuse”)
AMPS “My 1964 Guild Thunderbird is all over the record. It’s a great funky amp that Mike Bloomfield and Magic Sam used. It has a 12-inch speaker and an 8-inch speaker, and the reverb only comes out of the 8.” Live, Simo uses a Fender Super Reverb.
EFFECTS 1968 Dunlop Cry Baby

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Alan Paul

Alan Paul is the author of three books, Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan, One Way Way Out: The Inside Story of the Allman Brothers Band – which were both New  York Times bestsellers – and Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing, a memoir about raising a family in Beijing and forming a Chinese blues band that toured the nation. He’s been associated with Guitar World for 30 years, serving as Managing Editor from 1991-96. He plays in two bands: Big in China and Friends of the Brothers, with Guitar World’s Andy Aledort.