J.D. Simo's Psych-Blues Jams Spread Far and Wide

Improvisatory blues-rock guitarist and his namesake trio keep it different every night

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JD Simo performing live.
J.D. Simo Sean Marshall

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WHO: J. D. Simo spins soulful psychedelic blues rock with an improvisational bent reminiscent of the Grateful Dead and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Though he's been performing in bands since his teenage years, the 28-year-old has begun to get national attention with his namesake group, Simo. They performed at Bonnaroo this year, have opened for veterans like Warren Haynes and put out their first, self-titled album in 2012.

BLUES HAD A BABY: Growing up near Chicago blues clubs in the mid-1980s, Simo caught the music bug early. "Blues music was kind of magnified at that point," he recalls. "I remember the Stones coming to town to launch their tours and Buddy Guy and B.B. King were also shown on [local TV station] WGN. I loved how dirty and nasty blues music sounded. I always equate it to what hip-hop is now. Parents didn't approve of it. But it just really appealed to me." Simo even remembers begging his mom to take him to visit the old Chess Records on South Michigan Avenue. "It was all boarded up," he remembers, "but I just wanted to stand in front of it."

TAKING IT OUTSIDE:  Despite protests from his parents, Simo dropped out of high school and hit the road with his band to tour the country. Since he was under the legal drinking age at the time, he had a hard time convincing bar owners to let him play. At one show in Utah, he even ran his guitar line outside the venue and performed while watching his band play on-stage with the door open. "I played all night that way," he says. "I felt like I was some sort of leper. And it was an awful gig — it sounded terrible."

THE SHARING ECONOMY:  Like jam bands Phish and the Grateful Dead, Simo encourages fans to live-tape his shows and share online. "Some of our improvisations won't ever be the same," he figures. "There are nights when we can do one song for seven or eight minutes — or stretch it out to as much as 40 minutes." He doesn’t worry that sharing will affect his ability to sell studio albums, either. "The live show has almost nothing to do with whatever is presented on a studio record," he reasons.

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