Praise for Simon Sullivan's Groovin':
"You might be tempted to peg Simon Sullivan, a Canadian singer-songwriter and harmonica player, as a bluesman. And there’s plenty of that to be found here. In the end, though, that would be selling the genre-busting Groovin’ short.
Across 10 tracks, six of them originals, Sullivan and his crack band of musical confederates move across a dizzying landscape of sound – from rockabilly, to jump blues, to funk.
He begins with the appropriately titled “Good Morning, Blues,” a groove-focused original with a scorching turn on the harp. A winking cover of Willie Dixon’s “Built for Comfort” then reanimates all of the bawdy humor of the original, with happy-go-lucky harmonica solo to match.
The original “Swing and Sway,” however, is the first hint that something more is amiss here, with a feel that’s something like the Kansas City cats of the pre-bop era. As Sullivan settles into a confidential, late-night whisper, pianist Lee Batchelor, bassist Andrew Affleck and drummer John Crown show themselves to be particularly effective -- playing with a delicately executed sense of timing. Batchelor’s solo moves effortlessly across a stunningly broad palette, going from the expected rolling 88s to an angular improvisation that’s completely outside the blues idiom.
“Flat Foot Sam,” the old Oscar Wills cut, has a similar sense of jump-blues propulsion, with a performance of the half-spoken lyric about an unlucky sad sack that would have brought a smile to Louis Jordan’s face. Sullivan’s turn on the harp, chuckling and cackling, is perfectly constructed. Later, his own “Pitch a Boogie” reanimates the same era, though this time Sullivan adds a rockabilly tinge and a locomotive harmonica aside. When he invites all of the neighbors in for his house party – mindful, of course, that they must have some gin – it’s hard not to recall the joys of Jordan’s “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens.”
“I Am Groovin,’” the second of two originals Sullivan co-wrote with David Cyrenne, is an update of the classic blues car song -- lovingly recalling, to the finest detail, everything that makes one of those old Detroit models so special. Longman’s solo plucks and soars, very much in the tradition of B.B. King. “Take Your Hand Off My Soul” downshifts into a more contemplative vibe, with Longman offering a reverie-filled riff. Sullivan rises to the occasion, growling and snapping like Bobby “Blue” Bland in a quieter song structure that inevitably becomes a feature for the vocalist.
Perhaps best of all is Sullivan’s take on the Hank Thompson classic “He’s Got a Way with Women.” Singing with a sad majesty, Sullivan makes the most of the song’s smart turn of phrase -- “and he just got away with mine” -- even as Batchelor offers a churchy, just-right solo at the piano. Then there’s “Funky Monkey No. 1,” which finds Sullivan adding a harder edge to the album’s established groove, more in keeping with the 1970s funk of James Brown and the Commodores than with anything ever put out on Chess.
He concludes with a new take on “Orange Blossom Special,” the late-1930s Ervin Thomas Rouse train song which had long been a fiddle feature before Johnny Cash reimagined it for the harmonica in the 1960s. Sullivan hews closer to that later interpretation, even keeping the lyrics. Barry Haggarty offers a bluegrass-infused turn on the acoustic, before Longman steps forward with a searching solo. All the while, Sullivan squeals along on harp, growling and snapping through the vocal -- even as the band chugs along in perfect time.
It’s another tour de force, in yet another genre setting, to complete an album that presents as blues but in the end can’t be contained by any one label."
Artist: Simon Sullivan
Reviewer: Nick DeRiso
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Simon Sullivan is a Canadian songwriter, singer, harmonica player, photographer, writer and voice-over artist. He resides in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada and is part of the thriving music scene in Northumberland County. In December of 2010, Simon released his first full-length recording, Groovin’, on his own Back Porch Music label.
Simon performs regularly with blues, folk, country and rock musicians in the Cobourg-Port Hope area. He also provides copywriting and voice-over services for local businesses. When he’s not doing that, he’s honing his writing, mixing and voice-over skills in his own project studio.
In addition to performing and recording blues and roots music, Simon enjoys composing electronic music, and combines analogue source material with kick-ass, electro grooves and edgy voice-overs. A spoken-word project, featuring Simon's original prose and electronic backing, is now in post-production, with a projected release of December 2012.
For non-music kicks, Simon enjoys Indian cuisine (cooking as well as eating), experimental photography and video, and, in the warmish months, riding his 2003 Kawasaki Concours.
Long Bio (Encyclopedia style)
(performing as Simon "Si" Sullivan)
Born: March 1960, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Instrument: Harmonica, synthesizer, percussion, vocals.
Genres: Blues, country, electronic, folk, rock, spoken word.
Discography: Si Sullivan, 1992, self-titled debut, six-song cassette; Groovin', 2010, 10-song CD, Back Porch Music.
Born to English parents: father, Eric, from Huncoat, Lancashire, played double bass in jazz groups, London, 1940-42; mother, Patricia Shorter, a seamstress, from Charlton, London. Lived and schooled in Toronto from 1964-1968. Father worked as freelance journalist, mother worked as dressmaker and wrote monthly column for packaging magazine. Family left Toronto, summer of 1968, bought old farm in Baltimore, Ontario. Took piano lessons 1967-1968, 1973-1974, with little success. Sister, Sally, killed in car-pedestrian collision in Charlton, London, January of 1974. In September of 1974, was sent to an British-style boarding school; attended from 1974-1978. Parents split up in summer of 1978; moved to Toronto with mother. Attended three different high schools for final year, earning only one credit. Had many jobs in Toronto 1978-1980. Moved to Victoria, B.C. with mother, late 1980. Ran own grass-cutting service in Victoria, 1981-1982. Attended University of Victoria as mature student, 1981-1982; wrote articles for the student newspaper. Moved to Toronto summer 1982, attended Ryerson Polytechnical Institute for journalism, 1982-1983. Returned to Victoria, summer of 1983. Lived in England 1984-1985. Returned to Canada, summer 1985, moved to Cobourg, Ontario. Worked in plastics factory, 1985-1986. Worked as a writer, photographer and darkroom technician 1986-1988 for several newspapers in the Cobourg area.
Moved to Toronto, early 1989; worked as office temporary. Attended folk music open stage at University of Toronto. Took up harmonica on suggestion of friend, began sitting in with musicians at folk club. Joined Taildaggers blues band, summer of 1990, commenced to sing in August of 1990. Stayed with Taildaggers until fall of 1991, mostly rehearsing, but with the occasional party gig or appearance at open stages in Toronto. Taildaggers lineup: John Johnston, drums, Steve Bodnar, bass and vocals, Hank Pomykala, guitar and vocals. Attended many open jams as solo performer in Toronto 1991-1992. Early in 1992, formed new band called Shuffle-n-Shake: Earl Misquitta, guitar, David Cyrenne, bass, Ross Baggs, drums. Mainly a twice-weekly rehearsal band, but also attended some open jams in Toronto. Continued to play open jams as solo player with various house bands. Formed musical friendship with blues singer, Rose Clay, and her band, "Perspectives." Performed many guest spots with Clay, as well as fronting her band when illness prevented her from performing. Formed musical friendship with singer Bob Robinson, guitarist/vocalist Dimitri Cornell, and bassist Reggie Reese. Appeared as special guest at Rose Clay's "Vintage Blues" concert, Commodore Tavern, April 1992. Also on the bill at the Toronto Blues Society-sanctioned event were Bob Robinson and vocalist Jodie Drake.
Recorded six-song cassette, fall of 1992. Moved to Van-couver, British Columbia, December of 1992, to pursue love interest. Attempted to form electric blues band, with no success. Worked as office temporary 1992-1993. Attended training course in desktop publishing, fall of 1993; formed acoustic duo with classmate and guitarist Morgan Fisher, fall of 1993. Played private parties with Fisher, 1993-1994. Returned to Toronto, summer 1994. Attempted to revive Shuffle-n-Shake with guitarist Earl Misquitta and guitarist Mark McCallum, with no success. Performed guest spots with Rose Clay in Toronto, 1994-1996. Worked as office temporary with Ontario government, 1994-1996. Began recording project with guitarist Nick Lucas, fall of 1996. Mother took ill with Alzheimer's in 1997; moved into house in Georgetown, Ontario, August of 1997, to care-give for mother. Produced voice-over demo reel, September of 1997, and signed on with a non-union, voice-talent agency in Toronto. Voiced a few projects, fall of 1997 and early in 1998. Worked sporadically on recording project until the spring of 1998, with assistance from Nick Lucas, and keyboard player, Rob Adlers.
Inactive in music due to ill health between mid-1998 and 2006.
Moved to Cobourg, Ontario to care-give for father, winter of 2006. Encouraged by father to resume performing; performed guest spots with house band, PHLO, at Oasis Bar and Grill, Cobourg, 2006-2008. Regular performances with guitarist Bruce Longman and keyboard player, Lee Batchelor at The Great Farini, Port Hope, Ontario, 2008-2011.
Commenced studio recording for a full-length blues album, "Groovin'", January of 2010. Project completed and CD re-leased, December of 2010. Project featured six Sullivan originals and four cover songs. Musicians: Bruce Longman, acoustic and electric guitar; Lee Batchelor, keyboards; John Crown, drums; Andrew Affleck, bass; Barry Haggarty, acoustic guitar solo on "Orange Blossom Special." Project recorded by Barry Haggarty. Project mixed by Barry Haggarty and Simon Sullivan.
Occasional performances with Bruce Longman and Lee Batchelor at The Hedgehog, Port Hope, 2011-2012.
Songs (covers): Animal Love/Baby, Please Don’t Go/Back Door Man/Blues Stay Away From Me/Built For Comfort/Comin’ ‘Round The Mountain/Dump That Chump/Dynamite/Flat Foot Sam/Flip, Flop and Fly/Glory of Love/Got My Mojo Working/Henry The Eighth/He's Got A Way With Women/Honky Tonk Woman/Hoochie Coochie Man/I Don’t Claim To Be An Angel/I'm Ready/Little Red Rooster/Little Sister/Lost John Boogie/Memphis/Midnight Special/Mystery Train/Orange Blossom Special/She's Fine/She’s Tough/Statesboro Blues/Susie Q./Takin’ Care Of Business/Temperature/Uneasy Rider/Walkin' Blues/Wang Dang Doodle.
Songs (originals): Breakout/Five-Foot-Four/Funky Monkey Number One/Good Morning Blues/Good Thing/Groovin'/Independent Trucker Blues/I Think It's Better/Lay It Down/Juice It Up/Loophole From Your Lovin'/Loose Groove/Pitch-A-Boogie/Say Hallelujah (...I’m Rockin’ Again)/See My Woman Tonight/Shelf Life/Swing And Sway/Take Your Hand Off My Soul/That Ain't Right/The Lady Walk Like She Talk/Venus and Mars/Zack's Harp.
Influenced by: Willie Dixon, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Fadden, Slim Harpo, Big Walter, Little Walter, Fats Waller, Tom Jones, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Big Mama Thornton, Chris Isaak, Tom Waits.
Personal: Married to Laura Adlers 2002-2005; no children.
Quote: "When you walked through the door wearing that tweed jacket, I thought, who's this guy? Then you took your turn in front of the mic., started blowing your harp and singing, and I knew you were someone!"
-- Singer, Rose Clay, reflecting on first meeting with Simon Sullivan at The Safari Club, Toronto, February of 1992.
Interview with Canadian freelance journalist, Morgan Fisher,
Saturday November 5th, 2011
Q: Congratulations, Simon, on the release of Groovin’, your inaugural album.
A: Thank-you ... it’s a great feeling.
Q: It’s clear through the choice of songs that you have been greatly influenced by blues and roots music that grew out of the Southern United States, but that’s a long way from your English and Irish heritage. What was it about those influences that captured your interest?
A: The energy and the rhythms of blues, soul and Zydeco really got my attention when I first heard these styles of music. I just can’t sit still when I’m listening to this stuff. I was 26 when I first discovered blues music, this at a time when I was still listening to a lot of hard rock and heavy metal. The first blues record I bought was John Henry Barbee, recorded as part of a jazz and blues festival in Europe, if my memory serves me. It was certainly a turning point, hearing this record.
Q: What was it in the Barbee recording that appealed to you?
A: Barbee was performing solo on that record and it was a raw, earthy performance, just one man, one voice, one guitar. I’d never heard anything like it before. I honestly think it was the first blues I ever heard. It carried me away to a place I’d never before visited. Many people first listen to Robert Johnson when they discover the original, acoustic blues, but for me it was John Henry Barbee.
Q: Before your discovery of the blues, you say that you were listening to a lot of hard rock and heavy metal. That’s how you cut your musical teeth, I imagine. Were you a performing musician at that time?
A: No, I wasn’t a performer until 1989. I had reconnected with an old school friend in February of 1989, and he was hosting an open stage at Woodsworth College, University of Toronto. I started hanging out there, listening to folk, country and rock performers, and after a couple of weeks, my friend gave me a harmonica and suggested I give it a go. After a few months of practising with a book and playing along with records, I was able to play some decent chords and a few clean, single notes. Before what seemed like no time, my friend had successfully prodded me onto the stage to comp chords behind some of the performers. I most certainly did not belong on any stage at that point, but that was the start of all this.
The following year a visitor to the club asked me to play harp in a fledgling blues band, and that was the beginning of the next phase of my musical and performing development. In May of 1990, I had a go at singing, and that also stuck. By the spring of 1991, I was now fronting the blues band (mainly at open stages and private parties), and also attending blues jams all over Toronto. It all happened very quickly.
Q: As I understand, this project has been a long time in coming. Why did it take so long?
A: Life got in the way, as the old expression goes. I started pre-production on this project back in the autumn of 1996, with the help of a great friend and musician, Nick Lucas. I recently found a binder full of notes for that time period, and I can’t believe all the planning that Nick and I did. Anyway, we worked away for a few months, doing some song sketches on a used, 4-track tape machine I had purchased. But the recording project became dormant after I bought this old fixer-upper of a house in the summer of 1997. My Mom had developed Alzheimer's, and it seemed the best thing to do at the time, to live under one roof.
As it turned out, the disease and the house took on a life of its own, and the album project was shelved. Nick and I did manage to actually start a couple of songs in the spring of 1998, but they were never finished, not even in demo form. Two other good friends, Kevin Bell and Mark McCallum, both came out to the house to play guitar on one of the songs, to try and get the project going again, but it never did. I also had help from a good friend and keyboard player, Rob Adlers. All of these guys pitched in to try and keep the project going, and I will always be thankful for their contributions.
Q: I see on your CBC Radio 3 page that some of your favourite writers and performers include Canadian music heavyweights such as Daniel Lanois and Sarah MacLachlan. What is it about them that appeals to you?
A: I love the way they sculpt sound, both with their instruments and voices. They also happen to write fabulous songs, and I just can’t imagine any other artists covering their material.
The other great thing about Sarah and Daniel is the fabulous production values they achieve on their recordings. Lanois, especially, is a master engineer and mixer. He understands acoustics and instrument properties, and knows how to apply these principles toward producing rich, full and emotive soundscapes.
Q: Tell me a little bit about the process of deciding which songs you chose for Groovin’ and which to leave out.
A: Well, first off, I had to decide whether it was going to be a collection of original songs, all covers, or a blend of the two. I opted for the blend, even though I had enough original material to go that route. After that, I had to determine how many covers vs. originals. I decided on six of my strongest and most interesting originals, followed by four covers, three of which could be classified as lesser known, or “B-sides.”
Q: Funky Monkey Number One is itself quite a departure from the blues songs that make up most of the rest of Groovin’. How did you come up with it?
A: Well, that was kind of an 11th-hour Hail Mary. I ran into copyright clearance difficulties with Flat Foot Sam, and another two songs got scrapped while we were cutting the bed tracks in the studio. Orange Blossom Special was added, just like that, during one of the studio sessions. It’s a standard groove, the session players knew it, and I had been performing it regularly over the previous year or so.
But I was still short one tune, so I thought I'd finally finish one of the electronic-based songs I'd been working on for the previous five years. During that period, I had been recording backing tracks for a spoken-word project that had also been in the works. I was becoming comfortable working with royalty-free sound libraries, and blending-in my own contributions: acoustic percussion, harmonica, narration, synthesizer, sound effects and vocals.
I thought I could just finish one of these songs, add harmonica and vocals, and I'd be home free. As it turned out, I decided to have a go at something new, from scratch, and that's how Funky Monkey Number One came about. What happened still amazes me. I did the song on-the-fly, in one six-hour session. The next day I listened to the rough mix and thought, “Man, this could actually work!” I then called Lee Batchelor, keys man on “Groovin”, and asked if he’d give it a listen. I was quite nervous, not knowing what he’d think, but I was delighted to see the smile on his face after a few seconds into the track.
Lee liked it so much he sat down with me and helped me mix the song. We did it in one session, just a little over two hours. That still left me one song short, but when the mail came the next day, I had my permission for Flat Foot Sam and Groovin’ was a done deal. I put “Funky Monkey Number One” on a CD and drove to Toronto to have Andy Krehm master the song and prepare the glass master for the entire album -- 10 songs.
Q: Seems like the process came together very quickly once Lee became involved. Do you prefer to work alone, or would you rather have someone collaborate with you?
A: Lee played a major part in the development and completion of the Groovin’ project, and this was on many levels. First, we had done quite a bit of live playing together in the period 2008-2009, and had developed respect for, and enjoyment of, each other’s playing. A great friendship developed out of our musical relationship, and when I told Lee I was going to be putting out a full release and wanted him to play on the album, he didn’t even have to think about his answer.
Lee devoted many hours to listening sessions, going over my old recordings and helping me choose the tunes for the project. Lee has great ears, and a lot of what I would term musical common sense. These contributions continued for the duration of the project, with Lee assuming the role of unofficial co-producer. His input was just what I needed, and the record was greatly improved as a result of this.
In terms of collaboration, I want to do more of this in the future. It usually creates better arrangements, and can also speed up the writing and production process. I definitely have been writing/recording in a vacuum the last five years, so I’m keen on moving out of that phase. Working with Lee has shown me just how efficient and satisfying co-writing and co-producing can be.
Q: Any current plans for another CD at this point?
A: Absolutely. The next album will be country-based, and will allow me to finally finish and record some of the songs I wrote during the mid-1990s. I wrote about a dozen country tunes back then, but none of them have ever been recorded. Nick Lucas helped me work up a couple of these songs, providing acoustic, rhythm-guitar backing on a boombox. Rob Adlers, another friend and talented keyboard player, did a fabulous workup on one of my slow ballads, and his arrangement will be used when Lee sits down to play on this track. Lee Batchelor will officially co-produce this project with me.
People are already asking about another blues-based album, and I’m happy to tell them that it’s already in motion. I’m currently reviewing old song sketches from the early and mid 1990s, and will soon start some experimental recording. There’s also some strong tunes that didn’t make it onto Groovin’, songs I have done live and that people enjoy, so there’s certainly a good body of work from which to choose.
The other project that’s been simmering for awhile is a spoken word album. I could best describe it as Andy Rooney-meets-Tom Waits... scathing social commentary on top of thick-and-twisted electro-acoustic backbeats.
Q: Sounds like fun.
A: Yeah (laughs), it’s going to be a blast.
Q: What are you reading right now, and what about it appeals to you?
A: I just finished a book called “One Native Life,” a soul-bearing collection of personal remembrances by native-Canadian writer and broadcaster, Richard Wagamese. His experiences resonated with me on so many levels. I deliberately took a long, long time to finish this book. It seemed to come into my life at the right time: it helped me examine my past and focus on the present. I should have credited the writer in the Groovin’ liner notes. That’s how helpful his words were to me. He’ll definitely get a nod in the next liner notes.
Q: One last question: Was that actually a 1969 Chevy we hear in Groovin'?
A: Yessir, it's the real deal. I found a great video on YouTube, and the guy who posted the video gave me permission to use the audio. It’s that classic Chevelle sound, made even better by the “Dominator” dual exhaust. Detroit iron doesn’t come any finer than the ’69 Chevelle SS. I never owned one, though … the closest I came was a 1962 Acadian Beaumont and a 1974 Pontiac Ventura … not even close!