Everyone knows David Bowie — the iconic innovator oozing with character who changed the face of music forever. Not everyone, however, will be aware of the Simms brothers who toured the world with Bowie during his Serious Moonlight Tour as his vocalists. Moreover, George and Frank Simms have a formidable C.V and a history of performing with an eye watering list of stars.
The Simms Brothers Band were formed in Connecticut in 1974 and as band members and soloists, Frank and George Simms collaborated with the likes of INXS, Chaka Khan, Al Green, Elvis Costello, Cyndi Lauper, Sheena Easton, Phil Collins and Chic. They provided backing vocals on Billy Joel’s River Of Dreams album and Madonna’s Material Girl, but quite possibly the most impressive part of their repertoire is their background vocals in David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Modern Love’ and ‘China Girl’ and their vocal support on his global tour.
La Vida Liverpool were alerted to the presence of these unsung heroes in the unlikely seaside town of Parkgate, Wirral. The American brothers were staying with their music related family friend and enjoyed their first visit to Liverpool — receiving a rapturous welcome from those who recognised them or learnt of who they were. We were lucky to have them take time out to chat to us about what they think of Merseyside, their days touring with stars and of course, David Bowie. Enjoy this little Q&A and the photographs included that are exclusive to LVL and have never been seen before.
LVL: So what brings you to Merseyside?
George: We’ve got music-related family friends in England, going back nearly 45 years. The association began when our younger brother did roadying/tour managing for a group of artists including Rod Stewart, Andy Bown, Chris Jagger, Long John Baldry, Status Quo, etc. We’re now in the area to visit a friend who is native to The Wirral, who lived most of her adult life in Greater London, and has now returned to her roots.
Frank: I visit Europe every couple of years or so to see George and we visit historical sites: cathedrals, castles, monuments, as well as art galleries, parks, unique geological phenomena, and other notable attractions.
LVL: What do you think of Liverpool and Wirral?
George: This is my third visit to The Wirral, and I find it to be one of the most charming places on earth. For me, it’s the peace and quiet, the landscape, the proximity to Wales, and the homemade Parkgate ice cream. My two trips to Liverpool on this visit are my very first exposure to this amazing and historic city (starting, of course, on Matthew Street). It would take weeks to see everything I’d like to.
Frank: Love it. I feel like I’m in my ancestral home.
LVL: When was the last time you performed in the UK?
George: It was probably during the Outside Tour I did with David. But on a different level, I’ve had a number of guest, sit-in performances in local pubs in the Brighton/New Haven area in the 20 years since then. I have a friend there who has sung professionally for more than 50 years, and we’ll do a few duets when I accompany her to her gigs.
Frank: At Wembley with BIlly Joel on his Innocent Man tour in 1984.
LVL: What was it like performing with David Bowie?
George: There’s not enough time to give a full accounting of how amazing and incomparable it was. The world in general knew that David was the epitome of high class, dignity, and charm. But you had to know the man in person to realize how unique he was among men. My strongest memories of David, and of the time we spent together, have absolutely nothing to do with his music (sorry about that, fans!). Far more overwhelming than his artistic talent was his kindness, gentleness, loyalty and absolute sincerity in everything he did.
Frank: A gentleman in every aspect. What George said.
LVL: Can you tell us a couple of memorable stories about performing with legendary music artists?
George: I sang with French superstar Serge Gainsbourg whose personality was outrageous and larger than life. All our private (non-stage) experiences together were entirely consistent with his “provocateur” image — which was not a put-on, but rather his way of living his life exactly as his impulses of the moment dictated. A lot of what he did in public would get most people in trouble, but his fame, wealth and reputation protected him from the consequences of acting up (in restaurants, for example) by breaking things or overturning plates of food that were not up to his standards.
And our time in the studio with Madonna, at the very outset of her fame, was not what most people would have expected. She was closer to a biker-chick than a Marilyn Monroe-type siren. But very pleasant with us, and receptive to our musical ideas. Not one single difficulty to mar the sessions. Essentially, Nile Rodgers called all the shots, and it was effortless to get the vocal sounds he needed.
Frank: George & I often collaborated with David in his hotel suite with tea and music. We’d laugh at the ornate decor, share our experiences of the day, discuss our favorite films, literature, art, and work on show material. Often the three of us would come up with parts, other times they were George’s and mine.
LVL: Who would you have liked to collaborate with if you had the chance?
George: I would have been thrilled to sing behind Elton John, Dionne Warwick, Tina Turner, and, as a native-born Oklahoma cowboy, a number of Country & Western artists. I think it’s in my blood.
Frank: George Duke, Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, Luther Vandross.
LVL: What have you been up to recently?
George: I live in the south of France, on the Mediterranean, where I perform solo in clubs and restaurants, singing almost exclusively the greatest hits of the Golden Era of the Variété Française (1920s–1960s). Venues are limited, because most club/bar owners prefer stale, overly loud American rock ‘n roll to sell alcohol, and don’t care about talent or perpetuating their French musical culture. I do the same repertoire, as a volunteer, at local old-folks’ homes, for pensioners who really appreciate the selections. That’s worth a hundred times more than any other performances I do.
Frank: I live in New York City and regularly perform as a singer and voice artist for the variety show Saturday Night Live. I sang on stage with Roger Waters at the Hurricane Sandy benefit, “12/12/12.”
Images courtesy of George and Frank Simms — legends and an honour to interview