If you hear Stephen Simms, owner of Black Dog Remodeling, LLC, humming "Freak Out" as he hangs kitchen cabinets or installs a new wood floor, don't panic. Nothing's wrong: it's just that Simms was a professional musician in the days before he picked up a hammer. He used to play with Chic, the band whose blockbuster hit song still heats up dance floors the world over.
Simms, who grew up in Stamford, Conn., credits genes for his musical abilities. "The whole family sang," he says. "My mom and dad were in singing groups, and my father and uncle were both television announcers."
He and his brothers started a band called The Malibus when they were in high school. Stephen played the bass and sang but had to quit when he got married and needed a steady income.
Simms remained in the music business working as a roadie and manager. After touring with bands all over the U.K. in the early 1970s, he went to work for All Platinum Records, which featured black artists. He also worked with Nile Rodgers, Chic's guitarist, who penned "Freak Out!" after being refused entry to Studio 54, the popular New York disco.
When Simms moved into production he sang backup vocals with top artists, such as David Bowie, Madonna and Cindi Lauper. While he lived in Paris, he teamed up with Serge Gainsbourg, rearranging his old songs for an album that went platinum overnight.
Simms' singing career came to an abrupt end when he developed nodes on his vocal chords. But back in the U.S., his friend Keith Gerstenmaier, a general contractor, took him under his wing. "Keith taught me how to be a carpenter," he says.
Today Simms focuses his creative energies on his remodeling business. He recently built a reading room at the Darien Historical Society. "Doing something like that is rewarding," Simms says. "Maybe the closest you can get to the applause on stage."