I had recently moved to Rome and found a delightful eatery on Broad Street made only more delightful by its co-owner and greeter-in-chief. He quickly grabbed me and told a wondrous musical tale.
“There’s this guitar player. He climbs the tree out in the Schroeder Courtyard and plays his guitar with a claw hammer.”
That Saturday evening I watched agape as virtuoso Glenn Phillips indeed climbed the courtyard tree and played his electric guitar with a claw hammer. The showy feat paled with the playing and stage antics I watched for the rest of the evening. For decades Glenn Phillips and his band have made the Schroeder’s Courtyard their Rome, Georgia home.
He’s coming back with his top-drawer ensemble, and the public needs to know of it.
Glenn’s career started auspiciously. He was recruited to play with a legendary Atlanta band called Hampton Grease Band. They recorded an album for Columbia Records which to this day has a cult following, and the band opened for Frank Zappa at Fillmore East in 1971.
Glenn recorded his first solo album, the acclaimed “Lost at Sea,” in 1975 as a response to the suicide of his father. Both parents battled alcoholism, and as a result Glenn developed severe panic attacks that threatened to derail a promising career. Of note is that Glenn recorded this landmark LP at home in 1975, a time that home recording essentially didn’t exist. He foreshadowed the home recording movement decades before artists even knew what to call it.
Glenn immersed himself in research on the causes and treatments of panic attacks, and he found playing the guitar to be both therapeutic and career forming. Glenn says playing proved to “enable doors opening inside myself.”
Glenn’s writing style includes not thinking a lot about writing. He composes mainly on the guitar with occasional forays on the keyboard. He consciously avoids the path of commercial music, instead searching for music that creates an emotional connection. He wants his music to be “comfortable to listen to fifty years down the road.” Glenn seeks emotional truth.
Central to Glenn’s success in both live and recorded editions is the playing of Atlanta fretless bass player Bill Rea. Interestingly, Bill only played acoustic guitar on Glenn’s seminal album, and it was only later that Glenn suggested Bill take up the bass. Bill Rea can usually be seen stage left on the Schroeder’s stage taking in Phillips’ playing with laser intensity. Although any Rome performance by The Glenn Phillips Band is a cause for celebration, the upcoming event brings yet an added dimension. After providing extensive album liner work for several important recordings, Glenn has written a memoir. “Echoes,” subtitled, “The Hampton Grease Band, My Life, My Music, and How I stopped Having Panic Attacks,” is a book that tells the tale not only of musical growth, but also personal growth in the face of life threatening circumstances. Glenn started keeping track of his life and career over thirty years ago, and he quickly realized the impact of his challenging childhood and flawed parents. He says, “children can learn from their parents mistakes, if they are willing.”
The new book will come with both a CD and, as an added bonus, a DVD of the 40th Anniversary concert of “Lost at Sea.” The performance features a number of musical luminaries, including Cindy Wilson of the famous B-52’s.
But can he play? Oh my.
His lyricism may eclipse even Jeff Beck. Oh sure, he can rock out, but three chords and the truth don’t necessarily interest Glenn Phillips. Combining fret board virtuosity with a flair for harmonic effects, Glenn can evoke the vales of Scotland and the streets of San Francisco. Glenn Phillips’ music is so purely lyrical and expansive that I believe it would be impossible for him to “phone it in.”
I would say this, gentle readers; if you know a guitarist under the age of sixteen, and they need their musical life jump started, make sure they are at The Glenn Phillips Band appearance Saturday. Where, why the only logical place, The Courtyard at Schroeder’s on Rome’s Broad Street.