Raised by his mother in a poor and strictly religious life, John Baptiste grew up on gospel music. He was encouraged to pursue a career as a singer after a school performance of a song called "Sweet Slumber". He performed with his brothers in a gospel group called the Gateway Quartet and worked as a bellhop before he recorded "Sea of Love" in 1959.
In 1957, his girl friend Verdie Mae Thomas inspired the song that would become his claim to fame. "She was always complaining I didn't love her", said Baptiste in an interview. "I said if I can only convince her I'd take her out on the sea of love somewhere. I went out on the front porch and sat down and that's when I composed the song." He even paid to record his song at radio station KPLC with just his guitar to accompany his voice. Still, it took a while before the shy singer had the courage to shop his demo around.
One day the gas meter reader heard Baptiste singing it at home and told him he had a hit. The meter man even told record store owner George Khoury about Baptiste and his song. Khoury was intrigued enough to pay him a visit. Soon he put the singer together with Ernest Jacobs, the pianist and arranger of Cookie and the Cupcakes. Baptiste and Jacobs worked on the song on guitar and piano for two months. The song was recorded in early 1959, at Eddie Shuler's small Goldband studio. John was backed by four members of Cookie and the Cupcakes, along with three backup vocalists, the Twilights.
George Khoury told Baptiste that he couldn't record under his given name, as it was too French for most people to pronounce, so Khoury changed his name to Phil Phillips. The record, originally released on Khoury 711, sold so well that it was leased to Mercury for national distribution. It was only when Phil saw the record that he discovered that Khoury had put his name on the song as co-writer. Khoury later explained that this was the way he did business. To this day, Phillips denies that Khoury helped write the song.
"Sea of Love" went to #2 in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 pop chart and spent 14 weeks in the top 40, as well as reaching #1 on the R&B chart. It sold over two million copies in 1959. Nonetheless, Phillips was paid only $6008, and received no further royalties for the song or its recording. Phillips did not release an album to capitalize on his success, due to the unfavorable terms of his deal. "Because I decided to fight for what was rightfully and legally mine, a full album that I recorded was never released. I’m not being paid, nor have I ever been paid, as an artist for 'Sea of Love'. I never received justice and to this day have not received justice."
The song remains a big seller with notable covers by Del Shannon (which reached #33 on the pop chart in 1982) and The Honeydrippers (which peaked at #3 spending 14 weeks in the top 40 in 1984). Phillips' original version was featured prominently in the 1989 film, Sea of Love starring Al Pacino. Among Phillips' other songs is "No One Needs My Love Today" (1966), which was recorded by Samantha Juste, co-host of BBC TV's, Top of the Pops.
Phil never married Verdie Mae, the girl for whom he wrote "Sea Of Love". Instead he married Winnie Bell on June 3, 1961. They had seven children, raised in a ramshackle house in Jennings which didn't have any furniture. Phillips became a popular disc jockey in Jennings, but was still barely surviving. In the late 1960s he went to Muscle Shoals and recorded again. "The Evil Dope" has become something of a cult record. But he would not record again until 2002
In October 2007, Phillips was honored for his contributions to Louisiana music with induction into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
Despite severe arthritis in his hands, Phillips proved that his voice was still strong in some rare appearances at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans in the pre-Katrina years. He has been inducted into musical halls of fame in Port Arthur, Texas and Baton Rouge. He and his wife Winnie live in a small but comfortable home in Lake Charles with several of their children around them. His last live performance was in April 2005 at the Jazz Fest in New Orleans, Louisiana a few months before Hurricane Katrina. (info edited from Wikipedia & Rick Coleman)