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Thursday, 25 July 2013

Gene Phillips born 25 July 1915

Gene Phillips (b. Eugene Floyd Phillips, 25 July 1915, St. Louis, Missouri, USA. d. 1990) was a West Coast session stalwart who appeared on a myriad of jump blues waxings during the late '40s and early '50s. Singer/guitarist Phillips was a mainstay of Modern Records during the label's formative years, his Louis Jordan-like jumpin' R&B giving the label many of it's earliest best sellers.

Phillips learned to play ukulele and switched to guitar at the age of 11, after which he began playing and singing for tips and graduated through several obscure local bands. Between 1941 and 1943, he played guitar behind the Mills Brothers, relocating with them to
Los Angeles, and later worked and recorded with Lorenzo Flennoy, Wynonie Harris, Johnny Otis and Jack McVea.

Phillips was one of the first important artists to be signed by the fledgling Modern Music Company back in 1946, and probably ranks as the label's second-most important early signing behind Hadda Brooks. Even though he was only signed to the label as an artist for 3-4 years, he enjoyed a lengthy subsequent association with the Bihari brothers' West Coast R&B indie as a sideman. Any serious collector of the Bihari brothers' budget-priced Crown albums (you know, the ones with those ubiquitous cheesy cover illustrations by artist "Fazzio") should be intimately familiar with Phillips's LP -- it's one of the best Crown acquisitions you can possibly make (especially since there's no CD equivalent yet).

Phillips' Charlie Christian & T-Bone Walker inspired guitar and jump-blues shouting began to be featured on his own recordings supported by west coast stalwarts such as Maxwell Davis and Jack McVea. His often-ribald jump blues gems for the firm included "Big Legs," "Fatso," "Rock Bottom," "Hey Now," and a version of Big Bill Broonzy's witty standard "Just a Dream." Phillips's bandmates were among the royalty of the L.A. scene: trumpeter Jake Porter, saxists Marshall Royal, Maxwell Davis, and Jack McVea, and pianist Lloyd Glenn were frequently on hand. Phillips returned the favor in Porter's case, singing and playing on the trumpeter's 1947 dates for Imperial.
Phillips" later records for RPM, Imperial Records, Exclusive, Federal (with Preston Love) and Combo, were successful locally and he spent the 50s doing extensive session work with artists such as Percy Mayfield, who played on "Please Send Me Someone To Love" and Amos Milburn. After a 78 of his own for Imperial in 1951 ("She's Fit 'n Fat 'n Fine"), Phillips bowed out of the recording wars as a leader with a solitary 1954 effort for Combo, "Fish Man," backed by McVea's band. (It's recently been established that he played on the Oscar McLollie sessions from 1955, and indeed he may well have continued his relationship with Modern beyond then...)

He retired from the music business with the advent of rock 'n' roll and some sources say he passed away in 1990. (Info edited from also AMG & NME)

1 comment:

boppinbob said...

As you can see there's not much information or many photos on the Internet.
As a footnote I did manage to find this:

“The late Jake Porter of Combo Records, who played trumpet on most of Phillips' Modern recordings, took me down to meet him at his junkyard on South Central, Los Angeles in the 80s. When we arrived Jake said "stay in the car, I'll go get him because you might catch something". Jake hollered "Come out Gene, somebody wants to talk with you". About five minutes later Gene appeared down the alley, patting dust off his clothes and pulling up his trousers. He had a mop of grey hair that hadn't been cut for a long time. Jake whispered in my ear "He's suffering from dementia, you won't get a lot out of him." Phillips looked a sorry state, was slow talking and quietly spoken, but he did answer my questions, and even went back and got his lap steel guitar to show me. A few years later I heard he'd passed away. Sadly I didn't see any obituaries.” (Ray Topping – Ace Records)