Good music has a sneaky habit of sliding into town and back out again virtually unnoticed. It happened last month when less than 600 people saw Phil Woods play at the Tampa Theatre. Woods is perhaps the finest saxophone player alive, but most people don’t even know who he is.
The same thing happened when the Glenn Phillips Band took the Buffalo Roadhouse by storm; the crowds were sparse. Phillips has never received the recognition he deserves – the curse of many great musicians. Neither his six years with the legendary Hampton Grease Band (out of Atlanta) nor his six-year solo career have been “particularly lucrative financially,” as Phillips puts it.
That may be the understatement of the decade. Phillips’ first solo album, Lost At Sea (1975) was manufactured in and distributed from his basement. Swim in the Wind (1977) was released on the British Virgin label, but Virgin’s American branch did not even press the album here.
Despite these problems, pockets of Phillips’ fans exist throughout the country. Hometown Atlanta is one stronghold, for instance. And in Worchester, Mass., the college radio station played Swim in the Wind often, the result of which was that students voted it their number 2 favorite for the year.
Here in Tampa, Glenn Phillips fanatics make up for their lack of numbers with vociferous enthusiasm. The Phillips Band responded with three superb nights of Glenn’s brand of rock with strong jazz underpinnings. His music would excite Ted Nugent and Weather Report fans alike.
It is impossible to put a finger on Glenn’s style, but the sound resembles a cross-breeding of Hound Dog Taylor and Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. His stage antics make Ted Nugent and Pete Townshend look like cigar-store Indians. First and foremost, though, is the immensity of his talent as a guitar player. As a rock guitarist, Phillips has few peers anywhere.
The rest of the band is an excellent match for Glenn. Bill Rea’s work on the fretless bass is most reminiscent of that of Steve Swallow and Alphonso Johnson, with favorable comparisons to both. Rea performed on both solo albums. After the recording of the first album, drummer Steve Landsberg joined Rea as a permanent member of the band. A compatible fourth member finally appeared in the form of Dana Howard Nelson, whose keyboard talents are considerable.
“We want to record an album of what the band sounds like now,” Phillips indicated. “We’re hoping to find a label interested in us here. I had to sell my last album as a British import. That’s crazy!”
What’s really crazy is that Glenn Phillips is one of the finest talents in rock music today, but nobody knows about him. His intense, powerful rock music is timeless, yet at the same time immediate. If ever there was a time when rock needs Glenn Phillips, it is now.
Hopefully, the next time Glenn Phillips comes to Tampa, the event will not go unnoticed.
[I cannot figure out whom I was writing for at this point. I don’t think Music Media was still in publication by this time. Please note that this is NOT Glen Phillips, the Toad the Wet Sprocket dude. The Buffalo Roadhouse was at the corner of Armenia and Buffalo in Tampa, before Buffalo was changed to MLK Jr. Avenue. Sadly, I don’t remember Glenn ever returning to Tampa. He is still rocking in the ATL.]