The best guitarist you never heard? I’d like to nominate Atlanta’s Glenn Phillips. For the better part of four decades, Phillips and his flying fingers have been making incredible music that most people on the planet don’t know about. Glenn Phillips has a fluid, expressive guitar style, possessing the technical chops that appeal to hard rock guitar aficionados and a graceful melodic touch that endears him to fans of other musical genres. His songs are almost entirely instrumental, but they are composed with such skill that his guitar virtuosity is often overshadowed by the melodic emotional power of the piece. Whether the song is a slow, pretty tune, or a frenzied workout with somersault solos, the dexterity of Phillips’ guitar playing is breathtaking.
If you are new to this guy’s music, a fine place to start would be the two-CD Echoes, a compilation of music that he recorded from 1975-1985. Other fine albums include Elevator, originally released by SST in 1987, and Angel Sparks, released in 2003. Also in 2003 he recorded Guitar Party with Henry Kaiser, an instrumental album that contained covers of Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 was 9”, Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” and Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.”
Glenn Phillips continues to play shows, mostly near his home in the Atlanta area. He recently made a new album, Sun Hex, as the Supreme Court, a side project he does with Jeff Calder of the Swimming Pool Qs. This was their second full album together. Their first album, The Supreme Court Goes Electric, was released way back in 1993 and received glowing reviews in Rolling Stone and other publications. I haven’t heard the new album yet, but you can guarantee that I’ll add it to my next online order.
Phillips was also a founding member of the Hampton Grease Band, whose only album Music to Eat was released in 1971 (and reissued a few years ago on CD) by Columbia Records. With little marketing support from the label or airplay from radio, Music to Eat gained the distinction of being the second worst selling album in the history of Columbia Records (beat out only by a yoga instruction record!). Glenn Phillips later left the band and in 1975 recorded his first solo album, Lost at Sea. That received wide acclaim, including raves from John Peel, the legendary BBC D.J. After Peel’s airplay help and a positive review in Melody Maker, Phillips received a phone call from none other than Richard Branson, who promptly signed the guitarist to his fledging Virgin Records label. That led to a productive period in which Phillips recorded several outstanding albums; Swim in the Wind, Dark Lights, Razor Pocket, St. Valentine’s Day, Elevator, and Scratched by the Rabbit.