Thursday, August 17, 2017
The legendary Roy Phillips
They say it's never a good idea to meet your heroes. And they're usually right.
I've met a few of mine, some through music writing, some just by coincidence, and it's always a bit of a lottery.
There've been good ones – Dr Feelgood's Lee Brilleaux bought Glenmorangie all night and didn't mind when I hassled him about singing ‘Violent Love’ – and less good ones. My conversation with John Mayall after I'd been chatting amiably with his guitarist, a certain Mick Taylor, was very short. His contribution consisted of a mere two words (and, yes, the second one was ‘off’.)
I write this because one of my heroes is coming to Tauranga at the end of the month; he's someone I've met and he's one of the ‘good ones’.
Firstly let's delve into the past for a minute, to a brief time, roughly between 1957 and 1967, when there was a crossover period and jazz players – Miles Davis, John Coltrane – footed it alongside rock music. It was also a time when jazz acts would reinterpret popular song and you could find in the charts, simultaneously, a Beatles song by the Beatles and a jazz version of that same song.
And the best jazz crossover band was a three-piece organ combo called the Peddlers. The singer and keyboard player was the inimitable Roy Phillips. He's coming to town, playing Baycourt's X-Space on Sunday, August 27.
In the sixties Roy was the epitome of cool, clad in a black turtleneck, his singing a soulful growl, laying out teasing Hammond organ lines, keeping jazzy swing in the charts and playing everywhere from Ronnie Scott's in London to Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. In 1968 CBS released a compilation EP of four acts: Simon & Garfunkel, Aretha Franklin, The Tremeloes... and The Peddlers. They were big – 45 million records sold. Their biggest hit actually came in 1970 with a song Roy wrote, ‘Girlie’, but their material came from everywhere; 1930s jazz to 1960s pop.
Eventually, after the Peddlers finished, Roy, who had fallen in love with New Zealand while on tour, came and settled here in the Bay Of Islands. Laid low. Played occasionally. Bought a fish 'n' chip cafe.
That's where I met Roy. He was humble, funny and charming and immediately you felt like a friend for life.
Not everyone agreed, and his cafe had become somewhat legendary. Because it turns out Roy wasn't entirely temperamentally suited to running a cafe. Annoying customers annoyed him. Particularly Americans. Particularly because Americans demanded free water. Offended patrons wrote regularly to complain. In no time Roy had an entire wall papered with complaint letters which he pointed to as a badge of honour.
Back to music
It couldn't last, particularly as the place was a franchise business. Roy and the franchise amiably parted company, which was the best thing that could have happened since Roy returned to music.
And you better believe I spent as much time as I could hanging out with him. Roy genuinely is a humble, funny, charming man – unless you are an American tourist demanding free water – and is a great storyteller. I lapped up all those stories about the music scene, from Roy listening to Big Bill Broonzy as an awestruck teenager in the fifties, through his time with Joe Meek and the early English beat boom, to playing with Al Jarreau while touring the Playboy Clubs in America.
One night up there in the back bar of a pub while they were clearing out the front, Roy and I were the only people in. He sat at an upright piano and said “Right, what do you want to hear?” And for an audience of one he played what I still swear is the most soulful version of ‘Georgia On My Mind’ ever heard. Some people really do live up to expectation.
Tickets for Roy Phillips are $30 from Ticketek or Baycourt.
The Weekend Sun has one double passes to Roy Phillips for one lucky readers who can tell us Watusi met Roy Phillips.