Who was/is Gene Phillips ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more

Gene Phillips with Jack McVea Orchestra

Central Avenue in Los Angeles was jumping in the postwar years with countless horn-fueled combos. Its guitar contingent included Gene Phillips, who recorded extensively for the Bihari brothers' Modern label from 1946 to 1950 before his Louis Jordanesque approach fell out of favor (as did Louis' own, for that matter).

The St. Louis native (he's usually listed as being born July 25, 1915, though Social Security pegs it as May 25) started out on ukulele, then graduated to guitar. Joe Turner and Jimmy Rushing were his primary vocal influences; he was particularly into the jazz aggregations of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Phillips spent time with the St. Louis outfits of Dewey Jackson and Jimmy Powell and learned how to play lap steel from Floyd Smith.  Gene formed his first Rhythm Aces in St. Louis in 1939, then hit the road in '41 as accompanist to the Mills Brothers. When they hit L.A. the next year, Phillips stayed put.

Joining pianist Lorenzo Flennoy's trio, Gene recorded with them in 1944. Trumpeter Jake Porter seems to have played a role in getting Phillips signed to Modern in '46. His first session for the Biharis that September included the locally popular Stinkin' Drunk, and he continued to cut good-natured jumps including Big Legs, Fatso, Rock Bottom, and Hey Now for Modern, displaying some jazzy licks on his hollow-bodied guitar along the way.

Slippin' And Slidin' was done at a December 9, 1949 date at Modern's own studios on Robertson Boulevard in L.A. Phillips' animated vocal is matched by his tasty, jazz-tinged guitar work, backing provided by alto saxist Marshall Royal, tenor man Jack McVea, trumpeter Sammy Yates, pianist Lee Jones, bassist Clarence Jones, and drummer Charles Thompson. There would be one more studio session for Gene at Modern, along with a 78 on its RPM subsidiary done live at Frank Bull & Gene Norman's Blues Jamboree in the autumn of 1950.

A contentious 1949 divorce sent Phillips onto the skids, heavy drinking derailing his career. Imperial put out a lone '51 single on him, and Combo followed suit with Fish Man in '54. And that was it. In later years, a disheveled Phillips ran a junkyard and suffered from diabetes before dying a forgotten man January 10, 1990.

Bill Dahl
Chicago, Illinois


Electric Blues 1939-2005. - The Definitive Collection!

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