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Shawn Phillips

Shawn Phillips is one of most fascinating and enigmatic musicians to come out of the early-'70s singer/songwriter boom. The mere fact that he was a musician as much as a singer and songwriter made him stand out, and helped him attract a dedicated following. His refusal to shape his music -- which crosses between folk-rock, jazz, progressive, pop, and classical -- to anyone else's expectations allowed him to hold onto a large and dedicated cult following, without ever achieving the stardom that his talent seemed to merit.

Phillips was born in 1943 in Fort Worth, TX, the son of best-selling spy novelist Philip Atlee, who moved the family around the world at various times, including the South Pacific. After hearing "Malaguena" at the piano, he took up the guitar at age seven, and by the time he was 12, he was playing the chords to Carl Perkins songs. Phillips' musical experience transcended rock & roll, however. In the course of his family's travels, he got to live in almost every corner of the globe, including Tahiti, and absorbed the music that surrounded him wherever he was living. He returned to Texas in his teens, with some training in classical music but a love for performers like Jimmy Reed and Ike & Tina Turner, among other blues and R&B performers. He did a hitch in the Navy, and then went back to Texas before retreating to California, where he played around the early-'60s folk circuit.

Phillips made his first record, an over-produced single of Bob Gibson's version of "Frankie and Johnnie" for Columbia, which he followed with two albums, I'm a Loner and Shawn, neither of which was successful. Phillips went to England, where he performed and wrote songs with Donovan, in a professional relationship somewhat clouded in controversy. (Phillips claimed in interviews during the 1970s that he co-wrote "Season of the Witch," as well as a major portion of the songs that finally surfaced on the album Sunshine Superman, but only ever received one co-author credit for "Little Tin Soldier" on the Fairytale album.) While staying in England, the range of his work vastly expanded, partly with the help of various controlled substances.

He was ejected from England for playing without a work permit, and tried living in Paris for before he headed for Italy. He settled in Positano, a tiny fishing village. By the late '60s, Phillips' musical expertise had broadened to include not only different kinds of guitars, but also the Indian sitar. After a few years of trying, he recognized that he'd started too late and would never master the sitar in the traditional manner, and instead began learning to make his own music on the instrument.

In 1968, he went to London with the idea for a trilogy of albums and recorded a major portion of it in collaboration with Traffic members Steve Winwood, Chris Wood, and Jim Capaldi. No record company was willing to commit to such an ambitious body of work by an unknown artist, and the material languished for more than two years, until Phillips came to A&M Records. Producer Jonathon Weston listened to his work and decided to try and release an edited version of the music.

This became his A&M debut album, Contribution, which ranged freely between uptempo folk-rock ("Man Hole Covered Wagon") to introspective quasi-classical guitar pieces ("L Ballade"), and works mixing sitar and acoustic guitar ("Withered Roses"). The album got positive reviews, but it was when Phillips embarked on his first U.S. tour, in conjunction with his next album, Second Contribution, late in 1971, that he was discovered by much of the press. Critics in the New York Times and other publications displayed unbridled awe at Phillips' prowess on a range of instruments, including electric and acoustic six- and 12-string guitars and the sitar, and his singing range, a full three octaves from baritone to counter-tenor, as well as his songwriting. He was one of the few singer/songwriters to play double-necked six- and 12-string guitars (a standard feature of progressive and metal bands) on-stage, in intimate locales such as New York's Bottom Line, and to test the full range of the hybrid instrument.

Writers lavished praise on Phillips for his unusual lyrics, haunting melodies, daunting musicianship, and the ambition of his records. He was a complete enigma, American-born but raised internationally, with a foreigner's keen appreciation for all of the music of his homeland and a seasoned traveler's love of the world's music, with none of the usual limits on his thinking about music. He slid between jazz, folk, pop, and classical sounds -- it was nothing for Phillips to segue from a progressive-style mood piece with a 50-piece orchestra into an R&B-based number driven by his electric guitar, and back again. "The Ballad of Casey Deiss," from Second Contribution, was a case in point, a song about a friend who died when he was struck by lightning, scored for acoustic guitars, electric guitars, vibraphone, and the horn section of a full orchestra, as well as multi-layered vocals.

A third album, Collaboration, followed, along with another tour, and then Faces, Bright White, and Furthermore. His collaborator was conductor/arranger Paul Buckmaster, the man responsible for the choral accompaniment on the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and several other rock-meets-classical touchstones. On tour, he was booked into clubs with artists such as comedian Albert Brooks, singer/songwriter Wendy Waldman, and Seals & Crofts, and usually worked solo, surrounded by a half-dozen guitars, or sometimes with a single accompanist, Peter Robinson, on keyboards.

Phillips never achieved major stardom, despite his critical accolades. He never courted an obvious commercial sound, preferring to write songs that, as he put it, "make you feel different from the way you felt before you started listening," primarily love songs and sonic landscapes. He made nine albums for A&M before moving on to RCA in 1978 for Transcendance, which mixed his guitars with a 60-piece symphony orchestra and members of Herbie Hancock's band, produced in collaboration with arranger/conductor Michael Kamen. He also contributed to movie music by Manos Hadjidakis, and appeared in the movie Run with the Wind.

With close to 20 albums behind him since the mid-'60s, Phillips has a following in America, Europe, and Japan, and he has performed at different world music festivals. A cult figure whose peers include Van Dyke Parks and, perhaps, Leonard Cohen (though Cohen's public profile is enhanced by his following, as an established poet and author, in the literary community), he remains an enigmatic figure on the music landscape. His work remained sufficiently in demand in the 1990s, however, to justify a best-of compilation from A&M in 1992 that included notes by Phillips and one new song. In 1998, eight of his LPs were re-released via the Wounded Bird label. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
full bio

Comments

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michael_corp e
MORE SHAWN!! Please, Please, Please! Great guy, Fabulous Talent!
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johnroyburne t t
Question of the year. What is the antonym of competition?
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mfstx
Pandora, you should acquire many more Shawn recordings then the two LPs you have.
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Shawn's priceless.
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god I remember the orange sunshine and Shawn, he did a great album called collaboratio n
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bellbabe7
The range and talent of this artist leaves me breathless and begging for more!
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danzosan
Talent like this is rare and is to be cherished
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I know he wrote more than two albums, why don't you have more???
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I still seem to have no trouble remembering every word of his songs, must be yet another positive side effect from all that "orange sunshine"
Back in '73.
Mac
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Pandora needs to broaden the library of this talent
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While in high school, I attended a performance in Columbia SC, we were devout followers and after the concert, Shawn came out front sat on the edge of the stage and just talked for us for about an hour, what a great guy, whenever I hear his music it takes me back. Thanks.
Report as inappropriate
Pandora, Please play a broader spectrum of Shawn's work. You barely scratch the surface of this amazing artist work.
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mariah.murph y 8
Shawn Phillips is the man , the guy who shaped my life, weirdly enough. I have seen him play 5 times, doing the college circuit thing , in Kalamazoo, Flagstaff, Tucson, and twice in Detroit. His music almost lead me to marry the woman of my dreams, but i did not. long story, my loss.
Report as inappropriate
I have loved & followed Shawn Philips since the early 1970s and saw him open for The Moody Blues as well as in small venues through the years. With his vast catalogue, one would think Pandora could find more cuts to play than off of just two albums.
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Stumbled across the Second Contribution album back in my college heydays of the early '70s, and eventually ended up with many of his albums. Got to see him perform twice, once in Portland, and again in Eugene, OR. An amazing talent. More selection Pandora, this guy has a strong and loyal following...
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wonderful to rediscover this amazing man's music - loved his songs- my anthem for the 70's
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I met him a few times on tour. My ex-girlfrien d lived with him on and off in the 1980's and early 90's. She says he lives in South Africa and is friends with her ex-husband author Louis Urrea.
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I was introduced to him in early 70's, Lots of LSD, weed and shawn was the general order of the day. I have never forgotten his fantastic lyrics and style of voice delivery. Pandora please include all his popular recording for our pleasure, All of his stuff if you can !!!!
Report as inappropriate
cmrhoney
I was lucky enough to meet him twice - once after a concert in Buffalo in '74 when I was young, naive and he was with a full band. The second time in '81 when I worked in radio - got to sit in on the station interview, then share a stoop with him during intermission our back of the venue. What a wonderful, funny, warm, brilliant person.
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michael_corp e
MORE!!!!!! MORE!!!!!!!M O R E ! ! ! ! ! !
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patricklinds a y 9 4
Please include his 'Transcenden c e . ' It's my favorite by Phillips.
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when I first heard him in the 60's, I thought I would be one of the very few who would like his style of music. I found out how wrong I was, when talking with others of the era.
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For christs sake Pandora, Phillips is one of the most amazing musicians on the Planet.
Go to ITunes and at least get what they have. MLL
Report as inappropriate
yriggs
Phillips is a musical genius and deserves more exposure, especially to the younger generation - please increase your Phillips offerings and cross them over to similar newer artists stations to give these kids the experience of hearing one of the true, under-recogn i z e d greats.
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auntdosan
brought back a flood of memories terrific album
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Love shawn , wish pandora would add more of his music!
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llewman
I haven't hear his voice since the 70's - still awesome - like warm butter. More Shawn please !!
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robbiesheeha n
I adore Shawn Phillips I went to several of his concerts in the 70's in Arlington and Dallas Texas.
I even remember what I wore. I have bought his albums, 8 tracks , cassettes and discs.
Report as inappropriate
ehultman6
An amazing performer.
I've seen him a few times ranging from 1979 to 1998, mostly in Houston. One show that stands out was a show on The University of Houston campus, probably around 1980.
That show still ranks in my personal top ten.
Looking forward to seeing him again.
Report as inappropriate
jninc
I agree.. SP isnt like Journey. If you choose an artist to be the basis of a station you should have more of his selections playing.
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You have to listen to the entire album can't just choose one cut!
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tmoore109
I have every CD Shawn ever produced. 13 of them I think. Every one is great. i would recomend Pandora getting more of a selection.
Report as inappropriate
sixstringirl
For those who ask why Shawn's songs are cut short - the two albums Pandora has in the Discography were both "concept albums" with most or all of the tracks flowing seamlessly from one to the other. Therefore, in order to isolate a single track it has to be cut abruptly before the next song begins. For more info on Shawn, please visit http://Shawn P h i l l i p s . c o m and http://shawn p h i l l i p s . w o r d p r e s s . c o m
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mfstx
Hey Pandora, please buy some more Shawn Phillips albums. You'd find his sounds would mix well with many styles, and God knows, you could use the variety. Great service, but get some more albums, including more Shawn.
Report as inappropriate
I absolutely agree with "oltecgroup" . . . I ' d love to hear from some of his other albums (Faces is one of my favorites). And, yes, why are all of Shawn Phillips' songs cut short? But, I love Pandora!!!
Report as inappropriate
oltecgroup
Although I love both Contribution and Second Contribution I would love for you to play other recordings from Shawn Phillips. I saw him in Dallas, TX last year and he was absolutely great. Also, most of his songs which you play on Pandora seem to be cut short, what's up with that? Keep up the great work, and please pay different song from Shawn!
Report as inappropriate
snalder50
I saw Shawn in salt Lake City in 77 or 78 at Kingsbury Hall! Have enjoyed him since.
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I have always loved his voice, it's unique and beautiful!
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I'm still listening to Second Contribution and just created a Shawn Phillips station on Pandora.com. I was lucky enough to see Shawn in concert in Minneapolis in the early 70's. He played the entire Second Contribution album from start to finish...eve r y o n e was mezmorized! A few years ago while in my car, his music came back to me. I decided to check Amazon.com for the Second Contribution CD and I bought it. Great music & great memories! After checking his website, I found out he was playing
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I was turned on to Shawn Phillips in the early 70's while in college, and would love to sit and listen with the headphones. I love his full range and continue to listen to his music over and over
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moonrcr
I burned Phillips into my Psyce(via headphones) back in the 70,s. I've enjoyed rediscoverin g his music in the new millenium and he is still one of my all time favorits to this day.
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actaurusstar
great memories, , charla turned me on to him in the 80's and i still listen to him. it would be awesome to see him in concert.
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jeff.pierce7
Saw him in Madison WI at a very small club (Merlyn's) in the late 70s. Sat in the front row in awe of the talent that I had been enjoying on vinyl for a few year prior. An original talent that still sounds great today. Love to hear him live again.
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The real jewel in a very large bucket of fakes. Brilliant songwriting, happy melodies, its a pleasure to have found this artist so long ago!
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Shawn Phillips is a mega talented musician who never sacrificed what he believed in and his craft.
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jeanclaudemu r t a u g h
Always awesome, he has a very distinct voice, I have and a old cassete that I will never get rid
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Just saw him in concert in Cleveland--- c a n still hold those notes. Great concert and very down to earth. Thanks, Shawn
Peace, Love and Clarity
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fond memeries, have not heard him since now on Pandora, Thanks
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tchandler.se s
at a small show in albany ny, shawn accepted an invitation to our table after his performance. my sisters and i will never forget that night. what a guy, nice
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kenbunch
On his “Spaced” tour, he performed a song I believe was titled "Dust" that he wrote from his hospital room while recovering from a head injury as a result - as he said at the concert - getting his hair caught in the propeller shaft as the engine was revving up while working on his boat.
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