Jimmy Phillips


Guitar and Vocals

Jimmy_PhillipsJimmy’s musical experiences began in the mid-1960s when he played what is now called “classic rock” in club and dance bands in southwest Michigan. He was introduced to the blues in the late 60s while in Boston where traditional blues,Chicago blues, and the British blues players were all the rage. He was most influenced then by Eric Clapton’s work with the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the slide playing of Elmore James, and the early work of Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown.  He says,

“That’s the great thing the British players did.  They reintroduced Americans to American music, especially blues, which had become almost a forgotten genre, and they brought it to a new generation of listeners.  I feel like they saved a ‘national treasure’ from extinction.  I mean, here I was in Boston, hanging with some hippies and listening to music that originated an hour’s drive from my home back in Michigan.  It was fantastic.” 

Back home in Michigan he put together a five-piece blues band called “Justice” with drummer/vocalist Paul Moore and Prentice Danzy, a great blues singer and harp player.  Since there were few gigs for a blues band in rural Michigan at that time, they started renting halls and putting on their own concerts, eventually buying an old barn and calling it “Fat Boy’s Coffeehouse” where they could play all they wanted, whenever and whatever they wanted. It was quite a venture for a bunch of long hairs with no business experience and it was doomed to fail, after a time, although there were many great nights at that place and some incredible jams. The coffeehouse usually drew a big enough crowd to pay the overhead but it certainly wasn’t a “profit” situation and the activities that went on in the parking lot meant legal problems were on the horizon.  We were on the radar and, sadly, we had to shut it down.

Jimmy explored other genres in the late 70s and early 80s, playing guitar, mandolin, and fiddle in area country, folk and bluegrass bands like Sutter Creek, Cactus Jack, Four Wheel Drive, and The Andy Paul Band. He also played in acoustic duos and trios in smaller venues on the restaurant / lounge circuit, before returning to blues and blues-rock in the late ’80s with the original Mere Mortals, a four-piece powerhouse band with his brother John on bass, his old colleague from the “country rock” days, Denny Anderson, on drums, and keyboard great, Dave Cleveland.  The Mere Mortals were a hard-working band, often playing five or six nights a week and traveling all over Michigan in an old beat-up Ford station wagon loaded down with gear and exhausted band members.  Jimmy recalls,

“I think that’s why the Mortals broke up.  After two years of constant gigging, we were just too tired to keep going and didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere.  But we were a tight band.  We went from one song right into another, for four and sometimes five hours a night with no dead air space, and we kept the dance floor full.  Playing was like a reflex, we played so much.”

With his brother and a new drummer, Mark “Sparky” Dukes, they continued on as a power trio, calling it the “Jimmy Phillips Band” for most of the early 90s and playing as much of the SRV and Hendrix stuff as they could pull off. Their specialty became revising and rearranging classic rock songs and surf tunes by giving them a “bluesy” twist.  Jimmy explains,

“We’d take a song like ‘Woolly Bully’ and make it rock with over-driven guitar, heavy drums, and funky bass.  It was a blast.  Then, along with the SRV stuff, we’d do something like ‘Pipeline’ with an extended ‘Third Stone From The Sun’ jam at the end. People didn’t know what to expect and it was fun.”

Jimmy’s rhythm section changed after a couple of years when Ben Pompey came in on drums when “Sparky” Dukes moved to Detroit to pursue a career in law.  Melvin English, a fine five-string bass player, took over when brother John moved on to follow his own musical path. Ben and Melvin together were very solid and had a sort of “leveling” effect on the foundation of the music, making it a more straight-ahead blues band, although still in a power trio format.  They became regulars at the Kalamazoo Blues Festival and clubs in the regional area that supported blues music.

After the band dissolved, Jimmy went into a musical hiatus, did some writing, and recorded two CDs of historical (Civil War era) music.  He compiled a CD of some of his original blues-oriented material that had served as demos sporadically recorded during the time of the Mortals and the Jimmy Phillips Band.

In 2003, he went to the Kalamazoo Irish Festival:

“I’d listened to quite a bit of Irish music and loved it, but never seriously considered playing it.  When I went to the Irish Festival in Kalamazoo, I heard a band called ‘The Fenians’ and was hooked.  They were so much fun!  I determined then and there to connect with my Boston Irish heritage (Ryan), and started working out on fiddle, mandolin, and tenor banjo, learning as many of the tunes and songs as I could.  I had to refresh my memory as I hadn’t read sheet music since I was a kid studying classical piano, but it came back.  After a couple of years of hard study, I put together an Irish band.”

The new band, “Harvest Home,” included A.A. Miller, percussionist of the original Fonnmohr, with Jimmy playing guitar, mandolin, tenor banjo, and fiddle.  They became regulars at the Kalamazoo Irish Festival, played the casinos, and picked up a few gigs where Celtic music was wanted, especially around the St. Patrick’s Day holiday.  Harvest Home worked hard expanding their repertoire to include material few other Irish bands were playing and, after five years and seven bass players, they had developed a pretty good “pub mix” of songs and tunes and were beginning to explore more electric Celtic Rock material.

The Irish band dissolved and Jimmy decided to go back and pick up where he had left off with the Mere Mortals.  He hooked up with Terry James, a fine bass player from St. Joseph, and Danny Diaz, of Los Bandits fame, an excellent drummer with a solid blues, classic rock, and Tex-Mex background. Terry has years of experience under his belt, a very solid playing style, and is also a fine singer. Jimmy adds,

“I’m really enjoying playing with Danny and Terry and I’m looking forward to getting out there and performing again and taking the Mortals thing a step further, hence the name “Mortals 2.”

The future’s so bright I’m gonna need sunglasses.”