"Rock N Roll Never Dies..." An Interview with STYX bassist Ricky Phillips
Rock N Roll legends STYX are on the road this Fall & they are a band that's managed to hold onto their musical integrity, despite changes in times, fad, trends & even members, STYX continue to forge on with their beautiful harmonies, classic guitar tones, solid rhythm & classic hits!
I had the opportunity to chat it up with current bassist Ricky Phillips & Ricky was a pleasure to interview...he was very open, very pleasant & very professional.
I might point out that he earned bonus points in my book too because he was scheduled to call me at 3 PM for the interview & usually rock n roll time being what it is, a 3 PM interview means that they "might" call within that hour or so time frame..."if" they even call!
Ricky was right on time though, he literally rang me up at 3 PM on the nose & he was in good spirits, very polite, super nice & we talked about all things Ricky Phillips & I'd say this interview covers his career pretty good from the beginning to the present.
Rock N Roll Experience: So at this point, are you a full fledged member of STYX or just a touring member?
Ricky Phillips: (laughs) I'm a full fledged member of STYX. I have been for seven years.
Rock N Roll Experience: On the Fall STYX tour the band is doing something very unique.
Ricky Phillips: We are going to do all of the "Grand Illusion" album, take an intermission, come back & do all of the "Pieces" album & we've got some fun things planned, it's the 2 most favorite records that we get alot of requests from fans & websites & everything so we are looking forward to it. We've got a big drop screen in the back & we are going to try & relive that experience of how you used to put the records on when they came out & there was a beginning & an end to each side & we've got a few things planned to make it fun for the audience.
Rock N Roll Experience: Years ago when you were in the Baby's you had band trading cards made, do you still get fans coming up to you with those trading cards?
Ricky Phillips: Occasionally, yeah...they show up from time to time & people ask me questions about the cobra under the bed (laughs) and all that crazy stuff
Rock N Roll Experience: What do you mean the cobra under the bed?
Ricky Phillips: Well, there was some liner note on one of the cards that said I had a pet cobra & then it went on from there that I apparently kept this pet cobra under my bed...that's back in the day where hype was hype & when it came out I had no idea what people were even asking me, it was something the record company put out.
Rock N Roll Experience: Speaking of The Baby's...why did that band split up?
Ricky Phillips: We were on Chrysalis Records which is a kinda small label that had alot of talent & alot of us were not...I'll just use our example, we would only sell records when we were on tour, people would see us & they'd go & buy our record & we weren't getting the promotion that we needed in the end from the record label so it basically ran it's course and we all kinda threw in the towel. That's when Tony & Wolly went & started working with Rod Stewart and Jonathan went to Journey & John Waite moved to New York and kinda started his solo career & I stayed in L.A. myself and did session work and kinda started formulating my own studio and started that whole thing until we put Bad English together.
Rock N Roll Experience: What happened to Bad English, that band was really good.
Ricky Phillips: Thank you. It was another one of those things where, when Journey split up Jonathan & I were going to put a band together and he had just finished producing Michael Bolton as a matter of fact (laughs), "Dock at the Bay" album & he was in New York and bumped into John Waite & he called me up and said,
"I just had dinner with John, I told him what we were up to, he's very interested."
and we were initially going to go in a completely different direction so this was kind of a U-turn to something that I thought we had already done that, but we got together, Jonathan said, "Let's go up to my place in San Francisco and the 3 of us write together and see if we still have the magic and we can go from there."
So that's kinda what we ended up doing and the first day was kind of all telling, we started coming up with really good stuff and Neil Schon would come over and throw down some solos, Jonathan and I were playing the guitars on the tracks that we were recording & then Dean came in to the fold and we held the drummer auditions & we were off and it was pretty successful...the first record was amazingly successful, we had 2 number ones & I think all totaled I think we had 5 top 40 hits off that and then we got a little bit esoteric on the second one but we split up during the making of the 2nd one so it really didn't get a release...John & I had written a song with a guy named Jesse Harms called "Time Sits Still" that I think went to number one in like Germany, Holland & we got alot of airplay on it, but as far as the States go I don't even know if there was even a proper release...the record company pretty much dropped the ball.
Rock N Roll Experience: How was it working with Jimmy Page & David Coverdale on the Coverdale/Page record?
Ricky Phillips: I loved that project..that was absolutely just a blast!
When David Called me & asked me to do that project he basically wasn't asking me to join the band or to even do the record, he called me up & asked me to come up to Tahoe with he & Jimmy to help him work up the material & just wood shed it & at that time, I think the plan was, John Kallodner @ Geffen was trying to put a super group together & I heard names like John Entwistle (The Who) & all these different people being thrown around so I wasn't even really planning on doing the record but we hunkered down & we worked on the material and we were in & out over 3 or 4 months I think before we even ended up making the record & it was fun, we would fly in & out from Tahoe & then we rented an office building in Reno & were basically set up in Led Zeppelin format & would just blow the stuff down till it was perfected & it was great fun! Then they told me they were sending me to Vancouver to start cutting this record, so I ended up doing the record kinda just because we had a really good flow & everything was just happening so fast & so well.
Rock N Roll Experience: How come on your personal web site you haven't updated it since 2006?
Ricky Phillips: Because my web designer passed away this year & I just couldn't bear to touch it, I was trying to think good positive thoughts that he was going to rebound and he unfortunately, God Bless him, he passed on a few months ago from Cancer, but we are in the midst of rebuilding it right now & hopefully it'll be relaunched within the next month to 6 weeks.
Rock N Roll Experience: What do you think of the big named music acts who charge their fans to meet them & get autographs.
Ricky Phillips: (laughs) I think it's ridiculous to be honest, I'm not big on meet and greets, I'm not really big on hanging out & signing autographs to be honest, it just isn't my thing & I don't know what that even is, I don't understand the idolatry frame of mind, to see that just kinda bugs me, I don't really dig it personally.
Rock N Roll Experience: You probably see it every night though with STYX fans.
Ricky Phillips: I've seen it all my career, I've had people follow me in grocery stores & I don't understand it, it's just bizarre. I understand that there's a certain side to it, when you're 13 or 14 & you're in your first bands, you do it to get the chicks, but really, you are doing it for the music in the end. You don't really last unless you're a musician & so this whole thing of entertainers from any walk of life, the idea that they "owe" it to the fans, the "That's what you're asking for...", I don't understand, I don't understand that frame of reference & it's kind of a lack of respect for the arts, BUT, we are kinda living in this fast food society where there's...what's that show...the guy who has the little sippy cup, he has the TV show where all the paparazzi guys sit around and talk about...
Rock N Roll Experience: TMZ
Ricky Phillips: TMZ! I mean, we are living in that...unfortunatly, we've brought everything to that point so I guess it's expected, but if you stop & really analyze it and look at it deeper, it's pretty juvenile.
Rock N Roll Experience: So is it safe to say that you don't always stop to sign autographs for people?
Ricky Phillips: I always do if people are standing there and they are calling my name and they want me to sign something, unless my tour manager is going come on, come on, come on, we are out of here! If we are on the go I have to just wave thank you & that's it. I go out infront of the bus & I sign whenever I can, but there's times where I might not be feeling well & people don't understand that, but...don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't appreciate it, it's not that I don't want to stop and sign, it's just, I don't understand turning it into a business...I don't get that.
I have these guys that will find out I've got a flight at 4:30 in the morning or whatever it is...they will be there with a stack of scratch plates from guitars & they are trying to get me to sign a stack of them & I'll say, "Dude, you don't have that many guitars..these are going to ebay!" They will put them on a guitar & sell them on ebay, so I will tell them I'll sign one for them & I'll say, "Who's it to?" & they'll say "Too George" or "To Jim", or "To Patty" or whatever it is, but to sit there & sign a stack of things so those people can...everybody goes through it...
Rock N Roll Experience: Happy early Birthday, I know you have a birthday on October 7.
Ricky Phillips: Thank you man, thank you very much. Yeah...Rocktober as I've always called it. On my birthday I am traveling to El Paso, Texas where I'll be picked up & driven for about another 2 hours to somewhere in New Mexico, where we have a gig..actually, I think the gig is on my birthday but the night before, the 6th is a travel day so I took the option of going in early so I atleast go & have a nice meal & maybe a nice glass of wine of something but that's about it...on the road it's very seldom...I was actually very lucky, I was in Aruba on my birthday one year & then the next year we were in Hawaii so I kinda got the luck of the draw...nothing so good is going to happen for a while (laughs), we'll be in, I don't want to slander any city, but we'll be in Podunk, someplace for my birthday the next few years.
Rock N Roll Experience: Are you working on new Styx music?
Ricky Phillips: We are always working on new music, will we put it out? That's another question. If there's a reason or if there's a film, unfortunately when you are in a classic rock band you are already on the format of most of the stations and they will right up front tell us they don't need anymore STYX music that they already have 3 songs in heavy rotation so it's kinda a dilemma that alot of the bands from the past...some bands can escape it, bands like U2, Aerosmith, & I guess it you wanna classify Bon Jovi, I mean there's exceptions to everything but for the most part, 95% of the bands that put out new material, their stuff never sees the light of day.
So, as song writers, of course we keep writing, of course we are always writing & I encouraged Tommy for us to record & finish "Difference in the World" which we put on the new CD that just came out last month & we are selling it at the shows, so what we have decided to do is, if there's a business angle to it & because it came up from the fans over the past several years who would see the band play live & then go & buy the record and go wow, this doesn't sound like what I'm seeing, so people started to ask, "Why doesn't this version of STYX re-record the old catalog?" so eventually it took a great number of years but we are slowly getting around to...we are not making a big deal about it right now, we are putting that out at the shows, but we put a new song that Tommy wrote & that I absolutely love...it's kinda an extension of "Angry Young Man" in my estimation anyways.
Rock N Roll Experience: So STYX are re-recording all the old material with the new line up?
Ricky Phillips: We've started doing it, we started doing it as a labor of love & kinda just for fun & because the fans on all of our own personal web sites have been sending us requests & on facebook and at the shows & very place you go for a number of years now & we do realize that it isn't that we are trying to reinvent those songs because those are classic songs, we don't want to change them. We don't try to recreate the songs, we pay great respect to them & often times we'll stop in the middle of a rehearsal & go back to the original & listen to it, but, with that said, we are much more experienced musicians, we've matured so much better than we were a number of years ago & recording technics have improved & we don't believe in pitch correction...onstage, everything you hear is live, we don't use pre-recorded, unless it's a sound effect, like in the beginning of "Too Much Time", the alarm clock, we have that programed of course, but everything that you hear musically is the band singing it live night after night & that's just something we subscribe to.