Jeff Pilson

Interviews : Ricky Phillips : Jeff Pilson : Paul Gilbert

17 mins read

I recently moved an old back up from a number of years ago over to a new drive and as I did so discovered a number of old music interviews I did with some respected professionals. Here are three interviews with Paul Gilbert, Jeff Pilson and Ricky Phillips.

I thought I would republish the articles as they are interesting now as they were back then. Obviously the photograph isn’t any of the aforementioned artists but I am sticking to the rule that all photos on this site are original and clearly this isn’t the best photo I have ever taken.

Ricky’s interview is below, Click here for Paul Gilbert and here for Jeff Pilson

Ricky Phillips (Styx, Bad English, The Babys)

When did you start making music and what attracted you to bass guitar ?

I started at 6 on piano really, although I did mess with my Dad’s guitar through my childhood.  I had a friend who had the same fascination for music and we graduated from playing every piano duet we could to guitar around 10 or 11.  We formed our first band when I was 12 and he was 13 called,”The Warlox”.  I had turned 13 by the time we did our first gig which consisted of Beatles, Stones and Monkees music laced with some one hit wonders of the 60’s.  One weekend my bass player left his bass at my house after a rehearsal and I couldn’t put it down.  I found the McCartney parts harder and more interesting to play than the Lennon/Harrison parts and I was hooked.

Who were your influences growing up ?

Besides McCartney, I was heavily influenced by the phrasing and note choice of early Eric Clapton and adopted as much as I could of his guitar style to bass, specifically from the Cream period.  He played completely different in those days.  Cream, Hendrix and Motown records were my sole diet for a period of time until Zeplin came along.

The bass part that Jimi (Hendrix) played himself on ‘All Along the Watchtower’ is still one of my favorite recorded bass performances of all time.  The Who’s, John Entwhistle was a huge influence on me as was Chris Squire of Yes.  Zeps, John Paul Jones was very clever in his sometimes sophisticated always melodic approach to blues-influenced heavy  music.  He could marry his parts to support the drums and still convey an alternate energy with melody … which I  have attempted to inhale in every way I possibly could.

All of these amazing players taught me how to write lyrically with stress on melody and unique note choice, to create bass parts that would stand on their own.   I was also influenced by a couple jam style bassists such as Jack Bruce of Cream  and Tim Bogert in his Cactus days and the Beck,Bogert and Appice project.

You have worked with many of the greats, what has been the highlight of your career personally ?

Working and recording with Jimmy Page and David Coverdale on their CD was a great experience.  Sitting in with Jeff Beck and jamming with Mick Jagger were definitely great moments.  I was a kid when these guys were already influencing all of us.  The studio work and touring with some of my favorite artists as a side man behind the scenes, logged some great experiences.  But writing, creating, recording and finding success with my own bands The Babys, Bad English and now Styx are the most satisfying of  my career so far.  Being a part of something clearly greater than yourself is the ultimate.

Bad English for me was a turning point in rock music. Melody, great vocal and the song appeared more important that anyone instrument. What was it like playing in Bad English ? 

Bad English was a band of brothers who fought just as often as we got along. Creative differences are a bitch but can push bands to higher heights.  We respected each other but everyone had strong opinions and visions for the band. The push and pull in this process resulted in the band putting out great songs and performances in the studio.  I’m proud of both of those CDs.

Did the lifestyle resemble the music videos ? 

I’m not sure I understand what you mean but the lifestyle in the 80s was clearly of excess.  Which was something we had all been aware of for years.  Road life is often disjointed and you try to kill 22 hours a day waiting to do your 2 hour show.   So we could get A bit crazy at times simply out of boredom. However, we all had a strong work ethic so, the writing and recording phase had quite a different lifestyle and focus to it.

I can remember growing my hair like John Waite’s but never ventured as far as dressing the same way. Looking back at some of the music videos are there any outfits you regret ?

No man, I’m guilty as charged.  At an early age I saw how Hendrix, Bowie, Sly Stone, John Lennon, Little Richard, Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and so many other great talented people were embracing their art form completely by living it day to day and it has always stuck with me.

They walked the walk.  There are pictures of me in the 70’s hiking in Yellowstone Park with platform shoes on.  I’m lucky I didn’t break an ankle but they were probably the only shoes I had as a traveling young bar musician.

But I love seeing that I was completely immersed and invested.  Purple leather suits and crazy hairdos are all part of the journey.  Once in the 80s, I was growing my hair out from a short Duran Duranish cut and for a brief point it looked very mullet like…not the desired look I was going for.  Of course, that’s exactly when I got a call from Atlantic Records to do a live television broadcast with Roger Daltrey…oh well, I disguised it the best I could, Roger was a blast and it was an amazing time…   I guess I survived it and lived to tell about it.

Are you still in contact with the band ? 

I’m in touch with most of the people I’ve worked with but it does seem like weeks have passed when it’s actually years between phone calls.

What was your favorite Bad English song and why ? 

The first Bad English album had two #1 songs, 5 top 40 singles and a 6th that made top 50.  But my favorite was actually on the 2nd CD, ‘Backlash’, which was much darker throughout.  There was a song not released in the States but was a top 10 hit in Europe and found the #1 slot in a couple countries for a minute or two.  It was called “Time Stood Still” and became a television/radio theme song for Heineken Beer in Europe.

I remember John writing the lyric, “We found a little seaside bar high above the rocks,”… and I followed with, “You were drinking white wine, while I was doin shots”.  The payoff line was,”We threw our watches in the sea, I looked at you, you looked at me and time stood still”.  In rock it’s nearly impossible to touch on a romantic notion without getting into the rock ballad thing.  We somehow were able to do it.  It’s one of my favorite collaborations I’ve done with John, or anyone really.   It was radio friendly but not blatantly pop.

We couldn’t wait to finish the song to see how the story line would end.  I had played a Flamenco guitar intro on the demo which Neal Schon took to whole other level for the actual recording.  My friend Jesse Harms was the one who actually came up with the chorus idea for the song and an infectious keyboard line.  We went our separate ways after that CD.  I think we may have been on the verge of writing our most quality stuff and getting away from the predictable gloss of pop music.

John Waite regularly performs some of the Bad English classics, have you ever considered a reunion ?

I get asked that a lot but frankly, no one else seems to be interested.  If all of our collective bands, Journey, Styx and John did a tour together I suppose we could do some impromptu Bad English performances.  Money is always huge factor in setting up a tour and it takes tons to put one  together.

Working as a professional musician comes with massive highs with album successes and I imagine similar lows when things go quiet. How do you cope with the throws of fame ?

The lows effected me more when I was in my 20s.  After a great success and a band break up, I was always working on the next thing and some of the best work I’ve ever done failed miserably.  I refused to follow the flavor of the month music trends which is the only way to go but it’s a steeper mountain to climb.

All of my friends were amazing musicians and when one of us would get a touring offer for the big bucks, the projects were abandoned.  The time, energy, passion and sacrifice put into creating an original sounding band is more powerful than the decline of your own personal popularity.  In LA I noticed a lot of musicians following every musical trend and those who put the party before the music.  I’ve definitely taken my turn wearing the lamp shade but I’m not on the Poseur A list.  I love LA and have great friends there who have found success in this very environment but I felt it diluted me in just about every way.

I’ve always written and recorded music as it hit me and reflected the world around me.  it has remained the constant through highs and lows.  After frustrations with keeping bands together I developed a bit of a loner focus but I always kept working…chipping away at the stone.

I do think that your work ethic is a key to any success and one of the reasons I have continued to get the career offers I have.  The satisfaction and feeling of success and camaraderie you experience with a band is unequaled by anything I’ve done thus far.  Ironically it took me working alone in the studio for years to appreciate it.

These days I’m on the road over 200 days a year.  Off the road I suppose I’m still a bit of a loner.  I like to blend in but realize I probably don’t.  I’ve moved away from Los Angeles I’m there quite often to see friends and occasionally to work.  But It’s been refreshing to be away from the industry of show biz on a daily basis and to talk to everyday people about everyday things.  It’s much more interesting.  Off the road I work long hours in my home studio to satisfy my creative urges and play golf to clear my head.

With the advances in technology many musicians and employing computer based recording have you ventured to using a computer live ?  if so how do you use the technology ?

No, In Styx we sing and play everything live.  I don’t mind other genres, especially dance, using pre recorded or synced back up but it’s pretty weak for rock bands to do that.   However, speaking digitally, I do remember the first record I produced digitally without tape.  I was asked to write and produce Fergie Frederiksen’s (Toto) first solo CD.

I took all my production budget and bought the hardware and the software to do the project. I slept on a couch in my studio 10 feet from my console for  2 months and learned while recording.  The pressure of holding someone’s career in your hands was intense. It was living hell for a bit.  It came out great and Fergie got well-  deserved rave reviews for his first solo effort and I received some good press as well because of it.

We (Styx) just recently started writing by sending each other song files and recording our parts in our own studios.  I still prefer everyone in one room but I’m pleased with the recordings we’ve been making this way.  Plus we seem to be writing and recording a lot more because of the ease in scheduling our individual personal time.

If you could work with anyone who would you choose and why ?

Of the living…I love Jeff Beck and If I thought I could keep up with him, he would be at the top of my list.  I’m all about passion, inspiration and conviction while performing and he is the pinnacle of that quest.  He walks straight out to the edge of the cliff and stays there.  I had a chance to perform with him In Japan along with Neal Schon, John Waite, Terry Bozzio and Steve Lukather.  It lists way up there of favorite lifetime moments.  Of the no longer living…. Hendrix and Stevie Ray.

What is your favorite song / band and why?

I can’t put it into one song but the Beatles in their short lived career would be impossible to overlook.  It isn’t that they created a sound that everyone tried to mimic. But they broke the rules and gave us some much hipper ones to follow.  Who knows what lame direction music might have taken if we hadn’t been educated by them and George Martin.  There are people who say, “I don’t get the Beatles”, ….which in itself blows my mind… but I would guess that their favorite bands were influenced by The Beatles in some way…or by other artists who were.

If you could have chosen a different career what would have been ? 

A professional golfer.  Which would have given me an even greater chance of failure than as a musician.

A few musicians of late have literally 100s of guitars in their home. Do you have a large collection or historic equipment?

I suppose I have around 90 guitars and basses located in various places all over the country.  Some are on the road in two different rigs with Styx, most are in LA in storage lockers and some are with friends.  I have some very nice 50’s and 60’s guitars and basses but have retired them from the road for fear of damage or theft.  Now that I know which one’s I can’t live without I’ve recently thought of thinning the herd…but every time I sell a guitar I regret it.  Vintage Guitar Magazine did an article on a portion of my collection last April.

What are you currently working on? 

I’ve been doing some re-recording of the Styx catalogue for things like Rock Band, Guitar Hero and other purposes.  Also I have started recording the songs I’ve been writing over the past several years that have fallen through the cracks.  I have no idea what I will do with them as of yet but I’ve been finding cool songs that I had completely forgotten about and some definitely deserve their day in court.

What are you currently listening to / What is on your iPod

I’m the only one on planet Earth without an iPod.  I do have a computer chalked full of my own song ideas and some Stevie Ray live performances, Jeff Beck new and old concerts, Hendrix live performances, Wilson Pickett, James Brown…you now, collectors performances with no overdubs.  I still love hearing live performances served up by my mentors.

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David is a documentary and landscape photographer covering everything from dramatic long exposure landscape photography through to live music. David is a former Official Fujifilm X Photographer.

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