Randy Brandt interviewing Phil Keaggy
Randy: Phil, thanks for taking the time to visit with us today.
Phil: You're welcome, Randy.
Randy: I first heard your music in 1976 when I came across Love Broke Thru at my local Christian bookstore up in rural Canada. I wasn't too sure looking at it; I couldn't really tell from the cover what it was, but it looked interesting, and by the time I heard Take Me Closer, I was hooked for life, and later discovered What a Day, the first solo project. Do those early albums still have a special place in your heart as you look back over the three dozen albums you've recorded?
Phil: Absolutely. In particular, the What a Day project, which was recorded in January '73, holds some real special memories because those songs were written for the most part during the time I was still with Glass Harp--I'm still with Glass Harp, 'cause we're doing stuff together--recording it over about six days at this Cleveland recording studio with my friend Gary Hedden who engineered it. He came to the Lord through the process of recording it and mixing it. What we'd do, is we'd record two songs a day. I did all the parts and the vocals. It was very--if you recall McCartney's first solo venture post-Beatles--it was very much based on that kind of thing musically, but spiritually it was a very intimate honest innocent expression. I was with Decca, with Glass Harp, then I was out and I was free and independent of anything, any restrictions and I put in that album exactly what I wanted.
The Love Broke Thru album was special, too, but it was extremely opposite. It was like one was one man on an island, in a sense, and the other one was, you just joined a community and everybody you can think of was on it from Mylon LeFevre to Matthew Ward and Annie Herring, Leland Sklar, Jim Gordon, Michael Omartian, Larry Knechtel--who was in Bread--and it was quite an experience--California, big studios and all that. It was good. Over the years I've done these projects that were really record companyish projects, where a lot of heavy A & R was going on, and every now and then I'd do this project that was really what I wanted to do. What a Day was the first, Master and The Musician seemed to be the second, Underground and Way Back Home were very solo-oriented efforts. It's hard to understand why they're so special to me. It's not because I did them all alone for the most part, but I think that what comes out--or what's put into--those particular projects was something of a very personal nature.
Randy: I went to college in California, which is where I met my wife Joanna. We went to Knott's Berry Farm--actually my wife didn't go to that one--and it was one of those either Christmas or New Year's all night 50-band kind of things and you were playing on the outdoor stage. This was during the Ph'lip Side era and you were playing at Knott's...
Phil: Chuckwagon area.
Randy: Yes, exactly.
Phil: Leon Gaer on bass, Richard Souther on keys and Paul Leim on drums.
Randy: Exactly, yes, the old 2nd Chapter of Acts guys from How The West Was One. Souther played on that.
Randy: Anyway, that was the first time I saw you live and it was great. Pulling Down and Sunday School in that cool fresh outdoor California air. Somehow being outdoors added a whole special...
Phil: Oh, yeah!
Randy: ...ambience to that. But do you enjoy those larger festival-style things with a lot of bands, a lot going on, or do you prefer to do the small intimate acoustic setting in a church kind of thing, or do they each have their own benefits?
Phil: They each have their own benefits, of course. As a soloist, I prefer a smaller venue. In fact, some churches I've played in look like theatres. Times have changed in some respects, but I love playing in small theatres. I like old theatres where you've got this sense of antiquity.
Randy: Like the Gothic Theatre? (note: That concert included Glass Harp drummer John Sferra and was the first time Dan Amoroso and I saw Phil together.)
Phil: Yeah, but that particular concert I recall the sound, and the monitors, and the level of the band...that was our first date on that tour and I just couldn't get used to the dB level, because I'd been doing a lot of solo stuff. So it took me a few dates to kind of really get into it. We ended up adding Phil Madeira on keys.
Randy: Speaking of that sort of thing--playing with a band--I recall Cornerstone (note: It was actually Crossroads, so I confused Phil a little with my blunder) when I believe you hadn't played with a band for about two or three years and then played with Dave Beegle and Fourth Estate. I saw that one at Cornerstone held in this area. Do you recall doing that?
Phil: Was that in...this area? (note: Phil's probably thinking, "What an idiot! Cornerstone is held near Chicago, not Denver. How'd they let this joker interview me?" )
Randy: Yes, Cornerstone Christian church (Oops, that was CROSSROADS!) off of I-70, a little farther west of here. That's where they pulled out two friends of Dave and you had four lead guitars plug in and do some licks on stage, and go back and forth with four lead guitars.
Phil: Yeah, I think I recall that. Matthew Ward didn't come up and guest on that?
Randy: No, he wasn't there for that one, but you and Dave were going back and forth on some solos and then the other guys plugged in and you did Crossroads.
Phil: Was it good?
Randy: It was great.
Phil: Oh, good. Tonight Dave Beegle is going to come up and we'll do a couple tunes together.
Randy: Great! Dave plays in our church quite often.
Phil: Good guy. Very talented.
Randy: No doubt. Anyone who's followed your career knows about some of the early trials, the problems Bernadette had with the pregnancies and of course ultimately writing A Deeper Shade of Grace, which is now being rereleased. What's the new title?
Phil: Losing You Too Soon.
Randy: Did you find with both you and Bernadette, was the writing of that book part of the healing process, or was it a retrospective look back after a lot of the healing had occurred, or did you find that the process of doing the book also contributed to some of the healing and dealing with some of those issues of losing those babies?
Phil: As I recall, David Hazard--he's an editor and writer in his own right--he really wanted Bernadette to write this book. He felt it would really be a ministry to people who have gone through similar things. We kind of kept putting him off. We had actually gone through the healing and we'd experienced the joy of children. So I think it was around 92, 93 where Dave kept pressing us to do it, and so originally what happened was, a couple from the Colorado area came to interview Bernadette and then me on a separate time, and then once I think together. The interview that took place over a couple of days--that was very painful.
Randy: Did it open some wounds?
Phil: Yeah, it was hard, going back to those times--those experiences--and reliving them. Like you just went into a time machine and went back into time and relived the pain and what was hard for me was going back and realizing how--as hard as I tried to be supportive--how I let some things like for instance, a booking schedule, when Bernadette went through miscarriage the third time how my church eldership said "we've got this committment in New Jersey--you've got to be there" and how I left Bernadette recovering in a hospital in Syracuse and went to do this--and I would NEVER do that again. I've turned down traveling gigs when nothing is wrong just because I don't want to leave her. But I was younger and more naive. Some people would say, "You're just being faithful to your committments." I think the greatest committment we have is to our loving spouses and we weathered it, and we came through it with God's grace and His help and the help of a lot of good loving caring friends, too. Anyway, the interview was put into a transcript and Bernadette read it and she had some close friends read it. We all agreed it didn't sound like her voice. So she just went to it, wrote it herself, wrote it with her own words. It did read like an article before. It was really her words and her emphasis and the way she expresses herself. The book has never been a big seller, but it gets passed around to people, to people who have gone through it or know someone who has gone through that sort of thing.
We're glad it came out. Last summer it was re-released and we did some radio and TV together. I said on one of the shows, it might have been 700 Club, "I'm really hoping that the next book Bernadette writes is a cookbook--a real happy topic."
Randy: Favorite recipes?
Phil: Yeah, and she is a good cook. I think because the kids are so much older now, we don't feel it's appropriate to go out and try to sell the book or try to promote it when it took place so many years ago. It was done for a purpose and it's out. It's been through three publishers; Harvest has done a fair job.
Randy: I love Gentle and Strong, the song you wrote for your son, Ian. My own firstborn son came along about a year later. He's going to be 12 real soon--next month, but of course that gave a whole new meaning to the song once I had my own son to relate to on that. I always felt that your best songwriting came on relationship-style songs, whether it was vertical relationships with the Lord like I Will Be There and Let Everything Else Go--which are two of my favorites--or family-oriented songs like Gentle and Strong or Under The Grace. Would you agree with that assessment, that where you're most inspired as a writer is in relationships of that nature?
Phil: Absolutely, Randy. If fact I'm releasing next month, just through the Club, through the website, an album called Special Occasions. It's all finished and it's got the song I wrote for Bernadette on our anniversary in '92...no, it was Mother's Day I wrote it for her. That's going to be on there, called I'll Be Loving You, and there are wedding songs and birthday songs for friends. There are a couple of tracks of Alicia when she was little--kind of special. And there's another song I wrote for Ian called Nere World that's on there and it really describes how I feel about him 'cause I really love him. I'm really proud of him. He's not a mega-achiever, but he's growing slowly and solidly in maturity. We wrote a song last week together and he did his first real vocal.
Randy: I understand he's also a guitarist.
Phil: Yeah, he is. He's a budding guitarist. He plays stuff like Blackbird and we sit down and we play together and he asks me to show him things.
Randy: There are several Christian artists from the old days, like Chuck Girard, of course, his daughter is in ZoeGirl and then if you've heard of Switchfoot, the drummer is Chuck Butler's son from Parable. I'm wondering, does Ian have aspirations of music, or is it just a hobby, or is it something he'd actually like to do and record as well?
Phil: Well, these last few months have been a turning point for him and his interest has really been sparked; when we worked in the studio I created a track of the style of music he really likes and then we worked on the words together and he let me produce him and guide his vocals and create the harmonies. That was a real milestone for us and I think yeah, I can imagine in a few years he can get more and more serious about it.
Randy: That would be great. You've been friends with Randy Stonehill for a long time, as we talked about earlier before we started the interview; you joined some of his other old friends on We Were All So Young on his new project. Could you share a few thoughts about that experience? I don't know if you got together with any of them in person or if it was all done in your home studio and mixed later, but just the idea of getting together on a song with people like Annie Herring and Love Song...share a little of your thoughts on that.
Phil: Bob Kilpatrick had sent me a copy of the song with just Randy singing it, and I was really moved by the lyrics. I thought the lyrics were really honest and really good and I thought it painted a true picture.
Randy: Quintessential Randy...
Phil: Absolutely. Yeah. And when they told me how they'd like to see me appear on the song I thought, "That's fantastic!" So I was the second person to sing and I sent it on to them. And they asked if I could get ahold of Russ Taff--he lives in Nashville--I asked Russ over to my house and I cut his vocal there in my little studio and then we sent it back to them and then they got Barry McGuire, they got Annie Herring and Noel Stookey and when I heard it I thought it was just great. You know the sitar thing? That was Phil Madeira on sitar. I thought that was very cool. Has it gotten any airplay?
Randy: I don't know, I'm so busy listening to review CDs that I hardly ever listen to Christian radio although we do have a good station here in Denver. It's gotten some airplay in my CD player, but I don't know about radio.
Phil: Well, I think by-and-large Christian radio is just playing young artists nowadays.
Randy: I think you still have to be in high school.
Phil: My niece Cheri is a great artist and always growing in her music--okay, she's not in her 20s anymore, I can safely say that--but she's still very young at heart and she was dismissed because of all those elements. I have strong feelings pro Christian music and then I have my misgivings about the business of it all.
Randy: Which is kind of how it's been. I heard Larry Norman talk about that 20 years ago and I suppose that never changes. The business side can always encroach.
Phil: Yeah. I think there's a real great sense of freedom with being independent. I'm on the brink of that because I think Word is going to release me from my contract. It's been a slow process. I was once a viable artist on Myrrh and then Myrrh closed down. I wanted to leave the label because I didn't think it was working anymore anyway. Then they created this Word Artisan thing which is really like a fifth wheel on a car. What do you do with it, you know? It provided a little musical creativity and outlet for me, but I think the best thing is to keep doing what I'm doing, record, produce my own stuff. I still collaborate with people and I write with other people.
Randy: Do you expect to do any more with Canis Major?
Phil: I just had breakfast with John Schroeter this morning. We don't know. We didn't discuss that. That was a really nice experience, though. We didn't get much distribution but for the fans who are out there seeking what I do...for instance, on eBay, two Uncle Duke CDs which we only manufactured 1500 of them--which is not many--one was sold for $186 on eBay.
Randy: Wow, there's a demand there!
Phil: Someone apparently really wants it.
Randy: Getting back to Randy Stonehill, the song Who Will Save the Children certainly influenced a lot of people and probably still does. There are probably a lot of kids still being sponsored through Compassion as a direct result of that. Are you still currently involved in sponsoring children with Compassion?
Phil: Sure am! We sponsor three children--in Mexico, in Ecuador and Haiti. We write letters and everything. It's wonderful and it's sweet. We also sponsored a child in Haiti--another boy who actually went through the entire program schooling..grew up, went on to higher education and serves his community and that started when he was six or seven, and I got to visit with him. The song Who Will Save the Children is a dear song and it touches a lot of hearts. In fact, I sang it last night at Colorado Springs and 11 children were sponsored. So, yeah, it's a great song. See, Randy, I love him because he makes me laugh, but I also love his heart, his big heart, he's really genuine. He's one of my--even though we're contemporaries and we're peers in a sense--he is in a sense a hero of mine.
Randy: I first saw Glass Harp when a friend of mine had it--I'd heard of it, but it was impossible to find there, up in Canada. We went to the guy's house and stuck it on [the turntable] and of course Can You See Me and those lengthy solos, well, I just loved it and vowed that some day I'd own it so of course when it became available on CD through Germany I ordered the whole set of them (note: three Glass Harp CDs). Then I got the Live at Carnegie Hall...
Phil: That solo is even more extended...
Randy: Exactly. The last track is what? Twenty-eight minutes?
Phil: Oh yeah.
Randy: It's great stuff. Glass Harp is kind of a going concern again. Actually only a few days ago you played--there's a review up on the web already that you guys played and I believe, was it your birthday?
Phil: Yeah, I played last Sunday; it was my birthday. We played at Beachland Ballroom up in Cleveland and we had a really good night. We spent the day before rehearsing. We'd spent most of that day on stage rehearsing before the show 'cause we were doing new songs from a newly recorded studio album. We did a live album two and a half years ago called With Strings Attached. This one is 15 songs. We all bring our respective tunes and collaborate on some, a lot of harmony. It's really actually a very nice album.
Randy: Is it musically reminiscent of some older stuff, or have you gone in a new direction?
Phil: Yeah, there are moments that are very reminiscent. There's a song called What's In Your Heart which has got a feeling of Never Is A Long Time a little bit except a bit more R&B but it gets into a jam that really rocks and some of John's songs hearken back to a Sailing on a River kind of feeling. Have you ever heard the song What Matters Most that I did?
Randy: Yeah, I think I heard that once or twice.
Phil: We cut that as well. I presented that song to my record company and there was no interest in it but I always felt that it shouldn't just die. I think the song was strong and Daniel and John really rallied behind it. I also co-wrote a song with Paul Overstreet called If Love is All We've Got which is the Hey Jude of the album in a way. It's really a strong song 'cause Paul is really focused on what latches on in someone's heart and memory.
Randy: Have you ever played on any of his albums?
Phil: No, I haven't. We wrote two songs together. I really love his songwriting. Great songwriter. So the album is gonna be out--well, it was just finally being mixed. The next process is mastering it. I've got a great mastering engineer. Richard Dodd worked on George Harrison's Cloud Nine, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Wilburys and lots of other projects. He also mastered my Hymnsongs, Cinemascapes and Quiet Hours. I really enjoyed working with him.
Randy: Distribute it through the web site?
Phil: Yeah. We recorded the album at a studio called Blue Desert in Nashville. We recorded 10 of the tracks, and the other five tracks we did at my place. But we did all the vocals at my place and a lot of overdubs. We recorded to a Mackie hard drive. For a low-budget project, it's a good album for the amount it cost us to do.
Randy: Do you forsee doing some touring to support that album? Could we see Glass Harp ending up in Colorado one of these days?
Phil: Maybe so. Maybe so. We're not all saying we're gonna go on tour, get on a bus and start touring. The day may come when I may be more open to doing that and I think it may be coming soon. One daughter's in college, one daughter's at home but working. My son is home-schooled, so I could take him on the road. I would miss Bernadette and I don't like to be away for her for more than a few days. So that's a factor, that's why I don't like to tour.
Randy: You'll have to justify it as a bonding with your son.
Phil: Yeah, in fact he has gone on the road a few times with me. Delightful! So we'll do our best to promote it. I think we have at least a fan base of a good 3,000 strong. It's a funny thing, you know, I used to be with the record labels and we'd talk about the sales of an album project--50,000, 70,000. Now I think about selling 3,000 albums and I get excited. Times have really changed.
Randy: I've seen you play with Dave Beegle a few times, acoustic, and of course I mentioned that Fourth Estate set you did a few years back. Any chance of some studio work with him? I'd love to hear the two of you do some of that back and forth guitar duel stuff that I've seen live that I've never heard on an album. I'd love to see some of that captured.
Phil: I told Dave I'd be glad to participate on one of his projects, if he'd like me to play on a song, if think what he could do, if he ever wanted to come to Nashville with an established track we could load it into my system and do acoustic stuff and we could do electric stuff. I would like to do that. I've done a bit of that with other people. I just played recently with Stanley Jordan who came to my home. We jammed and recorded it.
Randy: Something we're going to get to hear somewhere?
Phil: Someday maybe, yeah. We did it once before.
Randy: He's a fine musician.
Phil: He is a fine musician. Just amazing. I can't imagine how he does it. We complement each other. In fact, a year ago we played together at my house and recorded it and there's some real great moments.
Randy: Maybe like the John The Revelator release. Some of the jamming you did with John a while back. You had the special release with the extended jams...
Phil: Oh yeah, The Further Adventures. Wasn't that fun!
Randy: Yeah, that was great.
Phil: The story with that--now most people won't know where to find that. You can find it on this album called Blue, which was an offshoot of Crimson & Blue, which was intended to be a mainstream release through Epic. And every now and then I'm shocked to see it in a store, but that original jam was like 45 minutes and we just--
Randy: Cut it down a little?
Phil: Yeah. First time I saw ProTools in action. Cut and editing--seamless!
Randy: It's fun what you can do with the computer.
Randy: Speaking of Crimson & Blue, I'm sure a lot of your fans would enjoy a jamming album that maybe focused on the blues side, full-on rocking blues, extended five-six minute solos. Maybe with some bits with Stanley Jordan, Dave Beegle. Kind of a collection of fun jams with different artists.
Phil: Have you ever heard Premium Jams?
Randy: Yes, love it. Yes.
Phil: That's got a lot of that. It's very unruly at times, too.
Randy: Kind of a scrapbook album.
Phil: It's a scrapbook album. You play it in the car when you're by yourself or another guitar enthusiast is in the car.
Randy: I was thinking maybe some fun stuff with Dave, like do a cover of Crossroads--some of the stuff with vocals, too. It could be a lot of fun to hear you and some of the guys go to town on the guitars on some of that stuff.
Phil: Yeah, maybe that could happen. Ric Hordinski (of Monk, formerly of Over The Rhine) who co-produced Hymnsongs with me, he came to my house last week. He had a couple ideas that he created loops. We plugged in and he just let me go. He recorded ten tracks of me just going wild over his tracks. He'll take it and shape it. He'll probably create something out it. Yeah, I'd be very open to do that. In fact, I used to hear lectures about you don't want to oversaturate the market. Well, when 99% of the world hasn't a clue who I am, there's no such thing as saturating...who's market?
Randy: The true fans, they'd like a new album every day.
Phil: Oh yeah. That's right.
Randy: You could put out one a week and they'd move about the same quantity, probably.
Phil: That's right. So I'm presently writing some new songs. In fact I'm collaborating. I've got one with my son. I've got one with my gym trainer, who is a great drummer and keyboard player and we wrote a song together. Jeremy Casella--who is a young artist--we wrote a couple of songs together. So, yeah, I think it's just wide open.
Randy: Do you have any interest--not just because it's the flavor of the month--but the modern worship, Delirious?-type stuff? Some of the songs I've heard in that genre, I think maybe even reworking some of the old What a Day stuff would fit into that with some of the lyrical themes you've done. Have you given any thought to doing kind of a modern worship album? I know Hymnsongs, of course, is more traditional. I'm thinking a little more edgy.
Phil: It's funny, because I know this is all happening but I don't think much about and I don't see myself as one that does that. But, I've always had in the back of mind to do an album of the psalms and I've got a number of songs that are based around the psalms that I think would be great to do with an edgy rockin' attitude. On the other hand, they were originally written--many of them--as acoustic songs, so I might have to just take a whole new fresh approach. But I would like to do that because I think they're strong, and I think there's so much material there and it's God's word. Even though it can be done aggressively, it can be done with reverence at the same time.
Randy: You don't have to worry too much about the lyrics that way in terms of them being valid and accurate.
Phil: That's true. There are some very bold things being stated in the Psalms. A lot of heart pleas and cries, and a lot of moments of worship and adulation and praise and adoration. The Hymnsongs thing--it's the oddest thing. When I think over my--and that was the most recent album I did--that's the album I often forget that I made. I think part of it was because I was asked by my record company to make the album and I just didn't feel the impetus, the incentive to do it, and that's why I called on Ric. He helped and he contributed a lot of the band-oriented things that are on there. It's also called Hymnsongs, the songs part of it because to me, hymns should be really sung. I had a conflict with it because, here I am, I can sing, and yet they didn't want me to sing.
Randy: That was something that was mildly disappointing for me. For example, a favorite of mine is Rise Up Oh Men of God, taking an old hymn and adding your flavor I thought was a perfect combination.
Phil: Yeah, well I offered--I went to management about it and it was pretty much, "No, don't do that. That's not want they want."
Randy: Again, the old dilemma of being independent and the distribution and everything else.
Phil: Well, I'm going to lack a lot of distribution with my music in the future, obviously. But I'll have freedom to do exactly what I want to do any time I want to do it. If I want to do a love song or a country song or...
Randy: Just don't do disco.
Phil: No, I don't...
Randy: We don't have to worry?
Phil: No, I'm not real authentic at that. (chuckles) I've been experimenting with more techno things as well, sampled sounds. I did a thing with my daughter Alicia recently and it's like right out of a movie.
Randy: I think I saw in one interview you have some interest in maybe some day down the road doing a soundtrack, getting involved in a project of that nature?
Phil: Yeah, in fact there's a movie called The Painting that sometime will come out. David Rose produced and wrote it. A portion of one of my songs is in there, but I'd love to do the whole soundtrack. There's another documentary about a prison, about a man named Billy who trains inmates to be boxers. One of them he trained so well he ended up graduating up the rank of heavyweights and fought Mike Tyson, which I thought was real interesting, but the man's a Christian and he loves these guys and I was able to participate and contribute about three pieces of music--four pieces of music--to the movie. And I saw the movie and it was really touching.
Randy: Has it been released already?
Phil: No, it's in the works. It's all finished. There's a couple major companies that might want to air it. It's called The Dance.
Randy: You mentioned Malcolm & Alwyn in one of your interviews as being an influence from the good old days, that old Beatle flavor from England. I was just wondering if you've stayed in touch with them or if you realize that Alwyn about a year ago put out an album called Jesus Said and I was wondering if you'd heard that?
Phil: Haven't heard that album. Alwyn Wall?
Phil: That's great! He's back in England, right?
Randy: Yes. He's pastoring a Calvary Chapel there and he got together with Norman Barratt again, the guitarist from Alwyn Wall Band.
Phil: Yeah, I remember him.
Randy: They got together and put a nice album together. I only got it by ordering through the web site. The old keyboard player from the band is living here in the States and does some worship stuff and he's distributing through the web. It's a really good album. Some of the stuff sounds like the original The Prize stuff, if you remember that project.
Phil: That's great! The last I saw Alwyn was many years ago. Of course, you know he sang on Somebody Loves You.
Randy: They opened for you here at Crossroads in Colorado a few years back (note: 1992). That was a big thrill for me because they hadn't announced it. I went to see your show and Malcolm & Alwyn opened and that was a great thrill for me because that was the very first full-length Christian album I owned was Fool's Wisdom.
Phil: I love that album. In fact I sang Fool's Wisdom in many of my concerts. I didn't do it last night, but I often do it (note: Phil sang it that night). I got to work in the studio with Malcolm & Alwyn. They did a small EP type of thing. Did they ever put that out?
Randy: I don't know. I'm just aware of the re-release of Fool's Wisdom on CD and then there was Wildwall and then they did a couple of solo ones. Alwyn had at least two, Malcolm had the new wave thing going with the skinny ties, but I never saw them do anything together again, so maybe that's sitting in an archive somewhere.
Phil: They were great! I really enjoyed it. I remember that one lyric from their second album, "I'm not after a hit parade song, I just want someone to sing'em to." That was a good line.
Randy: Thanks, Phil, I really appreciate you taking the time. It's been a real blessing and your music has certainly blessed a lot of people and will continue to do so. We look foward to hearing what else you have in store in the coming years.
Phil: Well, thanks. Good to talk to you, Randy.