Mic Check: Glenn Phillips reflects on changes and the future

Glenn Phillips, veteran Atlanta musician, sits for a portrait at his residence in Brookhaven, Friday, September 6, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
Glenn Phillips, veteran Atlanta musician, sits for a portrait at his residence in Brookhaven, Friday, September 6, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

Editor’s note: With live music and concert reviews on hold due to COVID-19, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is focusing on how Georgia musicians are spending their time in our feature, Mic Check.

Glenn Phillips is rightly regarded as one of the enduring princes of the Atlanta music scene.

A few years after transplanting to the city from Massachusetts, Phillips landed in the Hampton Grease Band, playing guitar in the avant-garde rock-blues-jam outfit from 1967-73 behind Bruce Hampton (later known as Col. Bruce Hampton).

His standing as a guitar wizard — as well as a genuinely kind person — hasn’t diminished, nor has his output.

Along with the release last fall of his memoir, "Echoes: The Hampton Grease Band, My Life, My Music and How I Stopped Having Panic Attacks," Phillips presented his first album of all new material in 16 years ("The Dark Parade") and a live DVD celebrating the 40th anniversary of his first solo album, "Lost at Sea."

Checking in from the Brookhaven home he shares with his wife, Katie Oehler, and dog Cora, the thoughtful Phillips talked about life during coronavirus times.

Q; What have you been up to these past few months?

A: When this happened, Katie and I both tried to make the effort to keep a regular schedule as much as we could — that was best for us psychologically. We both go to the YMCA every other day, so we kept exercising on the same days and times at home, and then the basic things like eating, playing guitar, walking the dog on the same days and time. The Y has reopened and they're being very cautious, so I've started going back — cautiously … Things are going to be changing and even when the coronavirus is over, things are going to be different. We have to adapt to it. And not all of these changes are going to be bad. One seismic change is the air cleaning up with people working at home. I'm hoping some of that will carry over, that businesses will realize the benefits of working from home. Something has to really shake the cage for something to change and I think it's had a lot of impact on the Black Lives Matter movement. This moment isn't due to coronavirus but a long, long history of racism and it's long overdue. But in some ways (the pandemic) helped shake the cobwebs loose and became a motivating force in this movement.

Q: What have you been listening to?

A: I spent years writing the book and would often tell stories at shows from the book as I was writing them. People had been asking me about doing an audiobook, so I started listening to audiobooks to get more acquainted with the form. I'm thinking about doing one. My favorite that I discovered is "The Disaster Artist" ("My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made"). The audiobook of (author Greg Sestero) reading that book is a work of art and incredibly funny and insightful … I'm a big fan of soundtracks. I've always thought of my music as being a soundtrack of my life. My favorite movie and soundtrack of all time is "The Great Escape." (I have a) deluxe DVD that has voiceovers of Elmer Bernstein, who did the music, and hearing his comments were so educational. I found lots of things I was doing intuitively in my own music.

Q: What have you missed about life?

A: We had a lot of shows canceled. When you get older you lose things, and when you lose things you learn not to focus on what you lost, but what you were lucky enough to have. That's my mindset. I would have rather not had them canceled, but, for example, when the Inman Park Festival got canceled, it got moved to next year and that's great news. I don't feel like live music is going to get back on its feet in any realistic way until there's a vaccine, and I'm being patient about that. The people you play for over the years become like family.

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