Not only should fans be grateful for Glenn Phillips’ musical chops, they should thank the Atlanta-based guitar hero for having such a meticulous personality.
Phillips catalogs his own live recordings with librarian-like precision. Now 39 years after the fact, he and his band’s performance at London’s legendary Rainbow Theatre gets a proper release. To celebrate “At the Rainbow,” the Glenn Phillips Band will replicate the live disc on Friday at Eddie Owen Presents at Red Clay Music Foundry in Duluth.
“I still to this day hear from people overseas who saw me at the Rainbow,” Phillips said. “That theater is sort of England’s equivalent to the Fillmore.”
Among those who saw Phillips back in 1977 at the Rainbow was Shagrat Records owner Nigel Cross. Cross, a die-hard Phillips fan, saw to it that Phillips’ acclaimed debut solo disc, “Lost at Sea,” received a 40th anniversary deluxe reissue in 2015.
“In the wake of that, we were talking, and he told me he would give anything to be able to release a live recording of that show,” Phillips said.
When Phillips dropped the bomb that he had the tapes, Cross went gaga.
In the late 1970s, Phillips’ star saw its ascent on the European music scene. Richard Branson of Virgin Records had personally ventured to Phillips’ Brookhaven home to sign the guitarist to the fledgling label. Phillips’ first two records had found momentum overseas, and even well-respected BBC jock John Peel gave a rousing seal of approval. Virgin’s grand plan: to record a live album while Phillips and company toured England.
The label chose the highly regarded Rainbow as the venue. They enlisted the Rolling Stones’ mobile recording unit to capture the show. Yeah, the same equipment used for the Stones’ “Exile on Main Street,” Led Zeppelin’s “Led Zeppelin IV” and other rock classics.
The time capsule recording finds Phillips performing instrumental gymnastics. He soars across the fretboard with the type of commanding leads that give credence to the critical claims that sometime place him alongside Beck and Hendrix.
Yet, Virgin’s plan to make Phillips a household name began to unravel. The live recording included material Phillips was honing for his impending third studio release, what would later become “Dark Lights.” The guitarist didn’t want the live versions to see daylight first, so he asked the label to hold off on releasing the Rainbow recording.
Although Phillips recalls his relationship with Virgin as amicable, he didn’t always agree with label brass. They wanted the Glenn Phillips Band to release a single of the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” a live staple for the group at the time. Phillips didn’t want to gain notoriety for recording a cover song, so he passed.
Branson also wanted Phillips and his band to relocate to England. After the 1977 tour, Phillips opted to return to his Brookhaven digs. Not too long after the band came home, Virgin’s U.S. office folded, and they were dropped from the label.
“These were not necessarily the best business decisions on my part,” Phillips said with a laugh. “I’ve always been a very independent artist. It’s the best thing for you to do for yourself artistically, but it’s not the best thing for you to do for yourself commercially. It was a choice I made, and I don’t regret having made that choice.”
Now 39 years later, the Rainbow experience comes full circle. Bassist Bill Rea, who played alongside Phillips at the original show, returns to join the guitarist at the upcoming Duluth concert. Former Glenn Phillips Band keyboardist Dana Nelson, who hasn’t played with the group since the early 1980s, rounds out the lineup with regular Phillips collaborators Jeff Calder (guitar) and John Boissiere (drums). In addition to playing “At the Rainbow,” the band will perform the “Dark Lights” album in its entirety, too.
With time comes perspective, and Phillips said he couldn’t be more content with the past and where his career has gone. Widespread celebrity, he said, wasn’t a goal.
“I feel very lucky,” Phillips said. “Everybody has different reasons for doing what they do. For me, music was a process for self-discovery. … It was about finding some kind of truth about myself through the music, connecting with that and seeing where that took me. And it took me to a place where I’m 66 years old now, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”
8 p.m. Nov. 4. $18-$20 advance, $22-$25 at the door. Eddie Owen Presents at Red Clay Music Foundry, 3116 Main St., Duluth. 404-478-2749, eddieowenpresents.com.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.