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A New York purveyor of contemporary blues, Mr. PHIL GAMMAGE, is breathing new life into his artform with increasing vigour. Aldora Britain Records first crossed paths with Phil not long after the release of his seminal 2019 offering It’s All Real Good, a record that provided an exquisite snapshot of his unique storytelling style. ‘Dancing on Top of The World’ is a glorious example, an ode to a bespoke bar that Phil used to play in the World Trade Centre. A tale mixed with the highs of euphoria and the depths of sorrow. This is the expertise of Phil’s immense storytelling and songwriting ability. This was followed in 2021 with From Nowhere to Somewhere. An album that stood up to the aftermath of the pandemic and let an eager audience know that this bluesman was a long way from finished. ‘Walk in The Sun’ was a particular favourite from this set.
Most recently, Phil is preparing for the release of his latest single, ‘Pick Me Up on Your Way Down’, and, all being well, a new album would be most welcome! At the beginning of this year, Aldora Britain Records found out more about Phil’s musical story and his latest LP.
Aldora Britain Records: Hi Phil, welcome back, how are you? How are things in New York City? What is the most recent live show you have been to?
Phil Gammage: I’m great, thanks. What a past couple of years it’s been for all of us right? New York City is working to get back on its feet economically and culturally after the pandemic. It’s been slow going. I don’t get out to see music too much these days, but I feel like that will change soon. I’ve been active as a live performer since last May and that has kept me busy enough playing my own shows.
Aldora Britain Records: The world has changed significantly since we last spoke. It has also completely shifted the landscape for independent and underground music. How have you kept the creative juices flowing? It must have been hard when you were locked down and with no chance of a gig.
Phil Gammage: Like many other artists, I got into performing on live internet streams for several months. It helped keep my focus on playing and writing music during a period of time where there were so many distractions and so many limits in the world. I was producing the streams for my own social media channels as well as for others such as Americana Highways and Aldora’s Tomorrow’s Music Today festival.
Aldora Britain Records: Out of this time came From Nowhere to Somewhere. Yet another quintessential Gammage record! How did this album come to be? What are your memories from writing and recording it, and how do you reflect on it as a complete piece of work?
Phil Gammage: The process started as it usually does for me, writing and recording home demos. That would have been around July 2020. A few weeks later producer Tony Mann and I began working together on the recordings in a local studio. We tracked and mixed most of the songs between September ’20 and January ’21. A few months later, I recorded a couple of cover songs that made it onto the album. I felt like something extra was needed… another layer and Willie Nelson’s ‘Night Life’ and Hank Williams’ ‘Alone and Forsaken’ were perfect. I’ve been playing those two songs live for quite a while. The completed From Nowhere to Somewhere was released on October 2, 2021. There are a few outtakes from the recording sessions that may be singles next year or an EP. Several of the original home demos are available as album bonus tracks on the digital release on Bandcamp. I have some very gifted players helping me out and they all brought something special to the music with their contributions. A couple of music videos for songs have already been premiered at Americana UK and Americana Highways and on the streaming music network Ditty TV out of Memphis. We’re currently editing a couple more videos, so those will show up soon. I’m proud of the album. Recording it was not easy considering the circumstances, but I think the pandemic and lockdowns ultimately affected the songs on it.
Aldora Britain Records: I would like to single out two of my favourite songs from the LP now. ‘Never Ending Setting Sun’ and ‘Voice on The Phone’. What are the stories behind these songs and what do they mean to you?
Phil Gammage: When considering which tracks to leave on or off the final album song sequence, ‘Never Ending Setting Sun’ was the last song I decided to include, so it’s great you and others are responding positively to it. It is one of several collaborations between me and the poet David Schell. I’m proud of the album. Recording it was not easy considering the circumstances, but I think the pandemic and lockdowns ultimately affected the songs on it.”
We co-wrote four or five songs that made the latest album. David runs the Green Kill artist’s space in Kingston, two hours north of New York City in the Hudson River Valley of New York State. That poem jumped out at me when I first read it, the imagery is so strong. It seems to deal with this slice of daily life observation that’s going on in his head, rationalising and interpreting the world around him in a certain way that’s kind of cynical, kind of satirical. I’d worked writing music with lyricists and poets before and I’m comfortable with it. Recently, I co-wrote and helped record a song with the Brooklyn poet and visual artist Carrie Able. Tony produced it and I think we will see Carrie release it as a single in the coming year. Keep an eye out for that. [Note to reader: Please note this interview was conducted at the beginning of this year.]
‘Voice on The Phone’ was a tune I wrote and had around for a while. I thought it would be a good fit for this collection of songs. Musically, I was inspired by those swinging ‘rat pack’ songs of the 1960s. Like Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin would have sung. Lyrically, it’s loosely based on a classic Twilight Zone television episode, ‘Long Distance Call’, where this little boy talks to his dead grandmother on his toy phone. If you’ve never seen that episode, track it down and watch it! It’s creepy and great. The voice on the phone in my song is someone who has passed on and you’re now talking to them on the phone. Imagine dealing with that.
Aldora Britain Records: You are known for being a modern-day blues musician. And you do it well! The blues is obviously such a rich and diverse artistic field. What appeals to you personally about the blues and how do you put your own fresh spin on it?
Phil Gammage: Blues to me is so authentic, and when played well, it has an incredibly powerful message and vibe. Put on a classic Howlin’ Wolf song if you’re not sure what I mean. I often use blues as a starting point in my own songwriting and then the song will take off and evolve in its own direction as I continue to work on it. I’m not trying to recreate the work of the old masters. Blues is the foundation of so much classic American music through the years. Jazz, country, swing, rock and roll, etcetera. I’m another songwriter using it as a tool to write.
Aldora Britain Records: I would now like to explore an earlier era of your career that we touched on last time. Your connection with Paris-based New Rose Records. This was in the early 1990s. How did this come to be and how did this connection develop you as an artist?
Phil Gammage: New Rose Records, out of Paris, France, is the greatest rock and blues indie music label of the 1980s and 90s that no one has ever heard of. There was really no comparative record label in the United States or UK at that time. I’m always championing the importance of its founder and head man Patrick Mathe and his accomplishments. His vision to release the music of so many overlooked and important artists from all over the world is remarkable and I’m forever happy to be part of that legacy. Patrick would make frequent trips to Austin and Memphis to meet and find out about the local music scenes there. That’s how he discovered and signed his most financially successful artist, Calvin Russell. The other artists on his label… Alex Chilton, Jeffrey Lee Pierce and The Gun Club, Roky Erickson, Johnny Thunders, Elliott Murphy, Chris Bailey and The Saints, The Cramps, the list goes on and on. I know I’m leaving out some heavyweights off that list. Mathe eventually sold the label to Sony and then started and ran Last Call Records for a few years before he got out of the music biz in the 2000s.
Patrick and I had a mutual friend, a woman from Normandy who lived in New York City for a while and worked with me at my day job in Soho. I gave her my tape which she got to Patrick and he agreed to license and release it. Our connection was all very random. Being a recording artist with New Rose Records meant everything to me as a developing musician and artist. My first two solo albums were on the label and then another one later on their sister label, Last Call Records. Sadly, we lost Patrick over three years ago. I spent time with him during my last trip to Paris. He came on stage and played harmonica with me at my Paris show. He always had some great stories for us about who he worked with at his label. I recall that particular night he entertained us with tales about when Johnny Thunders moved to Paris to work with him and New Rose.
AB Records: Favourite artist?
Phil: Today its… The Velvet Underground.
AB Records: Favourite album?
Phil: Staying with The Velvet Underground with their Live 1969 album. I first heard this as a teenager, and it made a huge impact on me and continues to do so. The band’s performance is loose, relaxed and intimate. The songs and playing are fantastic. It was recorded at clubs in California and Texas. Not in a larger hall or theatre, so it has a casualness to it that’s very appealing to me.
AB Records: First gig?
Phil: Elvis Presley, Astrodome, Houston, Texas.
AB Records: Style icon?
Phil: I just saw the new British film Last Night in Soho and was absolutely floored by the style and fashion in it. it’s the Swinging London of the 1960s in all its glamour.
AB Records: Favourite film?
Phil: Hard to say, but let’s go with The Natural. I’m a huge baseball fanand I like the supernatural vibe of the film.
AB Records: Favourite up and coming artist?
Phil: I’ve been listening to Eilen Jewell from Idaho a lot lately. Great songs and band.