The Genius of Keaggy

12 08 2013

Keaggy-Phil1I’ve been playing the guitar for thirty-seven years now.  I started as a twelve year old in 1976, pulled into the music world by the incredible coolness of watching friends play “Smoke On The Water,” “Dream On” and “Time In A Bottle.”

I started studying under a fine guitarist named Don.  Don had the good sense to teach me how to read music.  He had a fine ear as well.  And so, along with learning the rudiments of guitar and music, he taught me the music of my heroes.  Led Zeppelin.  Jimi Hendrix. Yes.  The Allman Brothers.  It was an exciting time to learn.

Very early on, Don kept telling me about an amazing guitarist named Phil Keaggy.  I didn’t know who Phil Keaggy was.  I knew that, like Don, he was a Christian and I had not been exposed to the Jesus Music of the 1970’s.  Was I in for a surprise.

I left my lessons in the late 1970’s carrying home records of all my favorites and recordings of Phil Keaggy as well.  I was stunned.  This gifted guitarist could play lead guitar and fingerstyle equally well.  He played incredibly fast, something that got my attention in the days where Eddie Van Halen was breaking in and breaking speed records on six strings.

Like Phil and Don, I became a Christian.  And Phil’s music occupied a big part of my life and repertoire, not simply because of his genius and technical prowess.  He had something to say, something with everlasting value.  My favorite album of Phil’s, to this very day, is The Master and the Musician.  It is an instrumental album trading in all different genres for the guitar.  Classical.  Folk.  Jazz.  Rock.  Fingerstyle.  It has it all.

Phil has made a career of uniquely overdubbing multiple guitar parts when recording, creating rich textures of sound.  It opened a new world for me and taught me to listen more carefully to music.  Not just the melodies and tunes, but to the architecture.  In that way, he carries on very much in the tradition of Jimmy Page, who also specialized in multi-layering of guitar parts.

Here are some other unique Phil facts:

  • Phil is missing the middle finger of his right hand.  He lost it in an accident at his family farm when just a wee lad of four.  This makes his fingerstyle work all the more stunning.
  • Phil is highly in demand as a studio musician but does not read a note of music.
  • Phil is about five feet, five inches tall.  And yet he casts a large shadow in the world of the guitar.
  • For acoustic guitars, Phil favors custom instruments hand-made by luthiers like James Olson and Del Langejans.  In his earlier years, he played a handmade Mark Evan Whitebook.  The sounds of these instruments are stunningly rich and full.
  • For his electric work, he favors his sunburst Gibson Les Paul.  His 1971 flame top Gibson Les Paul Deluxe, which he used in his band Glass Harp, now rests in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Phil lives in Nashville TN but is a native of Ohio.  For about five years in the 1970’s, he lived near Ithaca NY—close to my home—and friends of mine were instrumental in bringing him to upstate New York.

Buy Phil’s albums.  The Master and the Musician is a fine place to get acquainted with this remarkable musician.  You’ll be glad you made the effort.

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