If Phil Lee was as good at knife throwing as he is at songwriting he would be on the David Letterman show three times a week. He may very well be that good at it – he practices enough - but listening to any one of his excellent CDs, including this new one, has great rewards and fewer risks - at least for the audience. Phil has never feared, personally or lyrically, to scamper out on a limb with a gleam in his eye and a hacksaw in his hand. Sometimes a club owner or promoter will “suggest” that certain of his songs might ruffle a local feather or two but danged if he won’t have those very birds squarely in his corner before the night is done. Charm, guts and great material can get you a long way. Like Wile E. Coyote, he has a knack for recovering from the most explosive circumstances but unlike that hapless canine he usually ends up on top and grinning. This has been of immense help in his previous incarnations as a truck driver, roadie, huckster and bon vivant.
Phil Lee likes to say that “at a hundred, my age, weight and IQ have all averaged out.” Maybe so but if that’s true he’s sure getting maximum output in all three areas. He writes constantly, eats a sensible diet and, peripatetic as hell, he won’t hesitate to haul out of his Nashville habitations in his pickup for a gig in Wisconsin on a Friday, cannonball from there to Missouri on Saturday and hit Indiana on Sunday - after church of course. His traveling ways started back in his Durham, North Carolina high school days:
“Every morning before school I'd drive from Durham to Raleigh to play drums on a thing called ‘Homer Briarhopper and the Daybreak Show'...we'd open up for the farm news w/ timeless country classics, the usual cornball hokum and always one or two for the sick and shut in (Homer would always take his hat off for those). It was great except for all this happened at 6 a.m. and regular guest star, Clyde Moody (the Waltz King of the nation) was as mean as a stripedy snake. I got 65 bucks a week for the show and 15 per for weekend gigs (mobile home sales events and Homer's club Friday and Saturday nights). My career has been spiraling downwards ever since (at least I've got my memories). That was at the tail end of real country music - glad I got in on it.”
The Briarhopper gig was booked by his grandmother (“She was Homer’s biggest fan.”) who took her percentage in good will and sugar, as in; “Give Grandma some sugar honey.” Subsequent agents have not been quite as reasonable and their baked goods not nearly as tasty.
For a few years – some more easily recollected than others - Phil rolled around America from stem to stern, New York to L.A. and in-between, hobnobbing with pop stars, vagrants, law enforcement personnel, strippers, mud wrestlers, topless dancers, bikers, cowpokes, dissipated philosophers, Euro trash, greens keepers, shadow dancers and various characters both savory and ‘un’. Finally he settled in Nashville where he began work on his first album, The Mighty King Of Love and, believing it’s never too early, released it right around his 50th birthday. A year or two later he came up with another gem he titled You Should Have Known Me Then despite the fact that, as the lyrics of the title cut suggest, it’s probably just as well that you didn’t.
Phil Lee writes intelligent songs full of wit, humor and grace that blend sizzling Dylan-esque rock and roll, country and western, mid-sixties British Invasion and medicine show sounds that end up being utterly unique and sung in a voice that can shoot straight through to your heart. His new album is called So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You and he calls it his “first posthumous release.” There’s nothing wrong with putting out a record posthumously except that it raises certain logistical problems when it comes to touring. And there’s also the teeny tiniest little glitch in the truth in advertising area, since Phil Lee is most definitely still very much among the quick. Maybe he’s just thinking five or six decades ahead – and it’s even money even then.
His guitar player/producer/accomplice/crony Richard Bennett dubbed him “the Don Rickles of Rock and Roll” and true, Phil will sometimes fan his quills porcupine-style as a situational barometer. But he doesn’t do it much these days; no need. Phil is many things not the least of which is one hell of a singer and songwriter and when you make records as good as Phil Lee does, winning friends and influencing people is a snap.