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ROCK OF THE DUPLEXES: Elton John, Caleb Quaye And Me

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I’m reminded that it was forty years ago this week that Elton John’s Rock of the Westies album was released shortly after his monumental shows at Dodger Stadium. The name is a play on words as it was recorded in the rocky mountains of Colorado in August 1975 with a new band that included Hookfoot members Roger Pope and Caleb Quaye.

About 13 years ago I was approached by someone to help edit a book that Caleb was writing at the time called “A Voice Louder Than Rock n’ Roll” and my name appears in the thank you credits. Many years later I saw a photograph of an early recording session at Dick James Music Studio in London that Caleb was managing at the time and fortunately I was able to find Caleb’s email address. So approachable was he that it wasn’t long before we were exchanging the odd e-mail now and then. I mean, who wouldn’t to know someone who was the first pair of ears to hear new Beatles albums delivered to the publisher fresh from Abby Road studios. I’m not kidding. In Caleb’s role at Dick James Publishing, Caleb supervised the musical transcription of new Beatles albums before they were sold to the public. Caleb was the very first person to hear Sgt. Pepper aside from those involved in recording it.

In 2012, I had designs to do a jazz and blues album as a follow-up to the pop-rock album I had released in 2010. I had a number of blues rock songs that I took to Nola Recording Studio in New York and we recorded piano, bass & drum tracks for 4-5 songs which I thought at the time would be about half of the album. They sounded a little thin to me and I knew I needed a guitarist and then it hit me. Would he do it? Would Caleb consider recording with me? When he said yes, I flew out to Burbank and we recorded his guitars on the four songs and then jammed on a fifth. It was a blast I really enjoyed spending the day with Caleb. I then returned to New York and wrote the early songs that would become my 2012 album Café Nights in New York -one of rock nyc’s best of the year. Conal Fowkes and I wrote “I’ve Got Sophistication Too” and “Let’s Drink To Us.” I thought I had the makings of an amazing multi-faceted album, one that was gritty on the one hand but elegant on the other. But someone suggested to me that perhaps the truth be told that I would disappoint those interested in blues by playing jazz and vice versa. So we finished the jazz album and shelved the blues rock album.

Going back to 2010, I was in Lake Tahoe for a week in the snow season and while the others skied, I stayed at home writing bluesy songs about life in Mississippi and New Orleans after the Civil War – I placed myself in my great-grandfather’s shoes and tried to capture the essence of those days and tied to be very “crude” in my interpretation. But all of that including the studio work with Caleb got shelved for another day – I’m still waiting for the inspiration to finish the project.

In the meantime, I’m going to perform all of that material in a two part set at The Duplex on Nov. 5th in time for my birthday at the stroke of midnight. And Caleb has been kind enough to come to New York to play guitar during the first set which will be followed by my jazz band and a performance of the songs from Café Nights including classic standards about New York.

What’s amazing to me is that forty years to the day of this show, my grandparents gave me what every 13-year-old kid wanted back then, a vinyl copy of “Rock of the Westies” with it’s rustic photos of the band members on the back. There he was for the first time, my introduction to Caleb Quaye, second from the left. And to think: I’ll be playing my own music with him on stage exactly forty years to the day after I first saw him on the back of an album cover. Life is amazing sometimes.

(Jack Phillips is playing a two set show at The Duplex on Nov. 5th at 9:30pm. The first half will include original blues rock songs about Mississippi and New Orleans with legendary guitarist Caleb Quaye. The second set will feature classic and original jazz vocal standards about New York. Tickets not sold at the door – tickets can only be purchased  here)

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