Yo, Gtar Phil here. Thanks for clicking on my Bio. I know these things can get kinda boring with all the “I did this” and “I did that” stuff so I’ll try to be brief while I talk about myself a little.
My real name is Phil Hughley but everybody calls me Gtar Phil. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio and I was raised on the gospel music my parents brought into the house. I used to watch the turntable, listening to the records, studying the album covers. It was a huge discovery experience for me. I remember this one song from Walter Hawkins called “Never Alone.” It ended with the organ but the next song kicked off with a drum solo by Joel Smith. I was three years old and my heart would stop waiting for that solo to start. I was like, Dude, I wanna be a drummer!
By the time I turned eight I was drumming in my aunt’s 500-voice choir, and at twelve I started touring around the country with gospel people. It was amazing! My first gig was in Brooklyn in front of 1800 people.
When I was in middle school I saw Eric Clapton playing “Tears in Heaven” on television and that just grabbed me by the throat. He sat there with that acoustic and it was an epiphany. I said to myself, “I will do that for the rest of my life!” I was done! That same year, it was like a musical-onslaught; Nevermind happened, Use Your Illusion happened, Metallica’s Black Record happened, Megadeth released a new record, Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog. All those albums came out at the same time. Man, I was getting crushed! I was like, there’s nothing left for me to do but play guitar! So I finagled an ax out of my parents for my birthday and the night I got it, I stayed up ‘til dawn and learned scales on one string.
My guitar thing happened kind of fast. I went from not playing at all to playing a lot. And I was on a quest to get really good. But as much as I loved music I was always driven to not be the soft kid. My older brother was a military guy and West Point came to our house to recruit him. When they talked about how hard it was I wanted to do it. I wanted to see how tough I was. So I went. In basic training we weren’t allowed to have any music and one day I was walking through a sergeant’s office and I heard Shirley Caesar playing. I almost broke down and cried because it was the first time I’d heard music in months. I had to hurry up and get out of there. I was dying inside.
I left West Point sophomore year because music kept haunting me. I went home to Cleveland and actually started making a name for myself as the go-to guitar guy. Cleveland instilled a passion in me; it gave me that hunger to get good, but working there also made me realize that it wasn’t where the industry was. One time I got called to do a session with these big-time musicians who were passing through town. When I got to the gig I felt like I was on the outside looking in because their attitude was like, “We’re playing with you because you’re here. You’re a one-night stand; we’ll never remember you.” It was the biggest slap in my face. I called a friend and said I gotta get outta here because I’m not gonna be disrespected like that. My dreams are too big for that.
I decided to move to Nashville. But just before I got here I landed a gig in Tye Tribbett’s band so for the first year and a half I was never in town. I toured the world with Tribbett and that job changed my life because it got me exposure. I got a call to do Cece Winans’ record. That was a bucket list thing! With Tye I had gotten to do everything I wanted to do. I had this long list of dream stuff and I got to do every single item on it. And it kinda sucked! It took me about a year to get through a mini-depression where I had to figure out what I wanted to do because when your dreams become your reality and that’s your regular, everyday life it’s like, I gotta do something new.
I started writing, trying to get other performers to do my songs and they would ask, “Why don’t you just do them yourself?” That’s when it occurred to me that maybe I should just be an artist. So I had to figure out what I could do to set myself apart. It took a lot of trial and error - a lot of error! - working out my tone, my approach, my phrasing, my historical references; and understanding how to bring it all together before throwing it away to get to where I could say, “I’m comfortable enough with everything in my tool kit to present Me.”
This record, it’s my “Hello, world!” I feel like I’m standing between two pillars of culture. In one way I’m using the guitar to be a curator, honoring the historical context of soul and funk but the other pillar is, as much as I love the old stuff, I’m doing some new things with it. It’s like the talking drum tradition. When the Africans would tell a story they would tell it, play the drum, and then pass it on to the next person. Then that person would tell their part of the story, add onto it, and pass the drum. That’s all I’m doing with this record. I’m honoring the spirit of the music by moving it forward.