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Shawn Phillips

Shawn Phillips is one of most fascinating and enigmatic musicians to come out of the early-'70s singer/songwriter boom. The mere fact that he was a musician as much as a singer and songwriter made him stand out, and helped him attract a dedicated following. His refusal to shape his music -- which crosses between folk-rock, jazz, progressive, pop, and classical -- to anyone else's expectations allowed him to hold onto a large and dedicated cult following, without ever achieving the stardom that his talent seemed to merit.

Phillips was born in 1943 in Fort Worth, TX, the son of best-selling spy novelist Philip Atlee, who moved the family around the world at various times, including the South Pacific. After hearing "Malaguena" at the piano, he took up the guitar at age seven, and by the time he was 12, he was playing the chords to Carl Perkins songs. Phillips' musical experience transcended rock & roll, however. In the course of his family's travels, he got to live in almost every corner of the globe, including Tahiti, and absorbed the music that surrounded him wherever he was living. He returned to Texas in his teens, with some training in classical music but a love for performers like Jimmy Reed and Ike & Tina Turner, among other blues and R&B performers. He did a hitch in the Navy, and then went back to Texas before retreating to California, where he played around the early-'60s folk circuit.

Phillips made his first record, an over-produced single of Bob Gibson's version of "Frankie and Johnnie" for Columbia, which he followed with two albums, I'm a Loner and Shawn, neither of which was successful. Phillips went to England, where he performed and wrote songs with Donovan, in a professional relationship somewhat clouded in controversy. (Phillips claimed in interviews during the 1970s that he co-wrote "Season of the Witch," as well as a major portion of the songs that finally surfaced on the album Sunshine Superman, but only ever received one co-author credit for "Little Tin Soldier" on the Fairytale album.) While staying in England, the range of his work vastly expanded, partly with the help of various controlled substances.

He was ejected from England for playing without a work permit, and tried living in Paris for before he headed for Italy. He settled in Positano, a tiny fishing village. By the late '60s, Phillips' musical expertise had broadened to include not only different kinds of guitars, but also the Indian sitar. After a few years of trying, he recognized that he'd started too late and would never master the sitar in the traditional manner, and instead began learning to make his own music on the instrument.

In 1968, he went to London with the idea for a trilogy of albums and recorded a major portion of it in collaboration with Traffic members Steve Winwood, Chris Wood, and Jim Capaldi. No record company was willing to commit to such an ambitious body of work by an unknown artist, and the material languished for more than two years, until Phillips came to A&M Records. Producer Jonathon Weston listened to his work and decided to try and release an edited version of the music.

This became his A&M debut album, Contribution, which ranged freely between uptempo folk-rock ("Man Hole Covered Wagon") to introspective quasi-classical guitar pieces ("L Ballade"), and works mixing sitar and acoustic guitar ("Withered Roses"). The album got positive reviews, but it was when Phillips embarked on his first U.S. tour, in conjunction with his next album, Second Contribution, late in 1971, that he was discovered by much of the press. Critics in the New York Times and other publications displayed unbridled awe at Phillips' prowess on a range of instruments, including electric and acoustic six- and 12-string guitars and the sitar, and his singing range, a full three octaves from baritone to counter-tenor, as well as his songwriting. He was one of the few singer/songwriters to play double-necked six- and 12-string guitars (a standard feature of progressive and metal bands) on-stage, in intimate locales such as New York's Bottom Line, and to test the full range of the hybrid instrument.

Writers lavished praise on Phillips for his unusual lyrics, haunting melodies, daunting musicianship, and the ambition of his records. He was a complete enigma, American-born but raised internationally, with a foreigner's keen appreciation for all of the music of his homeland and a seasoned traveler's love of the world's music, with none of the usual limits on his thinking about music. He slid between jazz, folk, pop, and classical sounds -- it was nothing for Phillips to segue from a progressive-style mood piece with a 50-piece orchestra into an R&B-based number driven by his electric guitar, and back again. "The Ballad of Casey Deiss," from Second Contribution, was a case in point, a song about a friend who died when he was struck by lightning, scored for acoustic guitars, electric guitars, vibraphone, and the horn section of a full orchestra, as well as multi-layered vocals.

A third album, Collaboration, followed, along with another tour, and then Faces, Bright White, and Furthermore. His collaborator was conductor/arranger Paul Buckmaster, the man responsible for the choral accompaniment on the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and several other rock-meets-classical touchstones including Elton John's first four albums. On tour, Phillips was booked into clubs with artists such as comedian Albert Brooks, singer/songwriter Wendy Waldman, and Seals & Crofts, and usually worked solo, surrounded by a half-dozen guitars, or sometimes with a single accompanist, Peter Robinson, on keyboards.

Phillips never achieved major stardom, despite his critical accolades. He never courted an obvious commercial sound, preferring to write songs that, as he put it, "make you feel different from the way you felt before you started listening," primarily love songs and sonic landscapes. But his experiments with electronic keyboards on his albums form middle and late 1970s made him a jazz-funk pioneer as well--though that, like many of his musical innovations, wasn't generally recognized until somewhat later.

He made nine albums for A&M before moving on to RCA in 1978 for Transcendance, which mixed his guitars with a 60-piece symphony orchestra and members of Herbie Hancock's band, produced in collaboration with arranger/conductor Michael Kamen. He also contributed to movie music by Manos Hadjidakis, and appeared in the movie Run with the Wind. In 1983, he recorded Beyond Here Be Dragons, an ambitious set with producer Michael Hoenig, bassist Alphonso Johnson, guitarist Caleb Quaye, keyboardist J. Peter Robinson and Ralph Humphrey on drums. It remained unreleased for five years. Chameleon issued it in 1988 to the delight of fans.

With close to 20 albums behind him since the mid-'60s, Phillips has a following in America, Europe, and Japan, and he has performed at different world music festivals. A cult figure whose peers include Van Dyke Parks and, perhaps, Leonard Cohen (though Cohen's public profile is enhanced by his following, as an established poet and author, in the literary community), he remains an enigmatic figure on the music landscape. His work remained sufficiently in demand in the 1990s, however, to justify a best-of compilation from A&M in 1992 that included notes by Phillips and one new song. In 1995, Polygram South Africa issued the anthology Another Contribution.

Phillips had become a fireman and emergency medical technician in Texas. In 1994 a brand new studio date, The Truth If It Kills, produced by Michel Le Francois was issued by Imagine in Canada. In 1998, Wounded Bird re-released eight now classic albums from his catalogue.

Phillips, who moved to South Africa in 2000 and worked as a paramedic withhe National Sea Rescue Institute. He claimed in interview that he was pretty much out of music completely between 1994 and 2003. Nonetheless, No Category, was issued by Universal that year. It compiled new and unreleased music alongside previously issued songs. A boxed set from Gott Discs paired Contribution and Second Contribution in 2004, and his catalogue titles slowly began reappearing from various labels. On June 6, 2006, The Nashville Symphony Orchestra performed the suite, Disturbing Horizons - Events In The Life Of A Prince comprised of nine Phillips' pieces.

The two-disc Living Contribution - Live at Kirstenbosch Gardens was released by South Africa's Feet Music in 2007. In 2009, Hux released the long sought after Live At The BBC from a 1973 appearance, and in 2011, 1972's Faces saw re-release. In 2013, Rumplestiltskin's Resolve originally issued in 1976, appeared from Talking Elephant, and a year later Varese Sarabande released Infinity, a set of unreleased material from 1989. The 20 track, double-disc Perspective, contains songs written and recorded over the previous decade and a half (mostly in South Africa); it was issued in 2015 by Talking Elephant, followed by a 2016 reissue of 1978's Transcendence. ~ Bruce Eder and Thom Jurek
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Infinity

1. For The Lost And Lonely

2. Crown Of Love

3. I'm A Little Bit Older

4. Early In The Night

5. Everybody Gets Out Alive

6. I Will Never Leave

7. Money Dance

8. Infinity


Track List: Beyond Here Be Dragons

1. Of Love

2. Circles

3. Sands Of Time

4. It Takes No Time

5. Share The Wealth

6. Wind Of Angels

7. Discoveries

8. Spaghetti Inquisition

9. Moments


Track List: Contribution / Second Contribution

1. Man Hole Covered Wagon

2. L Ballade

3. Not Quite Nonsense

4. No Question

5. Withered Roses

7. Lovely Lady

9. She Was Waiting For Her Mother At The Station In Torino And You Know I Love You Baby But It's Getting Too Heavy To Laugh

10. Keep On

11. Sleepwalker

12. Song For Mr. C

14. Song For Sagittarians

15. Lookin' Up Lookin' Down

16. Remedial Interruption

18. Schmaltz Waltz

19. F Sharp Splendor

20. Steel Eyes


Track List: The Best Of Shawn Phillips - The A&M Years

1. We

2. Ballad Of Casy Deiss

3. Victoria Emmanuele

4. Bright White

5. L Ballade

6. Early Morning Hours

7. I Took A Walk

8. Early In The Night

9. She Was Waiting For Her Mother At The Station In Torino And You Know I Love You Baby But It's Getting Too Heavy To Laugh

10. Hey Miss Lonely

11. Do You Wonder

12. Moonshine

13. Breakthrough

14. Troof

15. Song For Northern Ireland

16. Mr. President


Track List: Do You Wonder

1. Do You Wonder

2. Xasper

3. City To City

4. Blunt And Frank

5. Believe In Life

6. As All Is Played

7. Golden Flower

8. Looking At The Angel

9. Summer Vignette


Track List: Furthermore

1. January First

2. Starbright

3. Breakthrough

4. Ninety Two Years

5. See You

6. Planscape

7. Troof

8. Cape Barras

9. Song For Northern Ireland

10. Mr. President

11. Talking In The Garden

12. Furthermore


Track List: Bright White

1. Bright White

2. Salty Tears

3. All The Kings And Castles

4. Victoria Emmanuele

5. Planned "O"

6. Lasting Peace Of Mind

7. Technotronic Lad

8. Dream Queen

9. It's A Beautiful Morning

10. Lady Of The Blue Rose


Track List: Faces

1. Landscape

2. L Ballade

3. Hey Miss Lonely

4. Chorale

5. Parisian Plight II

6. We

7. Anello (Where Are You)

8. I Took A Walk

9. A Christmas Song


Track List: Collaboration

1. Us We Are

2. Burning Fingers

3. Moonshine

4. For Her

5. What's Happenin' Jim!

6. Armed

7. Spaceman

8. Times Of A Madman, Trials Of A Thief

9. 8500 Years

10. The Only Logical Conclusion

11. Coming Down Soft & Easy

12. Springwind


Track List: Second Contribution

1. She Was Waitin' For Her Mother At The Station In Torino And You Know I Love You Baby But It's Getting Too Heavy To Laugh

2. Keep On

3. Sleepwalker

4. Song For Mr. C

5. The Ballad Of Casey Deiss

6. Song For Sagittarians

7. Lookin' Up Lookin' Down

8. Remedial Interruption

9. Whaz' Zat

10. Schmaltz Waltz

11. F Sharp Splendor

12. Steel Eyes


Track List: Contribution

1. Man Hole Covered Wagon

2. L Ballade

3. Not Quite Nonsense

4. No Question

5. Withered Roses

6. For Rfk Jfk & Mlk

7. Lovely Lady

8. Screamers For Phlyses


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Legendary musician!
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went to 2 concerts love him still God bless you Shawn
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So many admirers here, can't believe such a small selection of albums.
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I wish Pandora would add Collaboratio n album!!! I used to have it way back when!! GREAT album! Think I'll go on amazon/ebay and see if I can find it again!
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Shawn. My friend, go with Peace, Love and Understandin g into this dark night and let your light shine forevermore ...
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I live on the coast of VA & people don't know Shawn here for some strange reason. I had a friend that was from Minnesota who turned me onto him like 35 years ago
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Did you know that Shawn Phillips taught George Harrison how to play the Sitar?
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I saw Shawn when he was in his prim back in the 70's he was great and his music is still great. I listen to it all the time.
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Spent a lot of my college days listening to Shawn while a the University to Minneapolis. Have seen him in concert the last 4 years in the Minneapolis area. He still has that great passion and voice.
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Shawn Phillips was my first concert.
I loved him then and I love his music now.
Keep playin Shawn!
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Do You Wonder, Rumpelstilts k i n Resolve, Contribution were also LPs produce by Shawn. Saw him in Burlington Vt.years ago. A one man tour de force.
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I love his music and I have his 1st 3 albums.
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michael_corp e
MORE SHAWN!! Please, Please, Please! Great guy, Fabulous Talent!
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johnroyburne t t
Question of the year. What is the antonym of competition?
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Pandora, you should acquire many more Shawn recordings then the two LPs you have.
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Shawn's priceless.
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god I remember the orange sunshine and Shawn, he did a great album called collaboratio n
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The range and talent of this artist leaves me breathless and begging for more!
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Talent like this is rare and is to be cherished
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I know he wrote more than two albums, why don't you have more???
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I still seem to have no trouble remembering every word of his songs, must be yet another positive side effect from all that "orange sunshine"
Back in '73.
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Pandora needs to broaden the library of this talent
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While in high school, I attended a performance in Columbia SC, we were devout followers and after the concert, Shawn came out front sat on the edge of the stage and just talked for us for about an hour, what a great guy, whenever I hear his music it takes me back. Thanks.
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Pandora, Please play a broader spectrum of Shawn's work. You barely scratch the surface of this amazing artist work.
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mariah.murph y 8
Shawn Phillips is the man , the guy who shaped my life, weirdly enough. I have seen him play 5 times, doing the college circuit thing , in Kalamazoo, Flagstaff, Tucson, and twice in Detroit. His music almost lead me to marry the woman of my dreams, but i did not. long story, my loss.
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I have loved & followed Shawn Philips since the early 1970s and saw him open for The Moody Blues as well as in small venues through the years. With his vast catalogue, one would think Pandora could find more cuts to play than off of just two albums.
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Stumbled across the Second Contribution album back in my college heydays of the early '70s, and eventually ended up with many of his albums. Got to see him perform twice, once in Portland, and again in Eugene, OR. An amazing talent. More selection Pandora, this guy has a strong and loyal following...
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wonderful to rediscover this amazing man's music - loved his songs- my anthem for the 70's
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I met him a few times on tour. My ex-girlfrien d lived with him on and off in the 1980's and early 90's. She says he lives in South Africa and is friends with her ex-husband author Louis Urrea.
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I was introduced to him in early 70's, Lots of LSD, weed and shawn was the general order of the day. I have never forgotten his fantastic lyrics and style of voice delivery. Pandora please include all his popular recording for our pleasure, All of his stuff if you can !!!!
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I was lucky enough to meet him twice - once after a concert in Buffalo in '74 when I was young, naive and he was with a full band. The second time in '81 when I worked in radio - got to sit in on the station interview, then share a stoop with him during intermission our back of the venue. What a wonderful, funny, warm, brilliant person.
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michael_corp e
MORE!!!!!! MORE!!!!!!!M O R E ! ! ! ! ! !
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patricklinds a y 9 4
Please include his 'Transcenden c e . ' It's my favorite by Phillips.
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when I first heard him in the 60's, I thought I would be one of the very few who would like his style of music. I found out how wrong I was, when talking with others of the era.
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For christs sake Pandora, Phillips is one of the most amazing musicians on the Planet.
Go to ITunes and at least get what they have. MLL
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Phillips is a musical genius and deserves more exposure, especially to the younger generation - please increase your Phillips offerings and cross them over to similar newer artists stations to give these kids the experience of hearing one of the true, under-recogn i z e d greats.
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brought back a flood of memories terrific album
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Love shawn , wish pandora would add more of his music!
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I haven't hear his voice since the 70's - still awesome - like warm butter. More Shawn please !!
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robbiesheeha n
I adore Shawn Phillips I went to several of his concerts in the 70's in Arlington and Dallas Texas.
I even remember what I wore. I have bought his albums, 8 tracks , cassettes and discs.
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An amazing performer.
I've seen him a few times ranging from 1979 to 1998, mostly in Houston. One show that stands out was a show on The University of Houston campus, probably around 1980.
That show still ranks in my personal top ten.
Looking forward to seeing him again.
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I agree.. SP isnt like Journey. If you choose an artist to be the basis of a station you should have more of his selections playing.
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You have to listen to the entire album can't just choose one cut!
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I have every CD Shawn ever produced. 13 of them I think. Every one is great. i would recomend Pandora getting more of a selection.
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For those who ask why Shawn's songs are cut short - the two albums Pandora has in the Discography were both "concept albums" with most or all of the tracks flowing seamlessly from one to the other. Therefore, in order to isolate a single track it has to be cut abruptly before the next song begins. For more info on Shawn, please visit http://Shawn P h i l l i p s . c o m and http://shawn p h i l l i p s . w o r d p r e s s . c o m
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Hey Pandora, please buy some more Shawn Phillips albums. You'd find his sounds would mix well with many styles, and God knows, you could use the variety. Great service, but get some more albums, including more Shawn.
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I absolutely agree with "oltecgroup" . . . I ' d love to hear from some of his other albums (Faces is one of my favorites). And, yes, why are all of Shawn Phillips' songs cut short? But, I love Pandora!!!
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Although I love both Contribution and Second Contribution I would love for you to play other recordings from Shawn Phillips. I saw him in Dallas, TX last year and he was absolutely great. Also, most of his songs which you play on Pandora seem to be cut short, what's up with that? Keep up the great work, and please pay different song from Shawn!
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I saw Shawn in salt Lake City in 77 or 78 at Kingsbury Hall! Have enjoyed him since.
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I have always loved his voice, it's unique and beautiful!
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