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Looking Back on The Making Of
HOW THE WEST WAS ONE
An Interview with Phil Keaggy
People that know you have always seen that your guitar is always with you. Your instrument is an important part of your life.. an extension of your life. Where did your love of the guitar come from?
I think it was listening to Scotty Moore playing for Elvis in '56 in particular-that period when Elvis had signed to RCA and then they started recording these sessions. I just loved the sound of Scotty Moore's electric guitar. It just totally grabbed me. Shortly after that, I listened to James Burton a lot. I couldn't wait until Ricky Nelson, Ozzie and Harriet came on TV just so I could get to the end of the program to watch Rick sing with his little band. There was something about that Telecaster (guitar) and that sound James Burton got in those days. Just a great sound you know. I also got into the Ventures and listening to what Nookie Edwards was doing with those guys. They all were feeding my desire to play guitar.
Then the Beatles came out in '63 and I started hearing them on the radio. The first time I heard "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" I thought, "Now that is an incredible guitar sound!" It seemed like it was John Lennon's Rickenbacker guitar in that Vox that just kind of blew my little young mind at that time. You know, the way it honked, that Rickenbacker combined with that Vox AC 30 amp that they used, and his dead strings and all those sort of things. The Beatles songs were all short songs. The songs were short in those days and were just well crafted songs.
I used to sit and watch my brother Dave play his Gretch guitar and in fact that very guitar he bought in 1959 I was playing today on a song I wrote for a friend of mine who had his 50th birthday. I'm still playing that guitar. It's almost 48 years old.
I was in my first band around '64. And was playing Team Centers and gigs, and talent shows and battle of the bands and those sort of things. So that's kind of where it all started. I really have to hand it to my brother and all these other really great guitar players of that period. I was also a Dwayne Eddie fan if you remember Dwayne. (Of course!) And Dick Dale and all the surf bands because I lived in California in those early days of playing and so I was into anything that you know was guitar oriented
You know I was also very much into classical music at a young age, DeBussy and Ravel, Elgar, and the melodies, the folk song melodies that Ralph Vaughan Williams used. I came to discover in the '70's who these great composers were, but when I was a kid I was exposed to them.
The guitar side of me-the player in me was the most important. I put more effort into my ability to play than my ability to write songs, even though I write songs all the time. I'm known as a guitarist more than I am songwriter or a singer.
How did you first meet the 2nd Chapter of Acts?
People can't believe this, but I met them January 12, 1975. Buck Herring picked me up at the airport in Los Angeles. I was there to record guitar for the album " In The Volume Of the Book." Buck took me over to Church On The Way where Annie, Nelly and Matthew were singing and Herbie; their bass player was playing bass. I just sat and watched them because you see, I became a really big fan in '74. I was living in upstate New York and I was telling all my friends about "Easter Song." And I was just totally, totally into the group.
The "With Footnotes" album was really a monumental thing. In fact, I was just interviewed for Word Records 50th Anniversary, and they asked who were the artists that I listened to that inspired me. It was Love Song who really had an effect on me, Barry McGuire, 2nd Chapter of Acts and Malcolm and Alwyn.
Tell us about recording the 2nd Chapter of Acts project "In The Volume Of The Book".
Well, here I was from Ohio. I had been in a little rock trio called Glass Harp. Then I went on my own. Did solo stuff. Did my "What A Day" album. Then moved to upstate New York in '74.
Experienced living in upstate New York was a growing time for me and my wife Bernadette. We had been married for a year at that point. We were living in a very closed sort of community up in the middle of nowhere, you know, Freeville, New York. Where's Freeville? Well it's by Ethica, New York, which is Cornell University.
I used to do a lot more travelling before those years there. I traveled from '68, '69, '70 all the way up to '74. So here I was off the road and learning how to do other things and the music, my playing, my electric playing kind of took a backseat to everything. Then Buck Herring heard about me and got a hold of what I was doing and called me.
Actually, when I lived in Ohio, he asked me if I could play on Barry's 2nd album "Lighten Up", which I couldn't make it because I had other commitments.
It was a grand opportunity to be able to go out play. That recording experience was amazing because I've lived a pretty secluded life for about a year in New York. And it gave me a chance to go out and really be able to play guitar and play my heart out.
Now I was not really savvy when it came to being a studio musician- a studio session player. The other players were all top studio talent and were all great music readers. Michael Omartian had put out all the tracks arrangements and the charts. So he's handing out music and I can't read music. I got a little bit uh, a little bit scared because there was some sophistication going on here. So I put my guitar down and I went into the control room, sat in the couch underneath the control console and Buck looks over you know like a giant, looks over at me says "Hey little brother what're you doing down there?" I said "Oh I think I'll just sit this one out, and maybe overdub later." But later I did get to play on some of the actual track sessions. Where I was able to really open up and be myself though was when Buck said "let's do some lead guitar work here." After everybody left then, he plugged me in and I played "Yahweh" and other songs like "Hey Whatcha' Say" and "Keep On Shining". I just loved it. That's was a very memorable experience.
I remember I was playing in Oklahoma and Buck and Annie came to the concert. And they played a cassette or something of the mixes of the album and I was really happy to hear it. Yeah, that was great.
What was it about the 2nd Chapter of Acts sound and music that really got your attention? What did you really like about it?
I think what it was there was a sound. What always got me were sounds. The sound of their voices. The sound of Matthew, and Nelly and Annie was just something very very unique and of course it's a sound that happens in that doesn't always happen with other singers.
They were so natural with their voices and their harmonies. Their words that Annie had penned for thoserecordings and the melodies which were complex and simple at the same time. And yet it was the sound of their voices that just really affected my soul. I feel it was spiritual music and it was beautiful music and it was also artistically well done. There was a passion that I'd sensed in their music. You could tell there was a love for God that came through the writing of this music. Buck being the professional that he was, the engineer that he was would envelop their voices with these wonderful musicians and surround them with the great musicianship and the sonic recording of it.
Those were definitely high fidelity recordings in those days. I think they were a big notch above what was going on in those days. In fact I would say that Buck's productions of Barry McGuire's albums, and the 2nd Chapter of Acts was at a higher standard than we were normally hearing, and that was a delight to musicians. It not only affected me but many others as well.
So how did the "How The West Was One" tour and the album come about?
Well, we went on tour. The band was Gene Gunnels (drums), Herbie Melton (bass), Richard Souther (keyboards), and Annie on piano. I played guitar for the group. And then Peter York (guitar) joined me on my set for my half of the album and concert. Peter and I were friends from Ohio and Peter and I had actually traveled quite a bit together just the two of us. Peter was also a very close friend of mine, so he knew my music and was a perfect contribution to my set. In fact after that point, actually Peter ended up becoming 2nd Chapter's guitar player
I remember rehearsing in this I think it was a big auditorium or gymnasium. We learned the songs and then toured.
Only two nights were recorded for this album, Sacramento, CA and Redding, CA. Buck pulled from those two concerts what became the album How The West Was One. I thought that was pretty good that a whole album was able to come out of just two choices, two concerts, you know.
Do you like the 'live' recording events? Is that exciting for you? Do you like that kind of pressure?
I had already done a live album with my band Glass Harp in 1971. That recording was just one night, at Carnegie Hall.
Sometimes it can be a pressure but there was some humorous moments recorded on those two nights. I wanted to say something eloquent and I remember setting out to say something profound and kind of completely tripped over myself. I wish they would have left that on the album because many of us were granted a hearty laugh over my fumbling over myself. "Science we must admit"....blank stare...dead air time.. I just dropped the thought.
Let's go back to your own playing. I'm sure that you are your worst critic. In a 'live' environment do you find yourself working a little harder? When you listen back to yourself do you say "man I went after it!" compared to how you would normally play?
Yeah, I think so. There's an energy that goes with a live performance. I do play a lot on the fly you know. I'm one who always likes to improvise. I did stick pretty close to the solos, as they should be for the sake of the songs. But there were moments on the "How the West Was One" live album for instance "Rejoice" where there was a nice solo with Richard Souther and myself playing off of each other. It was all complete improvised.
Your song "Time" had a great message behind it and you seemed to improvise heavily on it. That song seemed to really ignite the audience. They would go nuts after that song.
I think people got off on it more where they saw us playing, improvising and jamming at the end of that song. And it kept us really on our toes. We were all excited about this opportunity to record it.
I think about the audiences that were going to Christian concerts in the '70's many of them very conservative, many of them coming to concerts having never been exposed to rock, must have had the thought "how can I really enjoy this and the Lord? Do I have the freedom to really listen to this and support this sort of thing?"
But I think what happened is because they saw we were all so very sincere about our faith in sharing our love for Jesus that it kind of softened, took the edge off of what was rock and roll you know. Because face it "Hey Whatcha' Say" "Yahweh" "Time" and "Just the Same" and some of these other songs were really kicking tunes. I think it was all balanced out because the context of the whole show which was really a ministry not just a show it was really a giving out of our hearts and souls to people. It was a very special time.
So looking back on some of your other songs on How the West Was One, tell me which ones do you really like?
Well you know I always do "Your Love Broke Through." I mean probably 9 out of 10 concerts I still sing KeithGreen's, Randy Stonehill's and Todd Fishken's song "Love Broke Through". It's a timeless song.
Another really a good song live was "Take Me Closer". It had a really nice simple message to it and moved along nicely. It had a solo at the end that was I felt very inspired. I remember recording that song on the "Love Broke Through" album and after the solo, which I had just played spontaneously at the session, Buck just hugged me. I remember he just hugged me. He loved that solo!
The song "Rejoice" was a real special moment for me especially with the improvisation that I did with keyboards Richard Souther.
People liked that little tune I wrote called "My Life" which was a little testimony song. That's the only time it's ever been on recording on an album.
Describe the impact of a 2nd Chapter of Acts concert on an audience. Do you remember any of that?
They were among the very first contemporary worship groups there ever were. And there's a great deal of emphasis on worship these days. They weren't just performers. They were bringing a state of worship that was what people's hearts were longing for because we had already had our fill of all kinds of music for the '60's and the '70's.
I think they just caused people's hearts to rise and they caused our eyes to look heavenward. You'd find yourself looking at them and then at the end of the night your heart would just about burst with joy and love for God, you know. I saw that happen to many people in the audience. And I remember that happening to me. I remember sitting in the auditorium when the group would do a few songs without the band. I would just be captivated by it. It was very special time.
For the people who never got to see them live and there's a great many of them today, who are into Christian music who don't know who 2nd Chapter of Acts were, I think they ought to go back and listen to The 2nd Chapter Of Acts. It's like reading about the founding fathers. We should know some of this history.
It's because they were a part of a rootsy thing. And you know they're music was born out of their fellowship in God and their family. And that came out as early as '71 when they started really making music. They already had an amazing sound back then.
The first person who ever told me about 2nd Chapter of Acts was Scott Ross. He was my pastor. Scott Ross founded "Love In" a community in upstate New York. He was secular disc jockey from New York City, close friends with Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. In fact his wife Nedra was one of the Ronnettes. Famed "Be My Baby," "Baby I Love You" and those songs. He said, "There's this group, two sisters and a brother that you won't believe!" And then he started playing "Easter Song" on the radio and I taped it and played it for everyone.
We used to hold Bible studies in our home in Warren, Ohio. And I would say, "hey listen to this everybody" and we'd listen to it and listen to it again and again. It was wonderful. It's amazing how you hear something and then you have a dream and say, "boy I'd love to meet these people". Not only did I meet these people I got to play guitar for them.
Tell us what you're favorite 2nd Chapter of Acts song is.
I love is that song "The Son Comes Over the Hill" Then I love "Keep On Shining" and "Easter Song." I think those are my 3 favorite 2nd Chapter of Acts songs.
I also love "The Roar Of Love" - Narnia album. I think almost every on song on that is special. That was a real journey to be a part of that recording. I thought it was also a piece of editing genius that Buck Herring put that together with Michael Omartian. It just was really seamless. You know back then people didn't have Pro Tools and they were cutting tape with razor blades. "The Roar Of Love" is a real masterpiece in my opinion.
So here you find yourself on this tour with all these folks. That must've been fun, Tell us about some of those fun experiences.
Well there are plenty of laughs. Matthew knew how to hit just the right buttons when it came to making me laugh. And I think at the time '77 we were touring, I was 26 years old and I think Matthew was 17. So here I was a few years older than he was, and he just twisted my funny buttons. He had me laughing a lot. In fact, he and I ended up doing a lot of skateboarding on that tour. We used to go to parking garages and caravan down you know. We would do crazy things.
We ate a lot of fun food. Food that I don't think I'd ever tasted before.
I just saw Barry McGuire recently and I reminded him of the time when I went and got a bowl of soup. I said, "I should've got another bowl for 'bites' cause Barry used to always talk about how he'd buy a hamburger and then he'd buy another one just for 'bites' because everyone wanted a bite of his hamburger.
There was a great sense of fellowship and community. The group loved to tease me you know. I was this little guy and Annie, Matthew and Nelly loved to tease me so. I enjoyed it. For me it was great because I came from a very big family and I felt like I was part of a family where we were all closer in age together. That was really nice.
So would you do it all again? Would you want to see a 2nd Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy reunite sometime in the future?
If they needed a guitar player I'd probably raise my hand and volunteer.
What are you doing now? Tell us about your music now?
Well I'm making a lot of music.. continually. I released four albums this last year. Two through Word Records, "Inseparable" and "Lights Of Madrid" and then two new ones through my fan club. One's called "Uncle Duke", who is my 75-year-old uncle. He wrote all the lyrics and I wrote the music to everything and recorded it here at home.
And I did an album called "Zion", which is a tribute album to Ken Hoover who founded Zion guitars. I do weekend dates, solo mostly and occasionally a band date.
Has your message changed at all from 25 years ago?
Yeah, somewhat, but there's still this common thread that has kind of come through the years with me. I am still comfortable playing the songs that I sang in the early '70's. I've learned a lot more on the guitar since those days. Especially the acoustic guitar.
Do you have a goal in mind when you go out and do concerts now? What do want people will walk away with?
I did a concert last night and people came up to me and said "Thanks. You know what you did tonight really touched me" and they say "I've brought some unsaved relatives. Thanks for sowing some seeds"
I think that's what it's about with me. My expertise is not in the area of leading people into worship but they do observe the fact that I do get caught up in what I do and I give it unto the Lord with my playing and my singing and so in a sense it is worship. People can be blessed and we are all blessed by God.
So when you're gone, when you've passed on, what do you want people to remember about you?
I would love to think that I've cared for people and loved people and wanted to enrich their lives with my music.
What about your family?
Well I have a wonderful wife of almost 28 years and she's been my closest friend for 30 years.
We have 3 children, Alysha who is 21. She's done a couple of years at college and she's just trying to find her way and we're encouraging her in that. And she needs to find out for herself who and what she wants to be. Those are tough times to make decisions.
Olivia who is 17, she's just happy and very much at peace with herself. She's a loving companion to all of her friends and a wonderful daughter. And Alysha loves her too because Olivia is such a giver.
And Ian who's 14 in about a weeks time. Ian is becoming a really good guitar player and I'm glad to see that. He plays all the time. And he loves to skate as well.
We're pretty close. We're pretty matter of fact with each other too. I'm probably the mushiest in the family when it comes to affection Were just a pretty normal average kind of family actually. But there's a good deal of love between us.
So what about this off quoted comment by Jimmy Hendricks, where he is quoted as saying that he believed that you were the best guitar player in the world. Was that true?
Was that urban legend?
Yeah. It's urban or suburban. I'm not sure which. I always get asked that question but I don't have any answers regarding it.
Well in our eyes you ARE one the great guitar players in the world. We're grateful for the gift of music that God's given you. Thanks Phil for spending time with 2nd Chapter of Acts.com
Okay my friend.
NOTE: The 2nd Chapter Of Acts, Phil Keaggy and A band called David are all featured on a double CD concert performance disk called:
HOW THE WEST WAS ONE.