Phil Upchurch


WHAT DO THEY...Whitney Houston, Julio Iglesias, George Benson, President Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Michael Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Sheena Easton, Joe Fraizer, Quincy Jones, Wesley Snipes, Danny Glover, Dee Clark, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Smith, Dave Sanborn, Joe Williams, Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Ben Sidran, Carmen McRae, Ray Brown, Stan Getz, Grover Washington Jr., Ramsey Lewis, The Staple Singers, Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, B.B. King, Albert King, The Spaniels. Neil Sedaka, Smokey Robinson, Richard Pryor, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Kahn, Curtis Mayfield, Jerry Butler, Marvin Gaye, Natalie Cole, The Crusaders, John Lee Hooker, Leon Russell, Ray Charles, Al Hirt, Gene Ammons, Buddy Montgomery, Philly Joe Jones, Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, Donny Hathaway, Ray Charles, Branford Marsalis, and Cat Stevens... HAVE IN COMMON ?

The answer is ..Phil Upchurch .....for he has performed with, recorded with, or in the case of President Clinton, the President elect performed Phil's hit of 1961-"You Can't Sit Down'' on national television at his inauguration. The fact is that for the past 43 years as of this writing, Phil has remained on the cutting edge of recorded music and as a performer.

Beginning in 1955 with Vee Jay records and the likes of Dee Clark, Jimmy Reed, the Dells, the Spaniels, the Moonglows, he still to this day remains a first call studio musician. He has played on hundreds of records, scores of film tracks, Myriads of T.V. and radio jingles and has recorded with artist's of practically every genre of American music. The mere mention of his name alway triggers associations with the Superstars. Probably better known for his association (1975-1981) with George Benson than any other, George has recorded 3 of Phil's compositions the most notable being "6 to 4" from the album -"Breezin". Still actively supporting the stars and traveling the stages of the world at the age of 57, he shows no sign of slowing down, nor does he have any desire to. He continues to also work on his own solo career and has released 23 solo albums or his own to date.


His first bass gig was in the west side of Chicago with Otis Rush's (L) band.He didn't even own a bass when he called him for the gig so he had to run out and purchase one right quick.

From Rock N' Roll to Radio Operator

Company A, 6th Battalion, 2nd Brigade, US Army Training Center, Armor (USATCA) is really jumping since Private Phillip Upchurch arrived on the scene. The 24 year old private really hit it big in 1961 at the age of 19 when The Phil Upchurch Combo recorded "You Can't Sit Down" one of the top ten songs across the nation for several weeks.

Besides playing with the famed Dee Clark Show in such places as Hawaii, Bermuda, and the Bahamas, Phil Upchurch has appeared at the celebrated Apollo Theatre in New York and the Cellar Door in Washington DC with Oscar Brown, Jr. Pvt. Upchurch is the son of Phillip and Cyrenna Upchurch of Chicago. After completing active duty, he will return to his R&B group and turn out more smash hits. At the present time he is studying to be an intermediate speed radio operator at A-6-2, but between the dits and dahs, he can be seen playing at the Ft. Knox NCO Clubs.

Donny Hathaway is one of the greatest vocalist/composer/arrangers of the 20th century American classical music (that's what I call our music). I first met him he was with Curtis Mayfield's M.D. & keyboardist. He was fresh out of Howard University. He called me when he got to Chicago and I immediately assembled a band and called it "the Co-Ops" The photo at left was our business card and we worked our butts off around Chicago. Duke Payne played bagpipes and saxophones (not at the same time) and Morris Jennings played drums. Morris was working part time at the P.O. in Chicago. I told him if he let that day gig go his playing career would surely blossom and it did. My all-time favorite music is BLACK GOSPEL and like Ray Charles, Donny was the best of a mixture of gospel, R&B, and Jazz. His chord concepts would bring tears to my eyes on many occasions while we were performing. I'm Glad I was usually sweating enough to hide the tears.



I first met George in 1962 in Washington D.C. I was playing with Dee Clark and George was with Jack McDuff. Jack was our opening act and was playing my hit tune, "You Can't Sit Down". After the show I approached George and said to him, "Man, you all really cooked on "Can't Sit Down", matter of fact, you played it better than even me." George said,"So who are you?" I said "Phil Upchurch". He said "Man, you gotta be kidding." We've been fast friends ever since. In '74 he came through Chicago and asked me if I might have something to contribute to his prefect at the time, (The "Bad Benson" album). I felt so proud and privileged to have my favorite guitarist and friend call on me for some assistance. I of course leaped at the opportunity.

Said Than Done". He frowned on the idea of "Take 5" until hearing my arrangement of the tune. He said."Now you're talking". He asked if I would come to New York and play on the album with him so we could maintain the flavor of my songs and arrangements.

I met Michael Jackson right before Jacksons were "discovered" by Motown and figured he was just another cute kid who would probably grow up to he no telling what else. Their father would bring them to Chicago on weekends and they would go around to different social functions in the hotels downtown, do their routine They were cleaning up because there was always a lot of functions happening in the many hotels on the weekends. I would venture a guess that they were doing probably 2 or 3 gigs on some nights.

My ex-wife told me that Joe Jackson hired me to come to Gary and do a demo with his boys but I only have a vague memory of it. She said the kids were excited to have me play with them and that Michael even asked me for an autograph. when she told me that, the first thing I did was to write to his office for an autographed picture of Michael and to my surprise I had my autographed color 8 x 10 in my hands in less than a week.


ANDRES SEGOVIA over 70 years ago single handedly put the guitar in the classical orchestra. When he was a young boy they laughed at him when he said he wanted to play the guitar with the orchestra. The guitar was considered to be a parlor instrument and nobody was doing this when Segovia first tried. Also there was only a small handfull of teachers for him to go to in all of Europe because nobody was playing serious music on the guitar on a scale that the orchestras were so he had to set about transcribing violin and piano concertos for the guitar himself. Nowhere in the world has any classical guitarist achieved the level of musicianship Segovia did in his prime or his greatness in the world of classical music. Meeting him and watching him play at the age of 92 amazed me like nothing else. He was so ingrossed in his art he forgot to get old...

I never played any of the eastern block country's and never really wanted to. I'm not curious about what's behind barbed wire and machine gun post. I got nervous enough traveling in Italy where at the airport the police carried what looked like little machine guns on their shoulders.

At the end of the 80's right before the war broke out in Croatia I played there with Jimmy Smith. I wouldn't want to travel or work in those areas again. ever at the best restaurants, whatever was on the menus might not be in the kitchen. The things we take for, granted like meat and potatoes aren't always in abundant supply in a lot of the restaurants.

The people there were very cordial and very much into the music. That's the wonderful thing about music, especially blues and jazz. It can transcend all cultural levels, delete boundaries and bring people together who might not ever under other circumstances be in the same room together. Theres nothing more gratifying than to receive a standing ovation especially If it was for something performed that comes from your heart rather than performing your hit, whatever that might be. Not that its not nice to have a hit to perform. TWO of my most gratifying performances were in Barcelona, Spain and Pasadena, California.

In Barcelona, I was playing with Jimmy and usually midway the set, he leaves me up there to play some solo guitar pieces. I've been practicing the Bach Chaconne since 1985 and I consider it to be a hobby. I never intended to play any of the classical pieces I study on stage. I had just purchased a new classical electric and said to myself, what the hell, why not. I played my usual Jazz and blues solo pieces and Jimmy had not come back up on the bandstand so I decided to just dive into the Chaconne and when I finished, to my amazement the audience was hollering and screaming like mad. I wish I could get that kind of reaction from the stuff I usually play.

The other very memorable ovation was the 1994 Annual Kirk Whalum Boys & Girls Club Benifit Concert. I closed the first half of the show and decided to play a very slow blues for my last tune. I counted it off. ....a...onnnne...twoooooooooo.. ..threeeeeee... By the time I play the downbeat into the first bar, from what my close friend Tony Rhambo told me, the audience was In the palm of my hand. That funky B.B.King patented triplet from "Sweet Sixteen" that I use at the beginning of my slow blues in A-flat always gets their attention. At the end of the tune, the whole house was on their feet much to my surprise. All of the audiences that I have played for have always had a deep appreciation for the blues all over the world but this crowd was into it more than any other up to this point in my career.

(Thank You very much Mr. B.B. King).


The Guitar Summit

The guitarist's I wanted for this Summit I felt should also be the ones who represented R&B thru at least the last 3 decades which would include the 60's and 70's. These years represented the time of the metamorphoses of the music from urban blues to R&B. . The music was a hybrid of gospel and blues. Some of the most important recordings in history were made during these decades and I wanted to include in the summit, some of the guitar players that were a prominent part of this development.The players I felt that had the most individual styles in this area were Wah-Wah Watson, David T. Walker, Eric Gale, and Al McKay.

We also had James Jamerson Jr. on bass and James Gadson on drums.