The music of Charlie Phillips has been described as a hybrid of rock and blues - a melted-together blend of the Beatles, Tom Petty and Van Morrison with accents of reggae, folk and soul thrown intermittently in. To those who have experienced him personally, listened to his music either live or on a CD or the radio, however, his musical styling cannot be compartmented into a specific genre or category. In realty, his style is simply Charlie - pure, unadulterated music from the heart.
Music has always provided a vibrant, peaceful presence in Charlie Phillips’ life. It all started when he was a young boy growing up in Drexel Hill, seated next to a turntable, fervently listening to the Beatles’ Abbey Road.
“I’ve always been listening to music,” Charlie said, “I’m the youngest of six children and they’re all music people. I’d borrow my brother’s 45’s and play them until the grooves wore out. It was all around me.”
Decades later, at his charmingly secluded hilltop home in Glen Mills, music still surrounds Charlie, his wife of six months, Teresa, and their dog. The seemingly enlightened sense of tranquil simplicity occupying the space is the culmination of years spent on the spiritual journey of yoga and songwriting, but it hasn’t always been this way.
Despite playing music since adolescence, Phillips did not start writing his own songs until his time as an undergraduate at Northeastern University in Boston.
“I wrote a whole lot for almost 20 years, but I never tried to make a CD or to get it out there,” Phillips said, “That part of my career is pretty new. My first CD came out five years ago.”
It was at the behest of a fellow musician/songwriter that Phillips first began attempting to distribute his music to others.
“About 10 years ago I started to get involved in some songwriters groups. One year one of the members of my group came up to me and said that I really owe it to the world to make a CD. I was really touched by that, that she would say that.”
Music has always been a part of Phillips’ life, but it has never been his only focus. For 20 years after completing graduate school at Drexel University, Phillips worked for an environmental consulting firm.
It was after this career that he spent time in the Big Sur region of central California becoming acquainted with the arts of yoga and massage therapy.
“When I first started to write music, it didn’t really come from the heart,” said Phillips, “As I grew older, and especially as I got into yoga and things began to deepen inside of me, I think my music became much more personal and more expressive. There is a lot of philosophy and a lot of it is based on my own experience. There is a message that I try to convey to people in the hope that they get something out of it.”
In the beginning, Charlie Phillips’ talents were mostly reserved for bar patrons and confined to covering other artists’ music.
“Part of the development of my own material was that I grew tired of playing in bars where people weren’t really listening,” said Phillips, “They were mostly getting drunk and asking to hear ‘American Pie’ one more time.”
Now, he plays almost exclusively his own music, which he considers a mark of growth as an artist. At the same time, however, it can be nerve-wracking. There was never much pressure in playing covers of other songs. It became almost second-nature to Phillips. The courage to get on stage and play his own music, however, was something he had to attain with experience.
“The reaction I get from people to my own music is so much deeper. That’s really become important to me.”
In addition to his steadily-flourishing musical career, he now owns and operates his own yoga studio, Barefoot Yoga and Massage in Thornton.
“I’ve never been in it for the money,” he said, “If something ever happened to one of my songs, sure that would be great, but I remember reading a quote from B.B. King, I think, when asked how to get one’s music out there. He said, ‘Play as often as you can and in front of as many people as you can.’ That’s sort of been my credo. I just want my music to be heard.”
“Little Things,” a track on Phillips’ third and most recent album, What Is It, beautifully illustrates his simple and carefree take on life through a catchy, almost folk-sounding tune.
“Do the little things, and the big things will come,” said Phillips. “That’s just something that I believe only because it’s happened to me. I’ve found that to be true.”
The song echoes the message of “The Next Right Thing,” from Phillips’ previous album, JustLove!, which asks the listener not to try to do everything at once or tackle all of life’s biggest problems, but to just handle the next thing in front of them.
“I really like simplicity and minimalism,” said Phillips, “I try to bring that into my life and, more recently, into my songs as well.”
This spoken simplicity is clearly manifested in his home. A snaking, uphill driveway gives way to a charming but splendid abode. Quietly nestled amid the ridges of western Delaware County, the place feels more like the site of a summer retreat than someone’s full-time home.
Phillips attributes much of his talent not only to his musical surroundings, but to the support of his family. As the baby of the group (four brothers and a sister), he was raised by his mother, a nurse and homemaker, and his father, an economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I started college as a chemistry major and, after one semester, switched to philosophy,” Phillips remembered, smiling, “My parents were supportive. My dad said he just wanted me to be happy.”
Phillips said that acquaintances often marvel at the strength and closeness of his brothers and sister, dispersed neatly throughout the northeastern United States and Canada, and considers his newlywed wife to be a further positive influence.
“I have a song on my first album called Wealth of Friends,” he said. “I’m just blessed with a circle of amazing people in my life, and it’s nothing I did on my own. It just kind of happened. I do believe that what you put out, you get back. I try to treat people properly and be nice to them.”
“I just want to keep writing and performing. The band I play in, we just have a good time. We have fun when we play.”
Phillips has known his bassist, John Childers, since he was 11. His guitarist John Heenan, who goes by “Bluffer,” is a bowling buddy. The drummer, Al Cochrane, is a yoga friend. Getting on stage and having fun with his friends serves as a welcome distraction from the all-too-frustrating process of gaining airplay and record sales.
“I try not to get caught up in the business of things,” Charlie said, “It gets frustrating sometimes. Whenever I feel bogged down in the business end of it, I always just return to my intention that I’m not doing this to make a zillion dollars or to get famous, I’m doing this because I love it and I love to perform.”
Now, he seems to be doing just fine. His music has received airplay on WXPN 88.5 in Philadelphia, as well as on dozens of other radio stations from Alaska to the Virgin Islands, including NPR. On the first Friday of every month, Phillips performs at Burlap and Bean Coffee in Newtown Square.
“As long as people come to the shows and leave feeling happier than they did when they came in, then to me I’m doing the job that I want to do.”
At 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 22 the Charlie Phillips Band will be performing as a part of the Delaware County Summer Music Festival in Rose Tree Park, Route 252 in Upper Providence.