As a youngster, Philip Sayce attended his first ever rock concert at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens. In his words, it proved to be a “double whammy”. Eric Clapton supported by Dire Strait’s string-bender Mark Knopfler. That concert would have a life-altering effect on Sayce, who had emigrated to the Toronto area from Wales with his family at the age of two.
“Clapton was one of my parents’ favourite performers so they took me along to the concert. I have such vivid memories of that night”, reflected the amicable Sayce on the phone from Los Angeles. “I had never even touched a guitar at that stage but there was something about Clapton’s performance which deeply affected me.
Sayce received his first store-bought guitar from Sears and developed such a proficiency that in 2013, he performed on stage at New York’s Madison Square Garden at Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival concert.
Now about to release his major label debut, ‘Influence’, distributed by Warner Music Canada, Sayce claims he owes much to the influence of Clapton, Knopfler and other British based players like Jeff Beck and Ten Years After’s Alvin Lee but also noted that Canadian blues guitar players like Jeff Healey and Colin James also had a profound effect on his early development.
“I remember being in a car north of Toronto. Suddenly Jeff Healey’s “See The Light” came on the radio” remembered Sayce. “My reaction was, `what is this!?!. I was so elated I punched the radio.”
The following day, Sayce also heard Colin James’ “Voodoo Thing” and he began to realize that Canada also boasted some great blues players. Years later, inspired by all this activity, a 16-year old Sayce started to hang around the Toronto blues bar circuit of Grossmans, The Silver Dollar, Albert’s Hall and the Horseshoe and eventually hooked up with Jeff Healey himself, touring the world in Healey’s band for almost four years.[youtube width=”600″ height=”400″ video_id=”3QCzJuduDf8″]
“That was an awesome experience,” noted Sayce. “To hear Jeff sing and play was like the voice of God coming through him. Man what a special player!. Even today, I constantly watch his You Tube video clips just to watch him play and study him. Some people went to University to get a degree, I claim I got my education at the U of Jeff.
Seeking fresh challenges, Sayce found himself in L.A performing with Uncle Kracker. “Kracker had just struck out on his own after leaving Kid Rock and had a monster single, “Drift Away” which was a Dobie Gray song,” explained Sayce. “Touring with Uncle Kracker was a great experience, he gave me plenty of space on stage, we did all the big talk shows; Letterman, Leno, we did Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve show but we were also doing a lot of one nighters all over the place. It would be Los Angeles one night, Chicago the next and Miami the next. I also developed a nasty habit of blowing amps on stage.”
Sayce was in L.A’s Westwood Music store one day, checking out replacement amps when a guy walks into the store, walks straight up to Philip, turns up the volume knob on the amp Sayce was playing and then handed Sayce his business card. The card was from top L.A music producer John Shanks who called a couple of days later and asked if Sayce wanted to play in Melissa Etheridge’s band just in time for him to go out on her “Lucky” tour.
“Playing with Melissa was a great experience,” reflected Sayce. “She gave me complete space on stage and I tried to be like a sponge, soaking up the entire experience. I had the privilege to perform with her at the Grammys in 2005 where she blew the roof off the Staples Center in Los Angeles while she was still receiving radiation therapy for breast cancer. It was such a powerful performance. I also had the opportunity to record on Melissa’s song “I Need To Wake Up,” from Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” documentary. Melissa invited us to perform the song with her at the Academy Awards where it won the Oscar that evening for best song in a movie.”
Although neither Uncle Kracker or Melissa Etheridge could be considered traditional blues rock performers, Sayce appreciated that both artists had a grounding in roots music and both had given him a great deal of latitude as a performer but his ultimate goal was to pursue a solo career. That’s where things got frustrating!
“I kept being asked if I could be more generic, be more like Maroon 5. They didn’t even want me to play guitar, just stand there and sing,” fumed Sayce. “There was no way I was going to compromise my music so I decided to go where I would be appreciated.”
That destination was Europe and the UK where Sayce released albums such as `Peace Machine’ (2009), `Ruby Electric’ (2011) and `Steamroller’ (2012) on the Dutch-based Provogue label. All received glowing reviews from British and European music critics, enabling Sayce to tour with the likes of ZZ Top and Deep Purple. “I just found people over in Europe to be more receptive, maybe it’s because this is where Clapton, Beck and Knopfler came from, this is where Jimi Hendrix first became famous. I just found a synergy over there with my music.”
Sayce’s Madison Square Garden appearance at Eric Clapton’s 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival sparked a renewed interest in his music stateside but it was a bizarre series of co-incidences which led to Sayce signing with Warner Music Canada.
“I was trying to decide what to listen to on my Spotify account one morning and decided to check out Slash’s Rock N Roll Playlist,” recalled, Steve Waxman, the label’s national publicity director. “About the sixth track in I hear this track “Ruby Electric” by some guy called Philip Sayce and my reaction was WOW! This is the kind of music I would have in my own collection, but I had never heard it before. The next day I went to Philip’s Spotify page and started listening to `Steamroller’ and I’m thinking `Holy Shit! I went to his website to find out more about him but it didn’t really tell me anything so I went to Wikipedia and read that he was from Toronto!”
After further research, Waxman sent Sayce an email praising his work, and a couple of days later received an e-mail from Philip’s manager asking if Warner Music Canada would consider distributing his records.
“That wasn’t why I sent him the note. I only wanted to tell him that I thought he was excellent, but I went to our president Steve Kane to take his temperature on the idea,” reflected Waxman. “I said, he’s a great player, a great singer and he looks like a rock star – he’s the total package.”
Sayce had virtually completed work on his latest record ‘Influence’ with producer Dave Cobb but Waxman wanted any Canadian release to qualify for Can Con status and have a better shot at radio play so he invited Sayce to fly to Toronto to record two new tracks with producer Michael Nielsen at Revolution Studios.
Sayce arrived in Toronto, recorded Ten Years After’s `I’d Love To Change The World’, Canned Heat’s `On The Road Again’ and also appropriately performed at a Jeff Healey Tribute concert at Massey Hall with The Downchild Blues Band.
The resulting release `Influence, due out April 7th , features “I’d Love To Change The World” as the lead-off single along with `On The Road Again’, other covers including The Sonics’ `I’m Going Home’, `Little Feat’s `Sailing Shoes’, Don Covay’s `Blues Ain’t Nothing But A Good Woman On Your Mind’, Little Richard’s `Green Power’ and Graham Nash’s `Better Days’ mixed in with six original compositions, two of which; “Out Of My Mind” and “Evil Woman” are reminiscent of vintage Jimi Hendrix.
“I wanted this record to be a tribute to a number of different, classic blues stylings, and roots music that have influenced my career. Artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Clapton, Beck and Knopfler but also players like Buddy Guy, Albert Collins and Jeff Healey,” noted Sayce. “Producer Dave Cobb has some incredible vintage recording equipment and amazing ears. We share a deep love of organic tomes and roots music, so I brought my favourite vintage guitars and tried to make the recordings as real as possible.
Trying to bring an authentic blues rock album to a mass audience weaned on boy bands and rap may be a tall order but if any record can re-state blues rock as being cool and current, `Influence’ is that record.
As for Sayce, he’s just delighted that he finally has a major record company to distribute his releases and he is up for the challenge of trying to re-introduce blues rock to the masses.
“Rock music was always about breaking rules ,” concludes Sayce. “So now it’s time to break some of those rules.”
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