Phil Keaggy: The veteran singer/guitarist recalls the Beatles on 'Crimson And Blue'

Wednesday 1st December 1993

Jan Willem Vink spoke at length to Christendom's premier guitar hero, PHIL KEAGGY.

Continued from page 1

The bio describes your album as a note-bending, bluesy guitar album. Do you feel your album is evolving more towards a bluesy sound, or is it going back to your roots?

"Well, I'm not a blues guitar player, but I can play blues. I've had the opportunity in the late 60s to jam with the likes of James Cotton, Otis Spann, etc. I've done concerts with people like Michael Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield, Alvin Bishop, a lot of great blues players. And I just like the blues, but I like a particular style or cuisine, it's not my main stay, not my main thing. There's a lot of bending of notes on this album. Because that's what certain players bring out in me, such as Phil Madeira. When I'm playing exclusively with John I get into another head, or frame of mind in playing, which is really seen on the "Further Adventures Of...", which is clearly a Glass Harpish thing. When I play with John and it's the two of us in the early 70s. When I get together with Lynn Nichols, he kind of brings out a different side of me altogether, perhaps a newer side to my style, which was introduced on "Blessed Be The Ties", or "I've Just Begun Again" and on this album the way I sing "World Of Mine" or "When Will I Ever Learn". Another song that Lynn's influenced the way I sing it would be something like "Shouts Of Joy" and even resinging "I Will Be There", it's got a different melody from the version that's on the 'Getting Closer' album, I sang with more of a heart and soul attitude than a pop attitude."

Do you feel the meaning of 'Crimson And Blue' is some kind of a paradox? On the one hand you say you sing about the pilgrimage towards heaven and on the other hand it's a daily struggle to live. Do you feel these things contradict each other or complete each other?

"To be honest with you 'Crimson And Blue', title and concept, did not come from me. So I never struggled with it. My A&R director at Myrrh, Mark Maxwell, titled the album. He came up with the title based on what he was hearing on the album. As he gave me the title to "Beyond Nature". He's a very creative fellow, and he is in search of definition for an artist's music. To describe my own music and this album, I didn't write this album to be a pictorial musical essay of what is crimson and what is blue or what is blues and what could be connotated with the term crimson. I just came up with the songs, co-wrote them with friends and I let people determine what the album means to them. I don't make an interpretation for them, before they listen to it. I like them to be able to hear it at face value, objectively. Everyone gets something different out of it anyway. I hear the album different than my record company or my producer or those that get a hold of it. The thing that is exciting about this album is that if someone's expecting the album and is waiting to hear it, they're going to like it. Because when you are anticipating something you are more out to enjoy what's coming to you if you already have a basis for appreciation of an artist's music. Although there are cases where an artist puts something out and there has been an air of expectancy and an anticipation and often times people are let down or disappointed. That has happened with my own albums, with my own music in the past, I've got the letters to prove it. With this particular album I'm not trying to set the stage for anything. I want people to hear it. So the title and the concept was really past the writing and the recording."

You say "Shouts Of Joy" talks about the fact that we are members of a heavenly kingdom. How does this apply to real life for you? A lot of people say I live here and now. How do you feel citizenship of heaven affects you here and now?

"I think because we are citizens of Heaven and that we are seated in heavenly places with Christ that affects our everyday walk here on earth. Even Jesus said, 'My kingdom is not of this earth' even while he walked here. And yet, because the kingdom in the Father's heart is what motivated the Lord Jesus Christ, it affected how he lived among us, how he gave, how he taught, how he healed and how he ultimately laid down his life as a sacrifice for us. That's because his home was not of this earth, not of this realm and I think we're born of the spirit and we have a relationship with our heavenly Father who is timeless and lives in eternity and because we have an eternal destiny we belong to a kingdom that is not of this earth and therefore we are motivated by completely different principles. So it affects how we live and how we relate to one another, it affects our family life, how we are in terms of living honestly and fairly, how we handle finances, whether we are cheaters or honest people, whether we're faithful or unfaithful, how we relate to our children, our neighbours and how we relate to our work as well. I find that as the song says, 'The kingdom of the Lord is made for all the good/For those who want to live in peace and brotherhood/So fellowman, let's all join hand to hand and raise our voice with shouts of joy.' It basically says because we are called by the king and we're part of his kingdom, it will affect how we live and how we will relate to our fellowmen. Not that we should live selfishly but selflessly for the benefit of others."

Can you tell me more of the background of "Reunion Of Friends"? Do you think reconciliation can be hard?

"I think, it can be and I think it is. Because there are various factors that have to play into reconciliation. One of them has to do with forgiveness; of course, the other one has to do with humiliation and pride. It has to do with being able to admit one is wrong and as one admits one is wrong the other needs to correspond with a heart of forgiveness and trust. Like when we have been forgiven by the Father for Jesus' sake, so too we shall forgive others. Reconciliation means humbling yourself to one another. And as we do that we are raised to greater heights. Also the song speaks that we can recapture the years that slipped away and relive all the memories still. We can pick up where we left off in a lot of ways and we can also find that there is renewal in the idea that the years that tore people apart, God can make up for because of grace and mercy. In my own personal situation, "Reunion Of Friends" had to do with me being reconciled with my sister and her family, because of our religious differences, if you will, that's primarily what it came down to. Finally, a heart just aches to be together in union and fellowship and to be of one accord as brother and sister."

Love won out?

"Yes, love did win out. And it was painful, but it taught us all a great lesson."

Can you tell some more about "Doing Nothing"? What made you write that song?

"Well, the song 'Doing Nothing' was written in the mid 80s. It was a song to be considered for "Sunday's Child" but as you can see the song has a completely different flavour than what "Sunday's Child" ended up being, not to mention the fact that the song went through three entirely different arrangements. The first one was very Dire Straitish. The second one was more Cream/Blind Faithish, the last one was more Bo Diddlyish, with, you know, the tink, tink, tink you hear often today. U2 used that particular rhythm. The song was originally written after a sit-com programme on primetime TV. It was a comedy and you heard the laugh tracks, it was obviously artificial, there wasn't a live audience like they did in the good old days or like Tracy Ullman uses a live audience. But it wasn't funny. The concept wasn't funny and it had to do with a moral concept. And the actual slant of the particular programme I was watching was basically making light of a very grave situation. It had to do with teen pregnancy, and abortion. Something people really go through and struggle with; when someone becomes pregnant and they don't want to be and what all that means. The way it was handled by the producer and directors just really discouraged me. Since then it has actually gotten worse on television. So I'm not a big fan of television. At best I tolerate it. I really look for things to see, the kind of programmes that build character and come from a moral point of view, just like movies and programmes used to be in the old days, not that television was ever perfect. But the song is just me getting a few things off my chest basically. And talking about producers and directors, they audition ladies who want to be big stars, little stars, they want to be film stars. In a lot of ways, they're being exploited. These days are days in which women are really speaking up about their rights, they don't want men to trample all over them and yet many women who want their independence seem to be saying yes to everyone who offers them a good deal, and sometimes at a great cost of their own personal self worth and self esteem and character. So, I said a lot more that I wanted to about that song: We took a message and tried to lighten the background, the musical structure in which the lyrics find their place, so I wouldn't come off like I would point my finger at you. It's basically like a commentary but put across tongue-in-cheek."

Phil Keaggy
Phil Keaggy

Can you tell some more about yourself?

"Well, I'm in my early 40s, 41. The thing that means the most to me is my marriage and our children. I enjoy the friendship of my peers and the people I have known for many, many years. I enjoy walks in the woods, coming home from a trip when I wish that I didn't have to travel as much as I do. Because you really lose a sense of consistency and routine. I enjoy the seasons. I enjoy living back here in Tennessee, where you have winter, spring, summer and fall and where you can in the winter light a fire and have a book to read. That sort of thing. I'm kind of an everyday average sort of -person. Life is fairly simple, I don't have a lot of extravagant hobbies."

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