Phil Keaggy, for anyone who has had the pleasure of knowing him, is a legend and one of the more gifted guitar players in the industry. Regardless of whether his name is spoken across the dinner table, he remains in rank with the upper echelon of players like Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Bloomfield, Duane Allman, or Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Phil is one of the most humble and personal musicians I have ever worked with. Talk to anyone who knows him and they will tell you the same.
Phil Keaggy, now at age 65, co-founded one of the first Christian-rock groups back in 1968; in the form of an Ohio-based power trio called the Glass Harp. Together with John Sferra (drums, vocals) and Daniel Pecchio (bass, flute, vocals), the band carved out a solid name for themselves in the early 70s. They recorded 3 studio albums between 1970-72, blending delicate and tear-jerking melodies based around beautiful song and Keaggy’s acoustic guitar skill, with face-melting electric rock n’ roll. Keaggy’s dynamic playing was and is distinctive for its seamless quality.
In common with the 3 Jimi Hendrix Experience studio albums, Keaggy’s playing on the 3 Glass Harp records is relatively subdued in comparison to the unbound energy which unleashes in live performance. In fact, Glass Harp’s live shows are the stuff of legend, often culminating in a 29 minute long medley woven into an epic journey – as preserved on their Live at Carnegie Hall album from 1972, which captured an opening set for The Kinks to astonished reaction from the audience. They were what you might call a “mean” Christian band; no literal connotation, of course.
And speaking of audience, mythical legend claims that in awe of Keaggy’s prowess, both Hendrix and Claption once took their hats off to him as the greatest guitarist in the world. Now according to Phil “that is nothing but a myth. I don’t see myself as great,” he says, “because I know of too many greats. I’m a grateful musician, I’m glad my fingers work great.”
At the height of Glass Harp’s budding fame, Keaggy bowed out. In the wake of a spiritual rebirth, the guitarist’s journey went a different musical path.
Keaggy recalls a funny story in which he remembers seeing an interview with Ted Nugent sometime after his departure from Glass Harp. Nugent mentioned him in the interview, communicating something along the lines of how Keaggy had gotten into religion and he hadn’t heard of him since. In fact, Keaggy had not gone away at all, he just slowed down the pace while embracing the calm of his faith and family.
“I turned into more of a gentle melody man,” he says, “even though I could still rock hard on the guitar!”
In fact, he pursued a prolific solo career in the decades following the breakup of the trio, has since made over 50 records, has received several awards and Grammy nominations, has been frequently listed as one of the world’s top-three finger-style/finger-picking guitarists by Guitar Player Magazine’s readers’ polls, and continues to actively record and perform today. As well, Glass Harp reunited 9 years after his departure, with the result of performing together about 3 times a year to this day.
On a side note, I was the house mixer for the “All Star Compassion band”, that Mark Hollingsworth put together for the Creation Festival in 1989 which drew over 100,000 people. The band featured Rick Cua – James Gang (bass, vocals), Mike Mead (percussion) Phil Keaggy (guitar, vocals) Joe English – Wings (drums, percussion, vocals), Margaret Becker (guitar, vocals), Randy Stonehill (guitar, vocals), and John Andrew Schreiner (keyboards, vocals).