How old were you when you started playing guitar?
I began guitar in fifth grade, when there was a beginner guitar class. After that, I didn't pick the guitar back up until high school, when my friends started a band.
What was your first guitar? Did you buy it yourself? Do you still have it?
My first guitar was a Yamaha student classical guitar. I lost it in a breakup with a girlfriend in college.
Did your parents or grandparents play any instruments? If so, what did they play? Did you ever get a chance to play with them?
I was the oddball musician in my family. My mom rings handbells in her church bell choir, but beyond that, no. Both of my brothers sang in high school chorus and my younger brother plays some mandolin and trumpet. No one was particularly serious about it.
What are the guitars that you play? Do you have a favorite? If so, why is it your favorite?
My main guitar is a Gibson J45, but I have an Epiphone version that's been replacing it for gig work. I also have a Michael Kelly tele style electric, a rubber-bridge acoustic, a 60s Kay tenor acoustic, a ukulele, and a tenor banjo. When playing solo gigs, I find that having a variety of sounds really helps keep interest for the audience.
Phil's Gibson - Photo credit: Sarah Grandchamp
Photo credit: Kyle ThunderSnow Hayden
Phil with his banjo.
What strings do you use (brands and gauges)? How often do you change your strings?
I have been faithful to Martin Marquis strings. I try others, but always come back to them! When I'm playing a lot, especially over the summer, I will change as often as every week to make sure I don't break one at a gig!
Do you use a pick? If so, what brand and thickness?
Yes, Jim Dunlop nylon picks, .73 thick. I'll use .88 for electric.
Do you use any effect pedals? If so, what are your favorites?
I have a Line 6 Pod Go for some basic EQ, delay, reverb, a touch of compression. Also, I use it to have an "impulse response" which is a custom EQ made by recording my guitar with a condenser mic. It's similar to Fishman Aura or a Toneprint pedal - makes the plugged in sound more similar to a studio microphone sound.
Do you work on your own guitars or do you bring them to a guitar tech? Are there any guitar techs that you would like to recommend?
I go to a tech: my local guitar store for simple stuff and a luthier for more complex stuff (cracks, refretting, etc.)
Do you have a favorite guitar shop? What makes it a good shop?
Be Music in Rutland, VT! Shop local!
At what age did you start writing songs?
Around 15 or 16 I started writing songs because I was playing guitar, but I wasn't very good at it! Writing songs meant no one could tell me I was doing it wrong!
What is your songwriting process? Is it the music or the lyrics that usually come to you first? Do you write old school on paper, or electronically?
I either start with a lyrical idea, or I mess around on guitar until a fragment of lyric appears. Then I expand from that idea.
Who are the top three musicians or bands that have had a major influence on you?
Early on, and still, Paul Simon is #1! After that, Martin Sexton, Peter Mulvey, Dar Williams, Richard Thompson, Richard Shindell, Gillian Welch… wait, three?
Phil with Peter Mulvey - photo credit: Gary Moon
Phil with Richard Shindell.
If you could jam with one person, living or dead, who would it be?
I'm too intimidated to jam.
What are your top three “desert island” albums?
Rhythm of the Saints by Paul Simon, Gordon by Barenaked Ladies, Vuelta by Richard Shindell.
What was the first concert you attended? What was the last concert you attended?
First: The Kingston Trio at Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Last: Black Bear Americana Festival in Goshen, CT
The Beatles or the Stones?
Where and when was your first paid gig? How much did you make?
At my college, there was an on campus pizza place called the Bears Den, and I probably made $40.
What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?
I just recently was voted by the audience as a "Most Wanted" to return to play the mainstage at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival next summer!
Phil at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival
What has been your worst gig so far and why? (You don’t have to name names).
I played a pretty terrible bar gig just before the COVID shutdown with almost no people, and those who were there were rude. That bar shut down permanently. Ha ha.
What are some of the venues you enjoy performing at the most? What things make the venue enjoyable for the performer (location, equipment, setup, organizers)?
I love great listening rooms where people are there to hear music, not talk, or drink. My all time favorites are Caffe' Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY and Ripton Community Coffeehouse in Vermont.
Phil at Caffe' Lena. - photo credit Allison Norton Henry
Phil at The Ripton Community Coffeehouse.
How do you work out your setlist?
If I'm playing solo, sometimes I DON'T. I'll feel out the audience and build as I go.
Is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out in the music business?
It IS a business. Treat it with the same focus as you do the ART.
Do you have any suggestions for a guitarist or songwriter who might be stuck in a musical rut?
Play a different instrument. Try to emulate the style of a musician who's not on your usual list of influences. Read something. Go to a concert that's out of your wheelhouse.
If you weren’t a singer-songwriter, what would you be doing for work?
I'm already doing it. I'm a music teacher at a K-12 school. I teach Chorus, general music classes, world percussion, and a rock band class.
Photo credit: Allison Norton Henry
Please list some of your upcoming shows, plug your music and provide links to your merchandise.
My upcoming shows, merch, videos, and more can be found at philhenryband.com.
Photo credit: Craig Harris