Jazz. Rock. Jazz-rock. Across more than four decades, legendary drummer Simon Phillips has shown an uncanny ability to excel in most any musical environment. Precision, intensity and emotion are hallmarks of Simon’s sound in every setting. And working with many of the world’s most prominent musicians from an early age, he has repeatedly made his mark through scores of historic recordings and tours around the globe.
Simon’s father, Sid Phillips, was a highly disciplined intelligence officer in the RAF during World War II, and later led a Dixieland band where Simon got his start on drums at the age of 12. Simon soon joined the London production of Jesus Christ Superstar and quickly gained a reputation as someone who could make music sound good, leading to lots of recording sessions while still in his teens. By his twenties, Simon had already worked with iconic figures including Jeff Beck, Jack Bruce, Pete Townshend, Al Di Meola, Jon Anderson, Jan Hammer, Stanley Clarke, Jon Lord, Mike Oldfield, Brian Eno and others. Several of these artists had been important pioneers of the jazz-rock genre in the early and mid-1970s, also called fusion.
“Nothing is easy. If you want to be good at something, you go to the nth degree to do it.”
High-profile recordings and/or tours were soon to come with the likes of Mick Jagger, Asia, The Who, Gary Moore, Joe Satriani and many more. But it was the untimely death of drummer Jeff Porcaro that led to Simon’s 21-year presence in Toto (1992-2014), highlighted by ten albums and numerous world tours. During this period Phillips also worked on various projects led by Steve Lukather, Michael Schenker, Derek Sherinian and others.
More squarely within the realm of the jazz world, Simon worked in a trio led by virtuoso pianist Hiromi along with electric bassist Anthony Jackson (Chick Corea). This rich association lasted seven years, producing five albums from 2011-16 and touring extensively. During this period Phillips also performed in a jazz-rock trio with French keyboardist Philippe Saisse (Al Di Meola) and electric bassist Pino Palladino (Steve Gadd), under the group name PSP.
“I’m a jazz player… so I like to push the limits and do stuff out of the blue.”
The seeds for Protocol were first planted during the 1980s, when Simon began composing in earnest. He wrote all the tunes and played all the instruments on his first Protocol release in 1989. While Toto was his primary endeavor at the time, Phillips released several more jazz-rock albums as a leader from 1992-2000 with which he continued to hone his songwriting chops.
Listeners can discern the influence of many great drummers in Simon’s sound, not the least of which is ‘70s-era Tony Williams. According to Simon, “I was introduced to Tony by Jack Bruce back in 1977. His 1975 album, Believe It, is still one of my favorites. Not only the music and the playing (it features guitar god Allan Holdsworth), but the sound. Bruce Botnick was the engineer and I have to admit I used that template as a guide for Protocol II when I mixed it.”