The instrumentalist, songwriter and sideman became a go-to guitarist for some of post-punk and alt-rock’s most influential figures.
“Not only was he a wonderful musician, but he was a wonderful person,” said his friend and longtime collaborator Black in a statement, “That’s what people responded to with Dave: his core kindness. He just had really good mojo. I always felt like I was better for having known him, and I was always a little better whenever I was around him. There was something about him that was elevated, advanced. I always figured, well maybe some of this will rub off on me.”
“He was the gentlest, sweetest man that I’ve probably ever known,” noted Stinson. “I never heard him raise his voice, I never heard him besmirch anyone. He was a really great guy…and he was a really great player. To get all of that in one human being is incredible to me. He was rare person. It’s a big, big loss.”
Born in Florence, Alabama, Philips moved to Georgia as a child, growing up in Watkinsville. As a teenager, Philips gravitated to the flourishing music scene in the nearby college town of Athens. He worked with several local bands including Little Debbie and Redneck Greece Delux.
He began working with Athens singer-songwriter Jack Logan and was featured on his 1994 “Bulk.” Philips became a key part of Logan’s band Liquor Cabinet, contributing guitar, pedal steel, vocals and songwriting to albums including 1996’s “Mood Elevator” and 1999’s “Buzz Me In” The group would also make a pair of memorable appearances on NBC’s Today show and perform on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
After living in New Orleans for a time, Philips moved to Los Angeles in 1997, where he joined Stinson’s post-Replacements combo Perfect. At the time, Stinson was fronting the band and playing the guitar rather than bass, as he had in The Replacements. “I actually met him at the wedding of [former Replacements manager] Peter Jesperson,” recalled Stinson. “I saw him play at the reception. I watched him and said ‘Man, this guy smokes me, I should stick to what I know, which is bass.’ So I moved back over to bass and he came on board.”
Philips recorded an album with the group and producer Jim Dickinson at Ardent Studios in Memphis. The LP, “Seven Days a Week,” was shelved by the band’s label at the time, but would eventually be released in 2004 as “Once, Twice, Three Times a Maybe.” Philips would also go on to work on Stinson’s 2004 solo album “Village Gorilla Head.”
Starting in the late-‘90s, Philips began a long and close collaboration with Pixies frontman Black, serving as a member of his group The Catholics. After initially being hired as a session guitarist – on the recommendation of the Pixies’ Joey Santiago — Philips would become an indispensable member of Black’s musical ensemble.
Philips would appear on half a dozen releases with Black, from 2000’s “Dog In the Sand” to the 2015 concert album, “Live at Melkweg.”
Black and Philips would often perform live as a duo. “I’d be up at the mic with my guitar, he would sit down at the pedal steel,” recalled Black. “We developed this schtick onstage, where I would talk and say things to him, but he didn’t have a mic to respond. Without missing a beat, he would do this Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin thing, all these facial expressions and shrugs. The audience used to go crazy for that. Everyone fell in love with him, because he was so incredibly charming. It made me more charming by association. That’s the way he was. He made everyone he played with better somehow.”
In 2005, Philips was recruited by Guided by Voices main man Pollard to join his new group, The Ascended Masters. Philips toured with Pollard – as part of a guitar tandem that included late power pop hero Tommy Keene – throughout 2006. The group’s skill was captured on the 2006 live album “Moon,” recorded when the band opened arena dates for Pearl Jam.
Philips also worked with a wide range of artists from country rock outfit The Lisa Marr Experiment, singer-songwriter Moris Tepper, and The Tommy Keene Group.
Donations for musicians in need may be made in honor of Dave Philips to MusiCares, a non-profit organization established in 1989 and incorporated in 1993 by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
He is survived by his partner Kathleen and a daughter.