Phil Chen, bass extraordinaire


Howard Campbell

Friday, June 29, 2012

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In commemoration of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of Independence from Britain, the Jamaica Observer’s Entertainment section recognises 50 persons who made significant, yet unheralded, contributions to the country’s culture. This week we feature Phil Chen.

COMING from a country that holds bass players in high regard, it is ironic Phil Chen should be filed under anonymous in Jamaican music annals. Chen has played with some of the biggest names in pop music including singer Rod Stewart.

Chen's most famous lines are heard on Do Ya Think I'm Sexy, Stewart's monster hit song from 1978. He was also a member of Stewart's recording and touring unit for several years.

In a 2003 interview with the Jamaica Observer, Chen summed up his career as a journeyman musician.

"Not to blow my own trumpet, but it's hard to find anybody who was anybody in the 1970s and 1980s whose record I didn't play on," he said.

Chen got the Stewart gig after working on Blow by Blow, the massively influential 1975 jazz/rock album by British guitarist Jeff Beck, a close friend of Stewart's.

The diminutive Chen's patterns can be heard on eight of the nine songs on Blow by Blow which is considered one of the definitive musician albums. A St George's College graduate, Chen played in the Vikings band on the Kingston club circuit before moving, in the late 1960s, to England where he found steady work as a guitarist and bassist.

The overwhelming success of Blow by Blow helped put his name in the league of top musicians in Britain, and it was not long after that the rising Stewart came calling.

Chen played on other Stewart hits such as Passion and Young Turks. He also worked on albums by Queen guitarist Brian May and ska bands in southern California where he currently lives.

Recently, Chen was a member of the Doors tribute band, Riders On The Storm, which included original members of the legendary rock band, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robbie Kreiger.

Two years ago, Chen returned to his roots when he played on singer Suzanne Couch's tribute album to reggae legend Desmond Dekker.

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