Honour for a Vagabond
Phil Chen (left) and RobbyKrieger of The Doors

IT is hard to find a major pop act bass player Phil Chen did not play with in the '70s and '80s.

Chen, now is his late 60s, will receive the Order of Distinction on October 20 during the National Honours and Awards at King's House.

In July, he was in Jamaica to accept an award for his contribution to Jamaican music, from organisers of the annual Tribute to The Greats show.

A national award, he told the Sunday Observer, is icing on the cake.

“To get a national award from the government of Jamaica is a dream come true, as it puts me in the bracket of Miss Lou (Louise Bennett Coverley), Bob Marley, master Ernie Ranglin and many of my fellow jamaicans who have inspired me,” Chen said.

Chen joined the Vagabonds band as a guitarist in 1963, shortly after leaving St George's College. He switched to bass when the bandleader, his cousin Colston Chen, returned to Jamaica from the United Kingdom where the Vagabonds moved to in 1964.

Chen became an in-demand session player in London, rubbing shoulders with musicians including Pete Townsend (guitarist of The Who), Jimi Hendrix, the Animals and Jeff Beck.

It was playing on Beck's groundbreaking 1975 album, Blow by Blow, that paved the way for Chen to record and tour with Rod Stewart, The Doors, Paul McCartney, The Eurhythmics, Eddie Van Halen and the Bee Gees.

One of his signature bass lines is on Stewart's massive 1978 dance hit, Do Ya Think I'm Sexy.

“All this started with a home-made guitar, listening to (saxophonist) Sugar Belly next door at the Rainbow (Kingston club). I am truly blessed,” said Chen.

 — Howard Campbell

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