Jon Bon Jovi was stunned when he first heard Philip Sayce play guitar alongside Melissa Etheridge at the 2007 Grammy Awards. After the performance, Bon Jovi told the audience, “I want to give a special nod to Philip, who I immediately opened the program and said ‘Who the fuck is that guitar player?’ Pretty fabulous Philip.”
In 2003, Sayce joined Melissa Etheridge’s band, played on her albums for several years and left audiences stunned by his stellar guitar playing. “He’s the best kept secret in Rock & Roll…and I found him,” boasts Etheridge.
I too was wowed the first time I saw Philip Sayce’s live at Grossman’s Tavern in Toronto, where he first began playing at age 16. When Sayce was just in his teens and playing Toronto clubs, the late great musician Jeff Healey noticed Sayce’s incredible blues guitar and vocal skills and invited Philip to join his band. Sayce was only 19 at the time and toured with Jeff Healey’s band for three and a half years.
In the interim, Sayce released seven solo studio albums. His first live album Scorched Earth Volume 1 comes out on September 30th. “Since it’s Volume 1, the intention is to put out Volume 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and keep going. It gives room for things to be on the next episode,” he explains. Sayce is also playing a series of shows in Ontario and Quebec, starting in Montreal on November 3rd at Café Campus.
Sayce is a bold and aggressive guitar player, shredding and wailing away on his vintage Fender Stratocaster, but he also nails the dynamics and subtleties of soulful blues music. His speed, precision and technical proficiency on the guitar is stunning, yet he remains a true bluesman channeling B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix.
Scorched Earth Vol. 1 kicks off with Sayce playing an incredibly soulful a capella guitar solo, winding up this very energetic and groovy rock and blues album. His solo seamlessly morphs into the original song Steamroller, which has the depth and soul of an old blues classic. This song bleeds into the rock-infused Powerful Thing, with plenty more shredding on the guitar and full-bodied vocals.
Two cover songs on the album pay tribute to his blues forefathers: Blues Ain’t Nothing but a Good Woman on Your Mind by Don Covay and Standing Around Crying by Muddy Waters, which blends perfectly into Sayce’s beautifully melodic original instrumental track Aberystwyth.
The song Aberytswyth was named after the Welch coastal down where Sayce was born. He hasn’t yet been back since he was 2 year old. “I sort of have a minds eye view of what Aberystwyth would be. If I’m trying to get into the song, I’ll think of a scene from a thousand years ago, maybe there’s giant ships coming in, and I’ll try to think about a landscape happening and play around that,” explains Sayce.
The song Alchemy is a second seven-and-a-half-minute instrumental that closes the album on a more sentimental, velvety and smoky note. The song is dedicated to Sayce’s wife, his high school sweetheart.
The question many ask is: Why have I never heard of Philip Sayce? He’s a singular talent, a guitar prodigy, a powerful blues singer and songwriter, an incredible live performer and he’s strikingly handsome. Why is he is not better known?
Part of the reason may be that it has been a turbulent time in the music industry: “It has shifted; it’s completely wiped the game clean,” affirms Sayce. “The reality is that the way that people made money through music up until 5 years ago is completely different now.”
What’s more, making pop music to make money doesn’t appeal much to Sayce. “There’s already a great Maroon 5 and there’s already a great John Mayer. How many times have I been asked to just copy what they’re doing and make lots of of money?,” says Sayce. “I’m just not open to working with the circus and that’s where I’ve had to draw a line in the sand. If I wanted to get into something strictly to make money, then I should be going into tech or be a trader.”
Musical integrity is more important to Sayce. “I’m committed to growing, getting deeper, learning more, expanding and reaching exponentially more people,” he says. “That’s what I’ve devoted my life to, which is playing music and trying connect with people on an energetic level.”
Sayce is an artist that is truly focused on his music and his craft, and says he doesn’t like to think too much of the business side of a changing music industry or the musical tastes of his audience, because it pollutes the music.
“The thing that hasn’t changed is that people can still be moved by music. So my job is to stay focused and do the best that I can at what I’m good at,” affirms Sayce.“If I can stay in touch with gratitude, keep the music pure and connect with people, my intention is to keep expanding and continuing to grow.”
Philip Sayce plays Café Campus in Montreal on November 3rd, 2016. Doors 7:30 pm / Show 8:30 pm, 18+ (adults only). Tickets available here ($20).
Annie Webb writes the blog Spaced-Out Scientist.