It’s Been A Long Time is the title of the debut album by Hugh Phillips, and the addition of one word to that phrase might describe the singer-songwriter’s arrival as an artist: It’s been a long time coming. In 2016, after a lengthy career as a Toyota auto technician, including 11 years as the owner of his own repair shop, Hugh decided to make a dramatic change of direction and commit to pursuing music full time. A life-long love of making music, along with a growing attraction to Americana music in all its forms, brought him to the crossroads, where he finally asked himself the question, “If it’s not now, then when?
As a boy, Hugh was introduced to making music by way of a steady diet of classical music instruction, initiated by his mom, herself a musician. Although he appreciates everything he learned about music back then, classical didn’t quite grab his soul the same way that bluegrass, country and other Americana styles have helped him “contemplate the human condition,” as he puts it.
During his teen years, his mom’s piano-playing boyfriend had a formative influence on Hugh’s later musical direction. “Him and my mom would play classical stuff together, but then he taught me a bunch of blues stuff and taught me about blues, the call-and-answer idea and things like that…It helped me look at popular music in a whole different way.” Hugh also points to a high-school buddy’s introduction to the music of the Grateful Dead as an important milepost in his musical journey.
But as for making the jump to professional music-making later in life, Hugh points to the RockyGrass Academy as providing the fuel that ignited his passion to get out and really perform. He describes this week-long bluegrass music summer camp as “super intense,” providing the opportunity to learn from, and play alongside many greats in the genre, especially around the campfire in the evenings. “In my first year, I was sitting between Uwe and Jens Kruger…” The impact these experiences had were like “going from the campfire into the fire,” as Hugh describes it.
The first major signpost on Hugh’s new road as a musician is his debut album, It’s Been A Long Time. Made up completely of Hugh’s original songs, the record features many colors from the American roots music spectrum. As he has been described elsewhere, Hugh is a “modern country bluegrass man” embedded in the folk/Americana scene, with a lifetime’s worth of musical exploration influencing his songs.