Born March 23, 1951 in Youngstown, OH. Addresses: Record company-- Myrrh Records, Word Entertainment Inc., 3319 West End Avenue, Nashville, TN, 37203. Management Proper Management, 2814 Kenway Rd., Nashville, TN 37215.
During a career that has spanned over three decades, Phil Keaggy has carved out a unique niche for himself in both the contemporary Christian and mainstream pop music worlds. His virtuosity on guitar has earned him wide admiration among afficionados of the instrument. It might be argued that his audience would be larger if his exceptional talents were applied to making records for a secular market. Nevertheless, Keaggy has remained true to his spiritual focus ever since becoming a solo artist, stretching the boundaries of Christian music over the course of some 26 albums.
Keaggy's mastery of the guitar transcends categories, Christian or otherwise. His acoustic playing is particularly fluent, utilizing unusual open tunings and deft fingerpicking. As his career has progressed, he has incorporated sampling and layering effects to extend his capabilities in concert. There are flashes of classic folk, baroque and jazz fusion in his approach that, taken together, make his style distinctly his own. As a songwriter, Keaggy has taken melodic inspiration from the Beatles and other secular pop/rock artists, as well as from Irish and American folk sources. His lyrics, rooted in Christian themes and Biblical references, touch upon spiritual struggles with a positive emphasis.
Born March 23, 1951, in Youngstown, Ohio, Keaggy began his musical apprenticeship with a $19 Sears Silvertone guitar at age ten. He learned to play despite having lost most of his right-hand middle finger in an accident when he was four. By his mid-teens, he had became proficient enough to perform in local clubs. From there, he formed the band Glass Harp with bassist Daniel Pecchio and drummer John Sferra in the summer of 1968. Though they never entered rock's big leagues, the Ohio-based trio released three albums on Decca Records and shared the stage with Yes, Traffic, Chicago, Humble Pie and Iron Butterfly. Keaggy's fluent guitar touch won the admiration of such rock notables as Ted Nugent and, according to a persistent rumor, Jimi Hendrix.
On Valentine's Day, 1970, Keaggy's life was profoundly changed by tragedy. That night, he embarked on a harrowing LSD trip that left him physically and emotionally shaken. He later learned that, at that same hour, his mother had been killed in an automobile accident hundreds of miles away. The impact of her loss helped to lead him towards embracing Christianity. As he told interviewer Todd Hafer in The Gazette, "It was only in God that I could find something strong enough to replace the love I knew for her, and she had for me. She was a Roman Catholic woman, full of the spirit of God. She loved her children."
Keaggy's newly-found faith was reflected in his songwriting. His first recorded Christian song, "The Answer," appeared on Glass Harp's second album, Synergy. In August of 1972, Keaggy quit the band and joined a Christian fellowship in upstate New York. Two years later, he re-emerged as a solo artist with What A Day, released on the small New Song label. The album marked a departure for him, both musically and spiritually. "What A Day was mild-mannered and soft," he recalled in an interview with Jas Obrecht in Guitar Player, "but at the same time it expressed my heart. With Glass Harp, I was striving for excellence and finding myself. I was not satisfied with simple things; I just pushed and pushed myself. Coming into Christianity, I found that I can express things in my heart in a very simple manner, and people are in a place to receive that."
From there, Keaggy went on to record further albums for New Song at a steady pace, releasing Love Broke Through in 1976 and Emerging in 1977. The Master And The Musician, appeared in 1978, was his first all-instrumental album. The 1980s found him switching labels to Sparrow, then moving over to Nissi and, later, to Myrrh. For Myrrh, he recorded his 1987 album The Wind & The Wheat, an instrumental work that earned him his first Dove Award for Instrumental Album of the Year from the Gospel Music Association.
Keaggy's reputation began to spread to the secular music world during this period. In reviewing Keaggy's 1986 album Getting Closer, Guitar Player writer Jas Obrecht hailed his songs as "catchy and accessible, his playing superb. His solos tap the most modern techniques, from wild whammies to two-handed flash. He proves especially adept at legato lines, volume swells, and doubling.... The lyrical slant of each song is decidedly humanistic, if not overtly Christian."
The 1990s found Keaggy back on Sparrow, releasing both instrumental albums and singer/songwriter projects. A busy tour schedule in the United States and overseas helped to keep his following a strong one. He won further Dove Awards, including ones for Best Instrumental Album of the Year in 1992 for Beyond Nature and in 1998 for Invention. He also received Grammy Award nominations for Best Rock Gospel Album in 1991 for Find Me In These Fields and in 1994 for Crimson & Blue. In addition, he earned second place for the Best Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitarist Award from Guitar Player in 1995 and 1996.
In 1998, Keaggy returned to the Myrrh roster to release a critically-praised self-titled CD. Phil Keaggy was his first singer/songwriter album since 1995's True Believer, and tapped into his affinities with the pop/rock tradition of the Beatles. Such tracks as "Tender Love" and "A Sign Came Through A Window" recalled the rich melodies and arrangements of Paul McCartney's late 1960s work. "I don't mind the Beatles comparisons," Keaggy said in a Myrrh press biography. "They wrote the best songs of the rock era, period, and any comparison to them is a compliment." Among the sources for Phil Keaggy's lyrics were the poems of Christian writer H.A. Ironside and the writings of Fifth Century cleric St. John Chrysostom. The album was very much a family affair. Recording much of the album's basic tracks at his home studio, Keaggy enlisted his wife and daughter as background singers and set several lyrics by his sister Geri to music.
Keaggy's musical path has led him from mainstream rock 'n' roll into a secure place in contemporary Christian music. Slowly over the past several decades, he has begun to win fans among secular listeners. But, as he has repeatedly made clear in interviews, his commitment to spreading his spiritual message has not diminished with time. "The gift of music is not only something that you share with other people, it's something that you give back to your creator," he told Tom Gannaway in an interview for Fingerstyle Guitar. "To me, it has to express love and the gratitude that's in your heart, because that's ultimately what we're created to do. As it says in the book of Isaiah, 'The people whom I have formed for myself shall declare my praise.' That's the foremost reason I am a Christian musician."
by Barry Alfonso
Phil Keaggy's Career
Began recording career as member of band Glass Harp in 1970; released first solo album What A Day on New Song, 1974; released first all-instrumental album The Master And The Musicia, 1978; recorded for Sparrow and Nissi labels, 1980-1986; released landmark album The Wind & The Wheat on Maranatha Music/Myrrh, 1987; released further albums on Myrrh, Word/Epic, Sparrow and Canis Major labels, 1989-1997; returned to singer/songwriter recording with Phil Keaggy CD in 1998.
Phil Keaggy's Awards
Dove Award for Instrumental Album of the Year for The Wind & The Wheat, 1988; Dove Award for Instrumental Album of the Year for Beyond Nature, 1992; Dove Award for Instrumental Album of the Year for Invention, 1998.
- Selected discography
- What A Day , New Song, 1974.
- The Master And The Musician , New Song, 1978.
- Getting Closer , Nissi, 1985.
- The Wind & The Wheat , Maranatha Music/Myrrh, 1987.
- Beyond Nature , Myrrh/Epic, 1991.
- Crimson & Blue , Myrrh, 1993.
- Time-Collection, 1970-1995 , Myrrh, 1995.
- True Believer , Sparrow, 1995.
- Phil Keaggy , Myrrh, 1998.
- Billboard, March 3, 1989; March 11, 1989.
- CCM, November, 1998.
- Christian Musician, July/August 1998.
- Fingerstyle Guitar, August 1998.
- Gazette, August, 1998.
- Guitar Player, May, 1986; June, 1995.
- Additional information was provided by Myrrh Records and Proper Management publicity materials, 1999.