Born Phillip Thomas Sheeran on October 10, 1960 in Joplin, MO; son of Harold and Frances Sheeran; married Jil Peterson, 1986, divorced, 1991; married Philea Urquhart, February 14, 2004. Education: Attended Northern Idaho College; received Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in music, jazz composition, and performance from the Cornish Institute of the Arts, Seattle, WA, 1984. Addresses: Production company--PTS Music, phone: (818) 487-8824. Website--Phil Sheeran Official Website: http://www.philsheeran.com.
Phil Sheeran's charming, boyish grin and thick, long hair fit perfectly with his smooth jazz guitar sound. In his eyes, however, can be seen the knowledge and experience of a musician who understands music as both business and pleasure. His growing popularity throughout the world is evidence of his international appeal, and his forays into multiple media forms--from performing in clubs to providing music for TV and films--shows his skill and flexibility.
Phillip Thomas Sheeran was born in Joplin, Missouri, on October 10, 1960, the seventh of eight children born to Harold and Frances Sheeran. His father soon moved the family to northern California for his job as an explosives expert with advanced degrees in geology and chemistry. Later, the family moved to Spokane, Washington, where Sheeran grew up.
Sheeran attended a Catholic school that strongly encouraged students to play an instrument; Sheeran chose the guitar. His early influences included James Taylor, Arlo Guthrie, and Dan Fogelberg. Sheeran also learned to play the banjo, thereby increasing his ability to pluck at the strings with his right hand. When his older brother took the guitar off to college, Sheeran got a paper route to raise money for his own guitar. Each week he would go into the music store and put money down on the new instrument. Figuring that he had a certain percentage of ownership in the guitar even though he hadn't paid enough to take it home, he would play the guitar in the store.
Following high school, Sheeran spent a year in the music program at Northern Idaho College before being accepted at the prestigious Cornish Institute of the Arts in Seattle, Washington, in both the jazz and classical programs. He was committed to music, and found himself practicing six to eight hours each day. Sheeran found the best match for his love of both classical and jazz in Brazilian music. A year before graduation, he decided to take a year off in order to study music in Brazil. In order to pay for his trip, he worked for his father, a blasting engineer, on a demolition project at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. While working, Sheeran found a melody in his thoughts. Since he didn't have a guitar along on the job, he borrowed a tape recorder and sang the melody so that he would remember it. This melody later became a song called "One Sixteen C," the name of the nuclear reactor stack they were demolishing, which appeared on his first album.
While in Brazil, Sheeran studied with the great Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo. "The most powerful thing about my trip was the music, the culture, and the people," Sheeran told Sharron Stevens of Contemporary Jazz Review. "Their outlook on life was so different. They're living in extremely difficult times, what with inflation and poverty, yet they have such a great love of life. Songs and music are such an intricate part of their culture. Take, for instance, the samba, it's played in all the bars at night. They believe that to dance and sing helps you to live better, because it relieves the tension of daily living."
After returning to the United States, Cornish gave him credits for his work in Brazil and he graduated soon after, in 1984, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in music, jazz composition, and performance. While studying music and continuing to learn to finger with his right hand instead of strum, he developed a way of trimming his fingernails to get the right sound mix of flesh and nail. While attending Cornish, he met an artist named Jil Peterson, and they were married in 1986.
During this time, Sheeran was involved in several recording groups, including the groups Evidence and Beija Flor. However, Sheeran was drawn to recording and producing his own work.
Stepped Out on His Own
"I was getting farther and farther away from my own music," Sheeran told Alan Brozovich of Scene, "and I really believed in my music." Sheeran read a book about how to release an album and pulled together the resources to record Breaking Through in 1990. Sales were swift and Sheeran soon signed a record deal with Sonic Edge. Signing the record deal brought changes in his life. On the professional front, things were going well. "For me, it's changed quite a bit since I put out the album," he told Music Connection. "It brings you to another credibility level. Performing around town is one thing, but once it's on disc, it's another statement, showing a refinement of your playing skills. That's a statement in itself. I'm also more respected in the musical community as well as being able to reach more peopled. It's helped getting better gigs, too, because of the airplay it received." His musical career was taking off, but on the personal side, his marriage was falling apart.
Sheeran quickly followed Breaking Through with Standing on Fishes. He chose the title for his second release from a line in a Rainer Maria Rilke poem. "It sums up exactly how I feel sometimes, how I have been feeling recently," he told Molly Curran of Northwest Profiles. "If you're never quite sure what's going to happen, you get the sensation of standing on moving, swimming fish. So when things change so fast in your life and the world around you, you have to be prepared, try to keep your balance." This seems to describe Sheeran's life as he experienced both the sadness of divorce and the joy of success in his career. In 1991 and 1992, the Northwest Area Music Association (NAMA) nominated him for Best Jazz Artist, Best Jazz Recording, and Best Electric Guitarist.
Sheeran was performing consistently in the top clubs in Seattle at a time when that city's music business was booming. In 1995, he presented It's a Good Thing, followed by I'll Be Home for Christmas in 1996. Around that time, Sheeran found the music business was changing, and so were his own interests. Touring around the world had earned him a solid following in Japan, the Philippines, Italy, and South Africa, but he was also developing an interest in providing music for film and television. After discussing his interests with agents and other music representatives, he realized that in order to concentrate on music for film and television, he needed to move to where the work was being done. Sheeran relocated to Los Angeles in 1996.
Turned to Film and Television
Sheeran began developing music in formats that would work well with film, and he provided music for a dozen A&E Biography programs, as well as for several well known television shows including Jenny Jones, Celebrity Justice, and NFL Pre-season Football. He also provided music for corporate presentations, being hired by large companies such as Microsoft, Boeing, Mercedes-Benz, and Toyota.
In 1998, Sheeran released Orchid, followed by the Japan-only release The First Noel. In 2002, he released The Latin Guitar Tribute to Marc Anthony. In 2003, he provided music for the film Hollywood's Magical Island: Catalina, including the songs "Cousteau Full" and "Island Jumping." Sheeran continues to study orchestration and has developed an interest in providing music for video games and movie trailers. "It's all about composing and developing instrumental music," he said.
On February 14, 2004, Sheeran married Philea Urquhart. They reside in Los Angeles, where Sheeran continues to perform, compose, and produce great jazz. He also plays the piano, but primarily for composing. He owns ten guitars, and says each one gives him a different sound. "I really do use all of them. Each fills a niche," he said. His primary guitar is a 1962 Spanish Classical Marcello Barbero, which he feels is the most expressive.
It is clear from listening to Sheeran's music that his heart is in his music. "My goal has always been to capture an emotion with each piece I write," he told Cathy Ragland of the Seattle Times. "I like augmenting people's moods. I want them to be able to feel what I feel and at the same moment find a piece of themselves in my music. I think they can do that, even if there are no lyrics."
by Sarah Parkin
Phil Sheeran's Career
Studied with Romero Lubambo in Brazil, 1983-84; played with Evidence, played with Beija Flor; self-released Breaking Through, 1990; signed with Sonic Edge, 1991; re-released Breaking Through with Sonic Edge, 1990; released Standing on Fishes, 1991; released It's a Good Thing,1995; released I'll Be Home for Christmas, 1996; relocated to Los Angeles, CA, 1996; released Orchid, 1998, released The First Noel (Japanese release), 2000; released The Latin Guitar Tribute to Marc Anthony, 2002; provided music for film Hollywood's Magical Island: Catalina, 2003.
- Selected discography
- Breaking Through self-released 1990; re-released on Sonic Edge, 1990.
- Standing on Fishes Sonic Edge, 1991.
- It's a Good Thing Passage Records, 1995.
- I'll Be Home for Christmas Passage Records, 1996.
- Orchid Passage Records, 1998.
- The First Noel (Japanese release), 2000.
- The Latin Guitar Tribute to Marc Anthony 2002.
- Contemporary Jazz Review, November 1991, p. 12-13.
- Music Connection, March 18-31, 1991.
- Northwest Profiles, June-July, 1991, p. 12-13.
- Scene, February 9, 1990.
- Seattle Times, November 2, 1990.
- "Phil Sheeran," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com (August 19, 2004).
- Phil Sheeran Official Website, http://www.philsheeran.com (August 19, 2004).
- Additional information obtained in an interview with Phil Sheeran in Los Angeles, CA, on September 6, 2004.