Phil Upchurch

pupchurch2.jpgPhil Upchurch was born on July 19, 1941, in Chicago, Illinois. A prolific guitarist who is comfortable playing blues, soul, R&B, and jazz, Phil Upchurch has been a prominent figure in Chicago music circles since the mid-’50s. He initially did freelance sessions with such musicians as Jerry Butler, before becoming house guitarist for Chess. Upchurch began playing in R&B backing bands, including those of The Kool Gents, The Dells, and The Spaniels. He eventually formed the Phil Upchurch Combo, and their song, “You Can’t Sit Down,” reached the U.S. Top 30 in 1961 and the UK Top 40 on its reissue five years later. The band included Cornell Muldrow (organ), David Brooks (saxophone), Mac Johnson (trumpet) and Joe Hoddrick (drums). Upchurch had his most successful collaboration with keyboardist Tennyson Stephens in the 1970s.pupchurch3.jpg

Upchurch later appeared on albums by Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and Howlin’ Wolf. He frequently teamed with drummer Maurice White, who later headed Earth, Wind and Fire.

In the 1970s Upchurch appeared on several fusion albums, including Grover Washington, George Benson and The Crusaders. One album in particular is George Benson’s 1976 album, Breezin’. Phil Upchurch plays the rhythm guitar, except for “Breezin'” and “Six to Four” where he plays bass. In the 1980s he appeared on Marlena Shaw’s “Could It Be You.” He has also collaborated with Chaka Khan, Booker T. Jones, Leroy Hutson and Michael Jackson.

pupchurch4.jpgUpchurch did several soul-jazz and funk dates for such labels as Sue and Cadet in the mid- and late ’60s. He signed with Blue Thumb in the ’70s and split his time between sessions with the Crusaders and Ben Sidran and making his own albums. Tommy LiPuma produced Darkness, Darkness and Lovin’ Feelin in 1972 and 1973. Upchurch did one LP for Creed Taylor’s Kudu label in 1975, Upchurch Tennyson, with pianist/vocalist Tennyson Stephens. He returned to studio work, but recorded as a leader for Palladin in 1985, Ichiban in 1991, and Ridgetop in 1995 and 1997.

He remains active as a session musician and bandleader, returning in 1999 with Rhapsody and Blues. Tell the Truth appeared in spring 2001. Upchurch received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1997.