Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

Plays Guitar Like a Piano #2

It is shocking and sad what little footage exists of James RichardDickie Phillips that shows his unorthodox method of playing the electric guitar.  Here is the *only clip on YouTube that shows Dickie Phillips playing with Tex Williams And His Western Caravan — note how he places the guitar across his lap and presses his fingers firmly downward on the strings in the manner of a pianist:

The Talking Boogie

Tex Williams & His Western Caravan (1950s?)

[Guitar solo by “Dickie” Phillips begins at the 0:45 mark]

Herb Steiner chimes in via The Steel Guitar Forum on Tex Williams’ musical personnel:

The steel player in ‘Talkin’ Boogie’ is Wayne Burdick.  Singing with Tex is Deuce Spriggens on bass and Jimmy Widener on guitar.  Max Fidler is the lead violinist, Ossie Godsen on vibraphone, Warren Penniman on drums, and I don’t recognize the other players.  Really good band, y’all.

I have a (better quality) clip of this same band performing “Tulsa Trot” that features a wonderful and more intricate solo from Dicky Phillips that is really fun to watch — I regret that this performance is not yet available on YouTube [*since rectifiedclick here for a stellar live performance of “Tulsa Trot”].

Sorry –

Distracted by the vintage Vegas architecture & signage

Tex Williams LP

However, Tex Williams did do another live performance of “The Talking Boogie” on TV’s Town Hall Ranch Party with our old friend Joe Maphis, who plays his one-of-a-kind doubleneck guitar:

The Talking Boogie

Tex Williams with Joe Maphis & The Western Ranch Party (1958)

Phillips’ individualistic approach to playing the instrument, although similar to a Chapman Stick (without the “double tapping“) is a marvel to watch — and also brings to mind the similarly mind-blowing style of Kenneth RayThumbsCarllile., who dazzles TV host Tennessee Ernie Ford in this live performance accompanied by Roger Miller:

Alabama Jubilee

Thumbs Carllile & Roger Miller

Text below is an excerpt from Phillips’ obituary:

JAMES RICHARD “DICKIE” PHILLIPS, b. August 30, 1920, Beamon, Pettis County, Missouri; d. April 23, 1991, Jackson County, Missouri; m. MARTHA KILLEBREW, ca. 1940, St. Louis, Missouri.

James Richard Phillips was an accomplished musician, playing the fiddle and guitar with many well known bands, such as Spike Jones, Tex Williams and Bob Scobey.  He played with Pat Boone’s backup band and appeared on the Arthur Godfrey Show as a regular attraction for several months, both on radio and television.

When he was with the Tex Williams band, he played background music for a number of movies, including several of the Walt Disney animated films. During his youth, he played with a band which appeared in Hawaii and during this time he contracted tuberculosis.

Link to follow-up piece on Dickie Phillips



Update (June 16, 2017)

An electric violin that was developed by Leo Fender, in partnership with Dickie Phillips, was purchased on Ebay in 2004 Ben Heaney (of but “took me a long time to get my head round what I’d bought.”  As it turns out, the story has taken on considerable historic significance, as this 1958 production prototype is the world’s rarest electric violin!   One of only two of its kind, and “500 times more rare than a Stradivarius,” Heaney adds that “the BBC just broadcast a recording of the 1958 Fender Electric Violin – no samples, no synths, no loops… – a single take divided into three sections and multi-layered.”

UK music fans will hear this electric violin for the first time, essentially, as Heaney prepares to take this instrument on tour, as well as in the recording studio, in the coming months.  The instrument can already be heard on a track called “Where’s the Fire Gone” by The August List — the first recording “to feature this particular age of Fender violin,” according to Heaney, who also tells Zero to 180 —

“The sound is fantastic. Totally unlike ANY electric violin on the market today … with the possible exception of a prototype I’ve helped a new maker develop…

The reason is simple, seemingly no one has used Fender’s pickup solution.  That’s why it sounds different.  Almost every other violin is using a piezo, so ultimately share a root sound” — save this prototype.

Click on this link to hear a solo recording of the world’s rarest electric violin.

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9 Responses

  1. The first line of the chorus for Talking Boogies is fun and hilarious: “Now if you want to get your enjoys listen to me…”

    Am I hearing that right?

  2. We had the pleasure of having Dickie Phillips at our home for a barbecue late in his life and he played for us. He was so much fun and all of us had a great time. He had family that we were close to and there were several people there and we have wonderful memories.

  3. This is my great uncle my grandmas brother from sedalia mo thanks for sharing the rare footage feel free to email me with any new videos

  4. My Father had a swing band in the 60’s. The Dave Robinson Orchestra.
    I was lucky enough to have played drums in this band for about 5 years and with Dickie on several occasions. Mr. Phillips was also given the first prototype Leo Fender model electric violin. He mastered it on his lap as well. It was fascinating to hear and more over ….to watch how he performed on both guitar and violin. I do have an audio of him on violin playing “Don’t Take Your Love From Me” and “Orange Blossom Special’ with the electric violin. Marvelous.

    1. Hi Jimmy,
      Totally fascinated by your post mentioning the first prototype Fender electric violin. This is the instrument I believe I now own. I would dearly love to hear the audio you mention. Please contact me asap!
      Many thanks
      Ben Heaney

  5. DICKIE PHILLIPS was my uncle. He came from a family of musicians. The reason for his unique method of playing stems from the fact that he began playing the fiddle at the age of three and the family had no child size instruments. Because he couldn’t place the fiddle to his neck, he held it on his lap and played it that way, and was left-handed to boot. None of the family ever learned to read music–all played by ear. You should have heard some of the music I heard as a youngster. Such good times!

    1. Hi! I would love to find out more about your uncle Dickie Phillips.
      I may have the Fender violin he helped Leo develop during prototype stage…
      It’d be awesome to find more info about both the player and the instrument… Believe me I have been searching and searching for years and turned up so little – your posting and the ones above are extremely promising!!
      Looking forward to hearing from you
      Many thanks in advance.
      Ben Heaney

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