By MIKE CHAIKEN
Bassist Ricky Phillips returns with his fellow rockers in Styx this weekend.
But in addition to preparing to perform classic rock tracks such as “Renegade” or “Too Much Time on My Hands” with the band from Chicago, Ricky has had his ears tuned onto another rocker.
Although Ricky can be found most summers these on the road with Styx—which also includes James “JY” Young, Tommy Shaw, Chuck Panozzo, Lawrence Gowan, and Todd Sucherman—he’s had a pretty storied musical career outside of Styx. He first found his way into the public eye with The Babys, which included singer John Waite and keyboardist Jonathan Cain (later of Journey). He also was a member of Bad English, which included Waite, Cain, and Journey guitarist Neal Schon.
Additionally, Ricky was a member of guitarist Ronnie Montrose’s band. Ronnie is best known for his band, Montrose, which launched the career of Sammy Hagar. Ronnie passed away in 2012 from cancer.
Before he died, Ricky and Eric Singer of Kiss were working with the classic rock guitarist on a new album that he took after he had begun his battle with cancer and had just overcome a bout of depression.
Since Ronnie’s death, Ricky—calling from Nassau—said he has been squirreling away time whenever he can to ensure Ronnie’s last album sees the light of day.
The album has been a labor of love for Ricky, who coproduced the album with Ronnie. He has been reaching out to all sorts of special guests to complete the album by Ronnie.
“Almost everybody I called has done a great job,” said Ricky, who has reached out to performers such as Glenn Hughes (formerly of Deep Purple), Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, guitar great Joe Bonamassa, Rick Derringer, Edgar Winter, Phil Collen of Def Leppard, Sammy Hagar, Gregg Rolie of Journey, and Steve Lukather of Toto.
“It’s a big ‘70s record,” said Ricky of the overall sound of the album. “It’s a big guitar record.”
With Styx’s schedule, Ricky said, the project has taken some time to complete. But the finish line is in sight. The tracks are now in the mixing stages, he said.
“Ronnie would so pleased and proud,” said Ricky of the finished product.
Although Ronnie’s band Montrose was a favorite on album rock stations, the group never reached the upper echelon of superstardom. Ronnie was a kind of unsung hero of 1970s guitar greats.
But Ricky said Ronnie did make his mark in unexpected ways. For instance, Ricky said Brad Whitford told him that Montrose’s seminal track, “Rock Candy,” convinced him that he wanted to play guitar.
And people also aren’t always aware of some of Ronnie’s contributions to classic rock music, Ricky said. When you hear Van Morrison’s “Wild Nights,” you’re listening to Ronnie on guiar. The recognizable opening guitar lick just started off as Ronnie noodling around on the guitar. When Morrison heard it, he told Ronnie that it was exactly what the recording needed. Then if you listen to classic tracks from the Edgar Winter Group, not only are you hearing Edgar, there’s Ronnie dueling it out with fellow guitarist Rick Derringer.
Ricky himself has a pretty stellar musical resume. But he said being a part of Styx these days is a blessing.
Ricky came to join the group when he was approached by Zuckerman and told that Shaw and Young had considered him as a possible bass player for the band to take over for Panozzo who was battling heatlh issues. Once he was convinced, it was the right fit for him and they and he saw eye to eye on the future of their careers, he was hooked.
More than a decade later, Ricky said he feels fortunate to be part of this brotherhood called Styx.
Styx and Def Leppard perform at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville on Sunday, July 5 at 7 p.m. Tesla opens the show. Tickets are $79 and $59. For more information, go to MoheganSun.com or Styxworld.com.
By MIKE CHAIKEN