Phil Phillips

Listen to Phil Phillips on Sea of Love Juella and the infamous Evil Dope.

There's hardly a person in the so-called civilized world that hasn't heard Phil Phillips' dreamy, ethereal "Sea Of Love." Cresting on the Billboard Pop Charts at number two in 1959, it's the song that put swamp pop music on the map. Yet the man behind it remains a mysterious figure who rarely gigs. Hailing from Lake Charles, Phillips is a friendly family man who makes his home in nearby Jennings.

"When I was real young I started off singing spirituals," says Phillips. "I got in a group called the Gateway Quartet and we did real well on radio. The way I got into 'Sea Of Love' was that I had a girlfriend and she always talked about how I didn't love her. 'You don't love me!' One time I was at her house and she was in the kitchen cooking and she kept telling me that. I had my guitar and I went and sat on the front porch and started thinking 'If I could just take her out on a sea of love I could convince her, just her and me with all that water!'"

Although he'd never sung secular music, the penning of "Sea Of Love" coincided with the break-up of his quartet. "After the group broke up I just went ahead and did the song because everybody was telling me how good it was," remembers Phillips. "One of my friends told me 'You're walking around with a million dollars in your hand,' because I had made a little disc of it and let him hear it." After local producer George Khoury got wind of it, he booked Phil into Goldband Studio with Cookie & the Cupcakes providing the swirling, atmospheric backing.

"You'd be shocked," Phillips say of the immediate reaction to the song. "When they put the record out a lot of DJs took it and threw it in the trash can, said it wasn't a good song. There was a DJ in Baton Rouge and he played it on one of the stations over there and the people liked it so much they kept calling him to play it over and over again. The manager of the station told him to quit playin' it and he said he wasn't gonna quit because that's what the people wanted to hear. So they fired him and he locked himself in the control room and played the song over and over again."

Public reaction sent DJs diving into their circular files while Khoury struck a deal with Mercury, who signed Phillips to a contract. "Mercury was good for the first year or so, but then they got into some sort of feud with Khoury and they just put the kill on my records. They had me under a five year contract and I couldn't get out of it; that killed my whole career."

Phillips went into radio, where it's been widely circulated that he referred to himself as "The King Of The Whole Black World." "I never did use the word 'black,'" he corrects. "It was 'King of The Whole Blasted World.' I had a priest friend of mine who said he loved my show but don't use that word blasted. So I told him I wouldn't use it no more and I started saying 'King Of The Whole World.'

After recording some material in Muscle Shoals in the late sixties, Phillips cut the cult record "The Evil Dope." "I used to tell stories on the radio," he explains, "different stories about life. 'The Evil Dope' was one of the stories I told and they liked it so much I recorded it. People come up and thank me today, they tell me I'm the cause of them going back to their wives or getting married or going to college, all kinds of stuff. I really feel good about that."

Phillips' first Ponderosa Stomp appearance in 2003 was a rarity for New Orleans, Louisiana or anywhere else, but as he put it at the time, "I'm from Louisiana and I've got to accommodate our people."

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