In Memoriam: Phil Chen
It’s another tough day in the music world as we mourn the loss of bassist Phil Chen, who has passed away at the age of 75.
Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Chen was surrounded by the sounds of music. His cousin Colston Chen was playing bass in the Vagabonds, and Phil would hang around their practices. When a guitarist didn’t show up, he would be able to fill in the spot. The band went on a UK tour that was to last six months but kept Chen there for 19 years.
“The first year was really ruff, freezing my butt off with a kerosene heater if lucky, starvation and eating Heinz baked beans accompanied by self raising flour dumplings (they swell and you get more for your money) and a cup of Rosey Lee Typhoo, was a staple diet,” Chen told Andy’s World of Bass. “About 4 gigs a month for the West Indian community, and stealing milk and bread off people’s doorstep at 5 am was not the glamorous life of a rock star I had envisioned. But I turned crisis into an opportunity. Colston decided to go home, he handed me the bass and said take over.”
Chen eventually found he could make more money doing session work in London. He became a staple of the city’s bustling studio scene in the ‘70s and ‘80s, recording classic albums with Jeff Beck (Blow By Blow), Rod Stewart (Blondes Have More Fun), Donovan (Cosmic Wheels), Joan Armatrading (Back to the Night), and more. He was also a member of Brian May’s Star Fleet project alongside Eddie Van Halen in 1983.
Another fruitful collaboration would be with members of The Doors. He would collaborate with Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, and Robby Krieger for their post-Doors collaborations.
Check out Chen with Densmore and Krieger in the Butts Band on The Old Grey Whistle Test:
Chen received the Order of Distinction in 2014.
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Phil Chen.