Friday, October 10, 2008

Those Dear Departed - Chapter Two

Phil Seymour scored just a solitary hit single during 1981 with the brilliant pop-rock song ‘Precious To Me’, but he’d already played a key role in the rockabilly-pop outfit, the Dwight Twilley Band. Popular legend has it that Phil Seymour and Dwight Twilley began their creative collaboration in 1967, having met at a screening of The Beatles’ film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. They started playing, along with guitarist Bill Pitcock, in a band called Oister, and soon found themselves recording at the renowned Sun Studios in Nashville. Over time they honed their Beatle-esque style to infuse a rough ’n ready rockabilly edge. Now a duo, and going under the name the Dwight Twilley Band, Seymour (bass/drums) and front man Dwight Twilley burst onto the U.S. singles chart during April 1975 with the #16 hit ‘I’m On Fire’. On the back of that success they appeared on ‘American Bandstand’ soon after to perform the proposed follow up single ‘Shark’. But in their infinite wisdom (or lack thereof) the suits at Shelter Records deemed that the song ‘Shark’ should be beached due to the then current hit film ‘Jaws’, and their desire to avoid the Dwight Twilley Band being perceived as a novelty related act. An eighteen month delay ensued before the Dwight Twilley Band’s first album ‘Sincerely’, finally saw the light of day, but by then any momentum previously established had long since ground to a halt. Their second album, titled ‘Twilley Don’t Mind’, was released in 1977, but label support was scarce, and the album sold poorly. A combination of further record label problems, and ongoing issues between Seymour and Twilley, led to the disintegration of the partnership. Dwight Twilley went on to a moderately successful, though sporadic solo career, with his biggest solo hit being 1984’s ‘Girls’ (US#16).

Likewise Phil Seymour set his sights on pursuing success as a solo artist. Despite his key role in the commercial appeal of the Dwight Twilley Band, it took a while for Seymour to secure a recording deal of his own. In the intervening period during the late 70s, he contributed as a session player to the likes of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (singing backing vocals on both ‘Breakdown’ and ‘American Girl’), 20/20 (for whom he played drums on two albums), and Moon Martin. He was finally signed up to a recording deal, and started work on his debut solo album for the Boardwalk label during 1980. The eponymous debut effort was released in January 1981, with the lead out single being the radio friendly pop-rock tune ‘Precious To Me’. It was a classic sub three minute, guitar driven pop song with brilliant vocal harmonies. Seymour’s vocals were ideally suited to the slightly rockabilly tinged style - actually thinking back there’s a likeness to Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds (see future post). ‘Precious To Me’ debuted on the U.S. Hot 100 during January 1981, and went on to peak at #22. The song proved a pop sensation in Australia where it climbed as high as #6 mid year. Seymour’s album sold moderately (US#64) but in time became regarded as a landmark effort in the guitar oriented power-pop of the era. The follow up single ‘Let Her Dance’ (US#69) was another catchy power-pop song. Former Oister/Dwight Twilley Band cohorts, Bob Pitcock and Dwight Twilley made guest appearances on the album.

His sophomore album, simply titled ‘Phil Seymour 2’, was released in 1982, but was viewed less favourably by critics at the time. The single ‘Talk To Me’ stiffed on the charts and soon after Seymour found himself without a label, when the president of Boardwalk Records, Neil Bogart died. Looking for a new home, Seymour gravitated to Carla Olsen’s roots rock band the Textones during 1984. He played drums and provided some vocals for the band’s 1984 album ‘Midnight Mission’. It was whilst touring in support of that album during 1985 that Seymour was first diagnosed with lymphoma. He returned to his home town of Tulsa, looking to convalesce. Seymour’s battle with the illness took a huge toll on his recording and performance endeavours over the next few years. He was reportedly part way through preparing an album of new material when he finally succumbed to the illness, passing away in August 1993 at the age of 41.


Old Man Down The Rd said...

I had the good fortune to see Phil perform live at the Keystone Palo Alto in 1982, just prior to the release of "2". I don't remember much about the show - it was overshadowed by actually MEETING him afterwards. He looked pretty physically drained afterwards - this was apparently at the height of his drug addiction. He signed my album, and I was a giddy 22 year old meeting a power pop hero.

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Many thanks for your comment 'Old Man'. It's nice to hear from someone who not only remembers the music of Phil Seymour, but met the man himself - a memory to be cherished for sure.