Phil Collins started writing songs for his first solo album, after he returned to the UK in April 1979 from Vancouver, where he had tried but failed to patch things up with his wife. As a result, the new songs were very personal and Collins decided to produce them himself, with support from Hugh Padgham.
He wanted to make an album that didn’t sound like Genesis and he was keen on bringing in an R&B flavour, so, via an intermediary, he contacted The Phenix Horns in America, who had played on Earth, Wind & Fire’s albums, to see if they would add their sound to the tracks. Fortunately, they agreed. Tom Washington, who wrote arrangements for the Phenix Horns, met with Collins and tape-recorded Collins singing the melody lines where he wanted the horns to be added. On the following day, Washington came up with the arrangements and the Phenix Horns recorded their parts, to be added to the final mix. Tom Tom 84 really is a genius!
The story has one more twist, however. Collins still wasn’t satisfied with the album. He thought that it still sounded “too British”. What he wanted was what he could hear on the American Soul and R&B records in his collection, especially The Jacksons’ albums. He noticed that on many of his favourite tracks, the sound engineering included input from Mike Reece, who was now working at a studio in Los Angeles. So he asked Reece if he would prepare a new cut. His luck was in again! Reece worked with the master tapes and, finally, Collins had what he wanted. Tom Washington and The Phenix Horns (plus Mike Reece) had worked some special magic. The four members of the group were: Don Myrick on tenor saxophone (tracks 3, 6, 7, 9, 12) and alto sax solo (track 11), Louis Satterfield on trombone (tracks 3, 6, 7, 9, 12), Rahmlee Michael Davis and Michael Harris on trumpets (tracks 3, 6, 7, 9, 12) and flugelhorns (track 11). “Face Value” was released in 1981, on Virgin Records in the United Kingdom and on Atlantic Records elsewhere. The album was a world-wide success, number one in the UK and number seven in the USA.
Not surprisingly the other members of Genesis were happy, later that year, to include a little of Tom Washington’s magic on their 1981 album “Abacab”. The track “No Reply At All” featured the Phenix Horns (credited as the EWF horns), with horn arrangements by Tom Washington.
Collins’ second solo album, “Hello I Must Be Going”, was released in November 1982, very much following the pattern of the first. Recording was done at Collins’ home in Surrey, at the farm owned by Genesis in Surrey, at the Town House studio and at the CBS studio, both in London. Phil Collins shared production duties with Hugh Padgham once more.
Three tracks featured the Phenix Horns, namely “I Cannot Believe It’s True”, “It Don’t Matter to Me” and “The West Side”. Again the album was released on Virgin Records in the United Kingdom and on Atlantic Records for other markets. The inclusion of one Holland-Dozier-Holland song and two by Curtis Mayfield increased the American R&B influence on the album, but chart positions were slightly down on the first album, with a highest chart position of number two in the UK and number eight in the USA.
Collins next called on Tom Washington and the Phenix Horns in 1984, when he was working as producer on Philip Bailey’s album “Chinese Wall”. The Phenix Horns played on five tracks, with arrangements by Tom Washington.
Collins worked with the Phenix Horns again in 1985, recording three tracks with them on his solo album “No Jacket Required”. The tracks are “Sussudio”, “Only You Know and I Know” and “Who Said I Would”, with horn arrangements as usual provided by Tom Washington. The album went to number one on the Pop charts in eleven countries, including of course the USA and the UK. It sold almost two million copies in the UK but a staggering twelve million copies in the USA. “Sussudio” also hit the number one spot on the US Pop chart but only reached number twelve in the UK.
Collins then returned to working with Genesis. He also starred in a film, “Buster”, alongside Julie Waters. It was four years before he started work on his next solo album.
“...But Seriously“ was recorded between April and October 1989 at The Farm in Chiddingfold, Surrey (which Genesis had bought in 1980), and at A&M Studios in Los Angeles. It was produced by Collins and Hugh Padgham, as before. Collins decided to use a live drum kit instead of a drum machine, and keyboards and electric piano with fewer synthesisers. He also cut down the use of vocal special effects, to create a more natural sound. The new songs expanded his focus to include references to socio-economic and political themes, with a strong sense of melancholy. The album is more reflective that its predecessors.
It was released on 6th November 1989 in the US by Atlantic Records and on 20th November 1989 in the UK by Virgin Records, reaching number one in the UK for fifteen weeks. In the US it was at the top for four non-consecutive weeks. It was the best-selling album of 1990 in the UK, eventually selling 2.75 million copies there. It went to number one on the Pop charts of fifteen countries, selling 4 million copies in the US and over fourteen million worldwide. The lead single “Another Day in Paradise” won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year.
Once again, Collins drew on the expertise of Tom Washington to arrange the contributions from the Phenix Horns on tracks 1, 4, 5, 10 and 12. He also collaborated with Washington in writing track 10, “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”, which strangely was not included on the vinyl issue of the album. As usual, Don Myrick was on saxophone, Louis Satterfield on trombone and Rhamlee Michael Davis on trumpet. Harry Kim replaced Michael Harris on second trumpet.
The Phenix tracks are “Hang in Long Enough”, “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven”, “Colours”, “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” and “Find a Way to My Heart”.
Chicago is a long way from Surrey, but, thanks to the technology, Tom Washington and the Phenix Horns were able to add a flavour of Chicago Soul to Phil Collins’ four solo albums. They helped to make Collins one of the world’s top-selling recording artists in the 1980s. An unlikely collaboration, maybe, but a hugely successful one.
Headline Photo: Philippe Roos 1981 (Wikimedia Commons)
Album Cover 1: Virgin Records
Album Cover 2: Phil Collins, Ltd.
Album Cover 3: Virgin Records
Album Cover 4: Virgin Records