Detroit-born keyboardist and arranger Greg Phillinganes has been one of the most sought-after session musicians of the last half century, with a resume that is virtually unmatched.
First discovered by Stevie Wonder as a teenager, Phillinganes served in Stevie's Wonderlove in the late seventies, performing on four songs from the iconic Songs In The Key of Life and continuing for five years. He released his debut solo album, Significant Gains, in 1981, landing a hit with "Baby, I Do Love You." When his time with Wonder was through, Phillinganes was brought in by CBS Records executive (and former Blood Sweat and Tears) drummer Bobby Colomby to work with the Jacksons on their Destiny album. Philliganes was a Godsend to the project, reworking "Blame It On The Boogie" and arranging "Shake Your Body Down To the Ground," and helping revive the group's flagging career. He followed by continuing with Michael Jackson and producer Quincy Jones on Jackson's Off The Wall, handling keyboards and even being an uncredited co-writer on "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough." The relationship with Jackson continued for several years, with Phillinganes ultimately becoming the music director on several of The Jacksons' tours and a studio musician and arranger on their 80s albums Triumph and Destiny.
Phillinganes worked on Jackson's seminal album, Thriller, and took a song rejected for the album as the lead single for his own sophomore album Pulse, again hitting on the lower end of the charts with "Behind the Mask." He also landed a quiet storm hit with his version of the classic Rogers and Hammerstein tune "I Have Dreamed."
Phillinganes spent the next two decades working with musicians ranging from Eric Clapton to Donald Fagan to Anita Baker, and was arguably the most respected keyboardist of the 80s and 90s.
In 2006, Phillinganes joined the rock group Toto (which, itself, was formed from top session musicians), where he remained until the band broke up in 2008. He did not join a reunited Toto in 2010. He continues to work with various artists, both in the studio and on tour, and, in 2019, agreed to serve as music director Cirque du Soleil’s massive Michael Jackson:The Immortal tour.
By Chris Rizik
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