Greg Phillinganes: You’ll never be more of a musician than you are as a human being

Credit: Keith Capstick via The Eyeopener

This week our special guest is a renowned keyboardist, singer, songwriter, musical director, and a prolific session musician: Greg Phillinganes. He was Michael Jackson’s musical director and contributed to OFF THE WALL, Thriller, Bad, Dangerous, and the list goes on. He has also toured Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and much more. In our interview, we talked about how a Music Director is the voice of reason, why it’s important to listen to every genre, and now matter how successful you are you have to remain humble.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation, play the podcast to hear more and don’t forget to subscribe!



Are all artists crazy?

Chedo: What did you mean when you said that all artists are crazy?

Greg: It was a bit of an exaggeration saying that all artists are crazy, all artists are not crazy. But you know they have their personalities… they have their quirks. People are so quick to judge them and say they’re not normal, well you can’t be normal! You’re not going to be normal writing “Purple Rain.” You’re not going to be normal writing songs in the “Key of Life,” you know? Of course, you can’t be normal. You have to have a different level of normality because great artists like that are touched by God, it’s a different level, so of course they’re going to be different. It’s just a matter of there being a solid presence of the artist and the band and making sure everyone is comfortable, and making sure the artist’s wishes are granted. That’s the most important thing.

Expand your musicality

Chedo: Why should artists listen to all genres?

Greg: To expand their musicality. Because you end up infusing all of those little influences when you find your own voice. The exposure is what’s important, in that way you get to see what’s out there. You get to see all different kinds of world music, and music from different cultures. It’s only going to expand and deepen your appreciation for music in general. It’s really the best thing you can do to expand your musicality.

Humility is crucial

Greg: Humility is drastically important, it’s crucial in your life. There’s a great teacher that goes by the name of Nadia Boulanger and she taught Quincy Jones, and one thing she told him that he says to this day is “You’ll never be more of a musician than you are as a human being,” and that’s crucial. Count Basie also told Quincy to pay attention to the valleys as well as the peaks, because when you’re in the valley, that’s when you know what you’re truly made of. You better have something that spiritually grounds you for the valleys. You have to know that God will bring you out of those valleys just like He will bring you to the peak. Even now I’m suffering financially since there’s been a huge slow down at work. It’s affected me in all types of ways with my current family, and my ex-wife… It’s a challenge, but I know that God will bring me through.

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