If there is one thing I have learned in my lifetime, it's that we all have the power within to become everything we were created to be with our full potential unleashed! Each one of us has at least one “special gift" we are born with, and we must "look within ourselves" to find this power to discover and develop our God-given gift. Tapping into this power can be more immediate for some, and for others like myself, it can take years to accomplish. Regardless of the timing, the important thing is that we find this power within, discover and develop "the gift", and ultimately, meet our true destiny! Who knows, you may even be one among us who discovers being blessed with more than one gift to develop in a lifetime!
My life has been a long journey of learning and discovery of this power within. While tapping into my own power, I have learned of God, self, my music, and with it, I have learned the true purpose for my life. Though my journey is not complete, it has led me to who I am today, what I feel, what I think, what I know, what I love, and what I do.
I was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on April 6, 1959 to my parents, Stu and Aldona Phillips. I took my place in our family beside my sister, Leagh, who was born three years earlier. We had a humble home in Calgary and then moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada where my father had accepted the position as host of his own television show, Red River Jamboree. My father was now successful as a country-western singer, music was his gift, and he knew it! Music was also a gift within me, but I didn’t know it at this very early age!
As a small boy, I have fond memories of Winnipeg digging tunnels in the deep snowfalls and riding a ski-doo on the frozen waters of the well-known Red River behind our subdivision in the dead of winter. I remember the two-tone turquoise and white Nash Metropolitan automobile my mother drove us around in. I remember a small market across the street from our subdivision where I learned my first lesson of the value of what ten cents could buy of candy. I remember listening to a song on a 45 RPM record titled, “Little White Light”, that my father wrote and recorded. I also remember my father making me a Bugs Bunny kite, taller than I was, that flew high into the sky until the string broke. It kept flying away until it was no longer in our sights. Who knows, it may still be soaring somewhere over the earth today! These are the memories where awareness of my life's journey begins, and yet, no hint of music at this time other than I was compelled to play that 45 RPM record repeatedly at five years old!
In 1965, I turned six years old and our family moved to Brentwood, Tennessee (a suburb of Nashville) in the United States because my father signed a contract with RCA Victor becoming their newest recording artist. Chet Atkins was his producer and several albums were produced and released. My father had also dreamed of becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and his dream was realized in 1967. This is an excellent example of finding that inner power within to meet your destiny!
For me, life in Tennessee was that of a normal boy with no real revelation of who I was to become. I attended school, had good friends and odd jobs to earn money, and that seemed enough at that time. There were hints beginning to occur that would lead to my discovery that music was my gift, and one of these hints occurred during fourth grade at Lipscomb Elementary School. I had a substitute teacher, Mr. Potts, who assigned our class the task of writing a poem. Ironically, my poem was about snow, and Mr. Potts let me know he loved my poem. It was at this moment I had my first revelation I was blessed with the gift to write. The seed of my gift had sprouted! I take pause to say that, just as Mr. Potts took time to encourage me as a young boy, we can also have that same profound and life-changing influence on others who are brought into our lives, no matter how young or how old they are. We must pay close attention to these moments when they are presented before us, and we must learn to recognize when God is using us for His greater purpose and plan!
When I was nine years old my parents asked me if I wanted to take piano lessons. My sister was already taking piano lessons, and I decided this would be a great idea for me as well. I studied classical music for several years, but eventually lost interest since this was music others wrote, and it wasn’t the music I heard on the radio. It also wasn’t the music I was now beginning to hear within my soul. What I did receive during this time period of classical piano was excellent musical training, appreciation for classical music, and some positive feedback from my father saying that I really “felt” the music I played on the piano. Remember what I said about our ability to have influence on someone around us? My father’s words became a second moment of revelation and growth for my gift of music. And yet, there was still no great epiphany in me that music was my future career.
Also, around nine years of age, my family and I went back to Canada to visit relatives. I had a cousin named Robert who had the gift of music, and he knew it! Robert was a year older than me, and his mother had signed him up for a music competition in Canada. Robert actually won the contest and landed a spot on a television show with a children’s cast for the following two years after the contest. He was confident and very good at playing the guitar and singing. Because of this, Robert and my father developed a special bond while playing their music together during our visit. I felt a little jealous that those two could share their music together and I couldn’t find a way in. I even felt a little outcast. I wanted this same moment for my father and I. It was difficult for me as a young boy growing up with a father who could sing so beautifully and I didn’t seem to know how!
Robert had a good spirit though, and he actually helped me learn my first pop song titled, “Proud Mary” written by John Fogerty, the frontman for Creedence Clearwater Revival. While I was so excited to be learning this song, I found I lacked self-confidence in my vocals when compared to Robert and my father. Because of this, I actually became withdrawn and the growth and development of my music gift was stunted. What I didn’t know then, and nobody seemed to step up and say, was that any shortcomings in my newfound vocal talent were fixable! I just needed encouragement and voice lessons with a talented voice coach, and that would have cured my lack of confidence early in life! This is something you readers should pay attention to if you are struggling with any shortcomings of your own, or in a position to encourage someone else through any of their own shortcomings! Not only does this apply to the gift of music, but it applies to any other gift in the arts, medicine, law, math, science, etc. that is being pursued and developed. Noteworthy of mention is that, after his first audition, Elvis Presley was told he should stick to driving a truck because he’d never make it as a singer. The rest of Elvis' story is history!
The following year, I was reading through a magazine and found instructions on how to build a crystal radio. I purchased the parts needed from Radio Shack, and when I finished the project, I tested the radio out. It worked beautifully! I was able to pick up a few radio stations and I listened intently to the music that was playing. Following that, my parents bought my sister and me a Panasonic stereo system each for Christmas. This became a gateway for me to discover more about music in my life, and I bought my first album, A Song for You, by the Carpenters. The smooth, calming, and controlled vocals of Karen Carpenter were mesmerizing, and the harmonies with her brother, Richard, were so inspiring. More albums were purchased and I was now getting a real bug for music. The gift of music was surfacing and now calling out to me!
1973 proved to be an eventful year for me! I stayed busy mowing yards, and in April when I had my 14th birthday, I bought my first motorcycle. I was able to obtain a limited motorcycle license, and with this, I could travel 50 miles from home. Having discovered my new freedom, I found work in a small restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed it until the restaurant closed due to my boss’ illness. I then found work at a pizza place which turned out to be a lot of fun as well. This was also the year my sister and I welcomed our new baby brother, Jasson, into our family. We were excited to have a baby brother, and we welcomed him with love!
During the next couple of years, music was calling me and I discovered artists like Barry Manilow, Air Supply, Neil Diamond, Bread, Chicago, Journey, Toto, and more. The melodies of all their music touched my soul and something was beginning to awaken inside that I never had felt before. I would close the door to my bedroom, crank the volume on my stereo, and sing to the music from deep within my soul. I didn’t hold back!
When I turned sixteen years old, I was able to apply to the local Kroger grocery store in Brentwood, TN. I didn’t get an interview right away, but I was persistent in bugging the manager, Mr. H. Glenn Noland. He eventually rewarded my persistence with a phone call to come work for Kroger. I appreciated Mr. Noland and that job so much as the earnings were enough to afford me my second motorcycle, my first car, spending money, and my future college education, groceries, and apartment expenses to come. I worked hard at Kroger and was employed there from 1975 to 1983.
It was also during this time I had the opportunity for my first musical performance as part of a contemporary Christian band. One of the parents of my friends had put a few of us teenagers together for a performance at a local church. We practiced for several weeks to learn some songs for the performance, and I played keyboard and sang harmony in the group. I loved and appreciated this opportunity, but unfortunately, it was not a long-term gig. What this opportunity did for me, however, was awaken the awareness of the singer/songwriter within. Shortly after, I wrote my first song titled, “Old Fashioned Man”, and I now knew I was born to make music!
After high school graduation, I continued to work 28-32 hours per week at Kroger and received time-and-a-half pay on Sundays, and double-time pay on holidays. I worked all of those days that I could! These were enough hours for me to attend and pay for my college education at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). I never had any extra money to spend, but I always had enough money earned to pay each semester's bills and keep attending college!
I chose studies in pre-med at MTSU because my father had always insisted a career as a doctor or lawyer would be a secure, well-paying job, and I should choose one of these two careers. My father was excited about my decision, and when I graduated from MTSU in 1981, I had earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Chemistry and Biology. The problem I faced after graduation was that a career in medicine was not in my heart, but music was! I broke the news to my father that I wouldn't be applying to medical school after all, and that a career in music was my destiny. My father was in shock, for I had turned away from a career he thought would provide a very secure living.
I immediately returned to MTSU in the summer of 1981 and signed up for the music classes that comprised the curriculum for a music degree. My declared major instrument for my degree was the piano. I really wanted to choose voice as my major instrument, but I continued to let my lack of confidence keep me from facing the challenge to “put it all on the line” vocally. While I did take voice lessons, I found myself practicing classical piano five hours a day. I was good enough to receive a very small scholarship for my efforts with piano, but I eventually realized this was not why I went back to school. I needed to develop all of my musical talent, and I knew I was not destined to become a concert pianist. I was beginning to see a more focused vision of my future with my gift of music. If only I had spent five hours a day on my vocal training!
While at MTSU, voice lessons became a double-edged sword for me. My first voice teacher at MTSU was excellent. She was kind and didn’t show the pain of listening to my vocal exercises as I demonstrated I didn’t know how to sing correctly. She worked with me and I was making progress. I should have stayed with this vocal coach, but an opportunity was presented to me for becoming a student of the choir director, and I felt honored to have this opportunity! I thought to myself, “Could I really have the potential to be a good singer since I was noticed by the choir director”? While I thought this was a golden opportunity for me at the time, this became one of my greatest mistakes and setbacks in the early years of my music career. The choir director ended up telling me everything I did vocally was wrong, but she never accepted the challenge to provide any real solutions to my vocal technique issues. I wasn’t an easy study for her at all. While a student must practice, a teacher must also demonstrate the true gift of teaching by finding new and creative ways to communicate what needs to be taught! The choir director and I eventually had a falling out one day after I waited almost 30 minutes past the hour of my scheduled voice lesson in the hallway. When the student before me finally left, I entered the choir director’s office for my lesson and I let my temper get the best of me. I told the choir director my time was valuable too, and with her not appreciating my boldness at all, that was to become the end of my vocal instruction with her. I should have just reconnected with my original voice coach, groveling, if necessary. Instead, I let this negative event break my self-confidence further and became a real setback for many years during the pursuit of my musical career.
While taking music classes at MTSU, one of my classes was Commercial Songwriting. I enjoyed the class and learned from it, but it was more of an approach of how a successful song is structured. Many believe that the creativity of songwriting is teachable, but I feel it is more of a gift from God channeled through an individual. While repetitive structure may be a good thing for some people, the real influences that come along follow the inner gift that allows expression of new ideas. Just look at what the rock group, Queen, did by thinking outside the box. Also look at Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song titled, “Free Bird”, which ran for over 4 minutes as a single, and over 9 minutes as an album cut. Overall, I learned a great deal from the class and I was a better songwriter for taking the class. One of the benefits for students taking this course was the opportunity to “pitch” one of our songs to a local publisher in Nashville, TN. I pitched the first song I had written, “Old Fashioned Man”, but nothing ever developed from the pitch. It was a "No".
I continued to work at Kroger and attend MTSU taking the music curriculum courses through the spring of 1983. I took every course needed for a degree in music, but I did not complete my major instrument hours (piano) to actually earn this degree. During this time, I was also looking for a way to break into the music industry. I had written more songs and prepared a portfolio that I mailed to Arista Records in New York. Several weeks went by and I finally received a response. It was a “No” as well. While they appreciated my interest in Arista Records, they did not have a place for my music. I did, however, appreciate that they responded! Every student in high school needs a course offered that teaches about rejection in life; how to face it and how to recover from it. That course sure would have come in handy for me at this moment!
Life goes on and a new opportunity presented itself to me in 1983 when my father asked me to help him renovate a small building in Gatlinburg, TN. This building would become a musical theater called the “Opra House” for his upcoming seasonal country music show. I jumped at the opportunity to help him since I would be rewarded with a spot in his band as the piano player. I reduced my hours at Kroger to weekends and left town for Gatlinburg to greet my new opportunity. Everyone involved with the theater renovation worked hard and the project was completed in time for a late summer opening night. I had learned some songs for my spot in the show, rehearsed all of the songs for the entire show with the band, and the curtain was ready to rise! So was I.
It was a good two years for my music development, and I learned a lot about myself as a singer, a songwriter, and a performer. I watched the other band members and learned what worked well for them. I also watched my dad, the star of the show, as he entertained the audience flawlessly. I tried to learn all I could from each of his performances. For him, singing and entertaining was so natural. For me, it took a lot of hard work and study. I would practice vocal exercises every night after the show to keep improving vocally, and this eventually led to me receiving my first complements on my singing ability from our audience. It made me feel I was definitely on the right track in life, and I used these complements as my own personal encouragement. Afterall, I truly felt I was born to sing and write music!
While in Gatlinburg, I made time to write songs at night or during the day when it was my turn to sit in the ticket booth and sell tickets for that evening’s show. I wrote a country style duet, “Before You Walk Away”, and I also wrote a soft-rock style song, “Ashes in the Wind”. These songs showed development in my writing style, both in lyric and melody, and I felt I was becoming an accomplished songwriter as well.
The curtain for our final show of the season at the Opra House in Gatlinburg fell at the end of October, 1983. It was a successful first year at this location, but Gatlinburg is one of those seasonal cities where the sidewalks are rolled up at the end of October and put away until summer of the following year. We all went home for the winter, but my father kept the band working with some scheduled shows in various cities and appearances on the Grand Old Opry when we were in town. The Gatlinburg show was repeated the following season in 1984, and at the end of this season, our final curtain fell for the last time. My father had been performing in Gatlinburg for seven years and it was time for him to move on.
For me, it was also time to move on. I made the decision to move to San Diego, CA in late 1984 to be near Los Angeles for further pursuit of my music career. I had written a Christian song titled, “You Love the Hurt Away”, and I contacted Don Butler, a wonderful man I met while working at Kroger, to seek help with contacts for pitching this song to. Mr. Butler gave me the name of a publisher in Los Angeles, CA and I reached out for an appointment to present my song. It took a few phone calls to get the meeting scheduled, but I finally had the appointment confirmed and I was driving to Los Angeles to pitch my song. The two-hour trip was an emotional one for me, and I felt the stars were aligning and I was on my way to success in the music industry. I was thanking God the entire trip up to Los Angeles. There is a saying, “in God’s time”, and I was about to learn what this truly meant. The song pitch in Los Angeles led nowhere and I felt broken-hearted. I had been blessed with a musical gift, I had been blessed with a wonderful song I believed in, I knew a great contact, and yet, I still hit a brick wall! It was another "No", and it was hard to bear! It turns out my timing and God’s timing were not aligned at all, and I didn’t understand why. It would take years for me to recover from this disappointment!
The Bible states that Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights alone in the wilderness, separated from God. My time in the wilderness turned out to be many years! I played piano at a Christmas Party in 1984 and began working in the field of Information Technology in 1985 to pay my bills. I continued to write more music, played in a few bands, and quite frankly, lost my way. I married in 1985, and my daughter, Lauren, was born in 1988. I was truly blessed with my daughter’s birth, and “my little girl” made my life so wonderful! I didn't know it at the time, but in the future, I would write her a song titled, "My Little Girl" that would become our special song for our father/daughter dance at her wedding!
I loved the city of San Diego and even wrote a jingle for the city that I submitted in a contest. I didn’t win that contest either! I ask you, "How many times do you think a person can actually hear the response, No, while attempting to chase a dream?" It turns out the answer is…"As many times as it takes to finally hear the word, Yes!” It has been said that persistence is key to success, and I believe this rings true for any dream pursued. It is not the only element, though, because as I mentioned earlier, God’s timing does play an important role as well. As we keep on keeping on with persistence, we must keep on believing in our dream, and yes, keep our faith until God finally says, “Yes!”
Although I loved the city of San Diego, the forage in southern California is nothing like Tennessee where you find tall deciduous trees and lush green, grassy fields. My soul began telling me it was time to go back home to Tennessee. I moved back to the Nashville, TN area in 1990 and settled in a quaint city called Franklin. I opened up my own computer company in downtown Nashville and sold Novell Netware (a network server operating system), computer workstations, printers, and also offered installation, service, and support for these systems. My company was established as a Novell Gold Authorized Dealer and I was the second Novell Certified Netware Engineer (CNE) in the state of Tennessee. It wasn’t work in the music industry, but I was back in Music City USA, and I was paying bills and providing for my family.
Things were going well, and in 1993 my son, Ryan, was born. A son is very special addition to the family, and knowing you have someone who will carry on your family name is profound for a father! I now had a daughter and a son, and both of them were bringing me so much joy!
During the next two decades, there were developments taking place in my life I could not see unfolding. Even though I was busy with my own IT company, my father opened Long Hollow Winery in 2000, and of course, he asked if I could help him get the business launched. I set up computers, cash registers, printers, and I helped bottle wine on the weekends. In 2001, the vintner (winemaker) gave notice he would no longer be working at the winery, so my father asked if I thought I could make wine. Once again, and without thinking everything through, I said, “Yes”. I bought a book on how to make wine and I literally became a vintner overnight! I worked hard over the next several years running my own computer company and making wine for the winery. I was exhausted, overworked, and yet, I was on a course that had purpose unknown to me at the time. You may ask, “How did the winery help your music career”? Stay tuned, for the answer is coming further down in your reading.
I don’t believe we marry with any intent to get divorced, but it does happen when one or both people in the marriage realize the relationship is destroying them. This was the case in my marriage, and I filed for divorce in February, 2009. My children were grown, and the “empty nest” was really looking empty for the future! It was a difficult and dark time, but necessary for my survival. That’s all I’ll say on this subject.
Life had a change in store for me that would unveil over the next few years. I had a lunch meeting scheduled with a lady who had visited the winery and she wanted a wine tasting event scheduled for her office. This lady had previously visited the winery and spoken with my mother about scheduling a wine tasting, and this visit led to our scheduled lunch appointment.
There is much more to the story of this lady I met for lunch. Her name is Benita, and as it turns out, we had attended the same elementary, junior high, and high school but never actually met. Lunch was so enjoyable that we never got around to the discussion of the wine tasting for her office. Benita and I found we could talk so easily with one other, and we decided to make plans for another lunch. We had that lunch, then another, and then another! We had a real connection developing and I knew then, even though I wasn’t looking, I had found my soul mate!
Fast forward to October of 2012 when I ask Benita to marry me. I had made arrangements to take Benita on a vacation to Niagara Falls and stay in a hotel on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. The hotel room I reserved had a large picture window revealing a front and center view of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. I had ordered a custom engagement ring to surprise Benita with my engagement proposal, but there was one problem. The ring shipment was delayed from the jeweler and I didn’t have the ring in hand by the time we were ready to leave for Niagara Falls. I was promised by the jeweler that the ring would be delivered overnight to Niagara Falls and it would be there for my planned engagement evening. The only issue was I had to pick the ring up in the United States, not Canada, to meet the deadline. I had faith that the jeweler would not let me down so Benita and I loaded the car and headed up to Niagara Falls!
As promised, the ring was delivered to Niagara Falls, New York the following day. I told Benita I had to make a quick trip into town without her because I was working on a vacation surprise for her. I then told her I would be back in about two hours. I felt bad because I didn’t want to leave her alone, but I had to if I wanted to pull off the surprise engagement. I left for the United States, picked up the ring, and then checked it out thoroughly because it had to be perfect for Benita. The ring was definitely worthy of Benita’s finger! I headed back to the hotel after a successful mission, and on the way back, I stopped to get three dozen roses for the finishing touches of the engagement surprise.
As if Benita hadn’t waited long enough on that day for my return from New York, I then escorted her down to the lobby and asked her if she would wait there while I prepared my special surprise for her in our hotel room. She was a real trooper and put up with my needed preparations. I headed to the car from the hotel lobby, retrieved the roses, took the elevator back up to the room and swiftly went to work. I trimmed two dozen of the roses and taped a border of roses around the edges of the picture window. There were three roses left from two dozen reserved for the window so I placed them on the bed pillows. I then placed the third dozen roses in a vase on a table by the window and carefully arranged them. After that, I placed one of the chairs we had in the room in front of the picture window facing out to the grand view of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. I read through my prepared engagement proposal letter, and feeling confident I had done all I could do for preparation, I headed downstairs to get Benita. When the elevator door opened and I entered the lobby, I was thankful to see that Benita was still there waiting!
We headed up to the hotel room and I asked Benita to close her eyes before we entered the room. I led her to the chair in front of the window and asked her to carefully sit down in it. I then asked her to open her eyes, and when she did, I lowered down on one knee and began my proposal of marriage to her. When I finished my proposal, we both wiped away the tears from our eyes and she said, “YES”! I became the most blessed man on Earth on that day, and I still am today!!!
On November 25th, 2012, we were officially married at the winery. I promised a little earlier I would tell you why the winery became so important in my life. If not for the winery, Benita would not have walked through those front doors of the winery and met my mother. She would not have planned a wine tasting for her office which led to our first lunch appointment. Our lunch meeting was destiny! Benita Phillips is the love of my life, and we have been making history together every day since that first lunch!
For our wedding, I created a wedding bulletin that included a poem I wrote titled, “Through These Doors” along with the actual wedding proposal letter. I also wrote a wedding song for Benita titled, “Beautiful Love”. The song was performed by singer/songwriter, Karen Staley, and let me tell you that Karen is one awesome human being. Benita and I will always cherish her friendship and kindness for singing this song at our wedding!
Although it took a second marriage for me to find “Beautiful Love”, I now have all of the love and support I was missing in life before Benita, and that also includes support for my music. I am now inspired to write even more music because of this support! My role in this marriage has become one of support for Benita as well, for I took on the role as office manager for her medical practice after we met. She is a physician, and together, we are one in love and work! We are soulmates!
Earlier this year, Benita began contemplating a future date for retirement which then prompted me to ask myself what I would do when she retires. As I looked at many options, I kept coming back full circle to music! That is who I am! Having said this, Benita and I decided, together, that I would take the opportunity to bring my music to a level far beyond any of my previous attempts and achievements. I promised Benita I would create a CD of love songs for her, and this project is underway. As the individual songs from the CD become available, they will be released as singles on all streaming platforms. The entire CD will be completed and available in Spring of 2024 from this website and other platforms.
One of the areas my songwriting continues to lead me back to is wedding music. Not only did I write “Beautiful Love” for my wedding with Benita, I also wrote a wedding song for my daughter’s wedding in September, 2022. Lauren, my daughter, married the most wonderful man, Stacy Hogan, and they are soulmates for sure. For the father/daughter dance, I wrote a song titled, “My Little Girl”. It is a very special song to me, for I truly love my little girl. I hope you enjoy it when you hear it! The song will be released on all streaming platforms very soon. A video release will follow shortly once the song is released.
As a recording artist and songwriter, I have a growing catalog of love songs, wedding songs, Christian songs, songs of inspiration, and even children’s lullabies. My music is recognized as a sonic blend of traditional pop and adult contemporary music styles. All of my songs will eventually be released for download on all streaming platforms once they are mastered. Stay tuned, and you will be able to enjoy the fruition of years of development and molding of my musical style. It’s been worth the wait for me, and I hope you truly enjoy them! God has been good to me, and I pray He blesses you always!