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Guitarist Dave Philips Dies at 52

A gifted instrumentalist, songwriter and sideman, Dave Philips has died following a long battle with cancer.

Guitarist Dave Philips Dies at 52

A gifted instrumentalist, songwriter and sideman, Dave Philips has died following a long battle with cancer. Over the course of a 30 + year career, Philips became a go-to guitarist for some of post-punk and alt-rock's most influential figures including The Pixies' Frank Black, The Replacements' Tommy Stinson and Guided by Voices' Robert Pollard.

A beloved member of musical communities in Athens, Georgia and Los Angeles, California, Philips passed away Feb. 22 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills, with his partner of 29 years, Kathleen, at his side. Together they have an 11 year-old daughter, Marlowe. Philips was 52.

"Not only was he a wonderful musician, but he was a wonderful person," said his friend and longtime collaborator Frank Black. "That's what people responded to with Dave: his core kindness. He just had really good mojo. I always felt like I was better for having known him, and I was always a little better whenever I was around him. There was something about him that was elevated, advanced. I always figured, well maybe some of this will rub off on me."

"He was the gentlest, sweetest man that I've probably ever known," noted Tommy Stinson. "I never heard him raise his voice, I never heard him besmirch anyone. He was a really great guy...and he was a really great player. To get all of that in one human being is incredible to me. He was rare person. It's a big, big loss."

Born March 4, 1968 in Florence, Alabama, Philips moved to Georgia as a child, growing up in Watkinsville. As a teenager, Philips gravitated to the flourishing music scene in the nearby college town of Athens. An emerging talent as a guitarist and songwriter, he worked with several local bands, including Little Debbie and Redneck Greece Delux.

Philips first came to national prominence through his work with Athens singer-songwriter Jack Logan. Philips was featured on Logan's 1994 cult classic Bulk, which was given a four-star review in Rolling Stone.

Philips would be a key part of Logan's band, Liquor Cabinet, over the next few years, contributing guitar, pedal steel, vocals and songwriting to a series of critically acclaimed albums including 1996's Mood Elevator and 1999's Buzz Me In. The group would also make a pair of memorable appearances on NBC's Today show and perform on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

After living in New Orleans for a time, Philips moved to Los Angeles in 1997, where he joined Tommy Stinson's post-Replacements combo Perfect. At the time, Stinson was fronting the band and playing the guitar rather than bass, as he had in The Replacements. "I actually met him at the wedding of [former Replacements manager] Peter Jesperson," recalled Stinson. "I saw him play at the reception. I watched him and said 'Man, this guy smokes me, I should stick to what I know, which is bass.' So I moved back over to bass and he came on board."

Philips recorded an album with the group and producer Jim Dickinson at Ardent Studios in Memphis. The LP, Seven Days a Week, was shelved by the band's label at the time, but would eventually be released in 2004 as Once, Twice, Three Times a Maybe. Philips would also go on to work on Stinson's 2004 solo album Village Gorilla Head.

Starting in the late-'90s, Philips began a long and close collaboration with Pixies frontman Frank Black, serving as a member of his group The Catholics. After initially being hired as a session guitarist - on the recommendation of the Pixies' Joey Santiago -- Philips would become an indispensable member of Black's musical retinue.

"Once he was in our circle, everyone was so happy to have him," recalled Black. "He swung quite easily between the guitar and the pedal steel, and he played both beautifully." Philips would appear on half a dozen releases with Black, from 2000's Dog In the Sand to the 2015 concert album, Live at Melkweg.

Black and Philips would often perform live as a duo. "I'd be up at the mic with my guitar, he would sit down at the pedal steel," recalled Black. "We developed this schtick onstage, where I would talk and say things to him, but he didn't have a mic to respond. Without missing a beat, he would do this Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin thing, all these facial expressions and shrugs. The audience used to go crazy for that. Everyone fell in love with him, because he was so incredibly charming. It made me more charming by association. That's the way he was. He made everyone he played with better somehow."

In 2005, Philips was recruited by Guided by Voices main man Robert Pollard to join his new group, The Ascended Masters. Philips toured with Pollard - as part of a guitar tandem that included late power pop hero Tommy Keene - throughout 2006. Arguably one of Pollard's most potent backing outfits, the group's brilliance was captured on the 2006 live album Moon, recorded when the band opened arena dates for Pearl Jam.

"One of my favorite things was seeing Dave play with Bob Pollard," said Tommy Stinson. "When you play with someone and you're standing next to them, you're not really watching them rock out. You're concentrating on what you're doing. But actually being in the front of house and seeing him perform with Pollard, it was pretty fantastic. I got to see Dave from the fan perspective and he was getting his rock on. Like, 'Holy s - look at him go!"

Over the years, Philips also worked with a wide range of artists from country rock outfit The Lisa Marr Experiment, singer-songwriter Moris Tepper, and The Tommy Keene Group.

Memorial plans for Philips are pending.

Donations for musicians in need may be made in honor of Dave Philips to MusiCares, a non-profit organization established in 1989 and incorporated in 1993 by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Obituary by Bob Mehr.

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