This Michigan Musical Superstar You Might Not Know But Have Heard
This writing of this story kind of started as a trip down the proverbial rabbit hole. I saw a tweet that on this date in 1980, Michael Jackson's Rock With You hit the top of the charts, and the guy playing synthesizer was Greg Phillinganes, from Cass Tech in Detroit.
I've seen Phillinganes' name on liner notes on albums for years but really didn't know that much about him. Today, I took a deeper dive into his career and it appears he's played with everyone in the history of recorded music. That's obviously an exaggeration but look at the list. His bio refers to him as a "prolific" studio musician." No kidding.
Phillinganes has played on these artist's albums:
Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, David Gilmour, Stevie Wonder (who "discovered" him), Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, Rod Stewart, Stevie Nicks, Elvis Costello, Anita Baker, Toto, Michael McDonald. There are probably thirty more big names you'd know.
That's not a bad resume for a kid who began playing by ear at the age of two. Then his mother bought him a piano and finally took him to Misha Kotler, a Detroit Symphony Orchestra pianist who taught him technique and discipline. According to his Wikipedia page, "Phillinganes credits Kotler with showing him proper hand posture and for influencing him to play with "a sense of dexterity and definition".
About the time he was twenty, a casette tape of his playing made it to Wonder and he played with Wonder's band for about five years, and that was his introduction to the King of Pop, and led him to be Jackson's musical director for several years. And any rock star who needed keyboards knew (and knows) who to go to. And it all started in Detroit.