As a kid Simon Phillips played in his father Sid Phillips’ Dixieland jazz band from the age of 12, famously took over the drum chair in Jesus Christ Superstar at 16, and while still a teenager stormed the London session scene, with a number of 1970s-1980s dates including Toyah, Bonnie Tyler, Tears For Fears, Heaven 17, Human League, Madness, 10cc, Nik Kershaw, Judas Priest, Mick Jagger, Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music, David Coverdale, Michael Schenker, Mike Rutherford, Robert Palmer, Pete Townshend and The Who.
But as a virtuoso drumming talent Simon ached to play jazz-rock fusion at the limits of his ability and he gravitated to Jeff Beck and went on to work with such fusion heavyweights as Stanley Clarke, Al DiMeola, Frank Zappa and Joe Satriani.
In 1992 Simon replaced Jeff Porcaro in Toto – a gig that would last for 21 years, until just recently; he currently works with Japanese pianist, Hiromi Uehara, and he has a number of solo albums to his name, including Protocol (1988).
Here are just five of our favourite records that Simon has appeared on.
There and Back (1980)
The celebrated rock guitarist has always employed the tastiest, most happening drummers and Simon is up there with the best. Phillips seized the opportunity to contribute half the album’s compositions along with keyboardist Tony Hymas, including ‘Space Boogie’ and ‘The Pump’.
This, his third studio album, saw Beck moving in a more instrumental, jazz-fusiony direction. There’s plenty of great drumming here on the likes of ‘Star Cycle’ and ‘The Pump’, but it’s Simon’s incomparable playing on ‘Space Boogie’ that is still considered one of the best recorded drum performances of the last 40 years. A perennial favourite of drummers worldwide, the track’s scorching moving-time double bass-drum grooves build on earlier work by Billy Cobham, while ‘The Pump’ was memorably featured in Tom Cruise’s 1983 movie Risky Business.
Key track: ‘Space Boogie’
Michael Schenker Group (1980)
The Scorpions guitarist teamed up with UK vocalist Gary Barden for the first MSG release, backed by cream-of-the-crop session players such as Mo Foster on bass and Don Airey on keys, while Simon brought his talents to bear on the kit.
The album is an exercise in guitar theatrics along a proggy, melodic hard rock theme, while Simon’s huge beats drive the massive riffs of ‘Armed And Ready’, the Sabbath-y doom of 'Lost Horizon' and boogie-rock of 'Feels Like A Good Thing’. Big, big tom fills kick off 'Looking Out From Nowhere’ – one of many tracks that spell rock with a capital ‘R-O-C-K’.
Key track: ‘Armed And Ready’
Falling In Between (2006)
You’re clearly no mug if you can follow the great Jeff Porcaro as drummer for Toto, and Simon held the drum seat for the last 20 years. The big fills in the rocking title track; ‘Bottom Of Your Soul’, with its ‘Africa’-like feel and fast boogie of ‘Taint Your World’ stand testament to Simon’s drumming prowess.
Falling In Between was Toto’s 12th studio album and a highpoint of Simon’s 21-yearcareer with the band when they entrusted him to engineer and co-produce the entire album in his own studio. Of ‘Bottom Of Your Soul’ Simon explains, “Dave Paich played me the basic song and I said I know exactly what to do with this. I started making a percussion loop and as the band arrived I had them playing different percussion –starting with slapping the wood on top of the organ. Idid the drums in one pass. An effortless track. I wishit would have been a bigger hit!”
Key track: ‘Bottom Of Your Soul’
801 Live (1976)
Early, acclaimed experimental work by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera with his bandmate, fledgling genius producer Brian Eno. Simon says, “An important album – live, a real underground thing that still sells – pivotal at the time, magical. Eno was a manipulator, important for the guidance of that band. A lovely man.”
On this album you'll find a strangely atmospheric ‘You Really Got Me’ and a fabulous, imaginatively inventive reworking of The Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, driven along by Simon’s funky-rocky drums and mega bass line from Bill McCormick. On ‘Third Uncle’ Simon and Bill maintain a truly blistering pace.
Key track: ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’
Protocol II (2014)
This is the latest in a string of solo albums stretching back to Protocol I (1988) and encompassing many styles. Although the band was hastily assembled and tracks jammed in Simon’s Phantom studios, the spontaneity lends itself to lots of fresh, risky playing.
Great interplay with all band members and a feast of fabulous drumming throughout. ‘Wildfire’ drives along like crazy with exemplary drumming intertwining with Ernest Tibbs’ bass. Final track ‘Enigma’ has the band doing clever rhythmic modulations in threes, climaxing with more of Simon’s thrilling, powerful drumming over a band ostinato. ‘Octopia’ is an irresistible duet for percussion and keyboards.
Key track: ‘Enigma’