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Brewer Phillips

Posted: March 16th, 2006, by Chris S

I thought rather than write a series of huge columns about recommended music, I’d just write a few pieces about unsung individuals – or more accurately, individuals who’s history leads to loads of unexpected listening pleasure if investigated. It’s nice when you get into something completely out of the blue and find there are another 20 albums like it and you have a new ‘well’ to dip into. So here goes with the first:

Brewer Phillips

Brewer played in the Houserockers, the now legendary band of Hound Dog Taylor. ‘Played’ is an understatement, Brewer propelled the Houserockers who provided the blueprint for the bassless band that is pretty much the garage rock norm these days. With Taylor knocking out cheeky lead slide on some of the most fucked up instruments you could imagine (check the photos that exist for this man’s guitar collection, seems like he wasn’t interested unless it has 16 pickups and a trem made out of a spanner), it was Brewers job to play everything else on his guitar. He apparently learned his craft from Memphis Minnie.

“I left Greenwood and moved to Memphis, and there I ran across the most beautiful woman, an angel, Memphis Minnie,” Phillips said in an interview. “She and Son (House) were in Memphis and I got to play with them. Then I met a guy named James Walker who made a little 78 (rpm record) with me and Roosevelt Sykes. That woulda been back in ’55 or ’56.”

I assume he played with his fingers to account for the simultaneous bass and melody runs you hear that’d put Hendrix to shame, all the pictures I’ve seen have him wearing fingerpicks anyway. His tone was squidgy as glue and he had a knack for playing the irresistible-but-not-cheesy that is unmatched. I get to DJ very infrequently and I can say without hesitation that it’s always a Houserockers track that gets someone to come up and ask “what is this?”, or better still, people properly dancing – sucked in by Brewers low-end groove.

The story of how the Houserockers formed is typical of the tales associated with these characters. Taylor was a larger than life eccentric. Bruce Iglaur saw him play with a Brewer-less pickup band:

“He would start songs for 15-20 seconds, stop and try to start another thing. Then he’d tell these incomprehensible jokes, crack up in the middle of the joke and bury his face in his hands. He’d light a Pell Mell, tell another weird joke, put the Pell Mell on the mike stand, start into another song that would fall apart instantly. But he was so funny looking- a tall, gawky guy, very thin, huge toothy grin. Everybody naturally loved him.”

Brewer went by Taylors house one day in 1959 to kick off at Taylor, who he suspected had stolen his guitar from a gig. He confirmed his suspicions but rather than bust Taylor in two he ended up playing guitar for him for 20 years. Go figure. He said of the time:

“We fought it for 10, 12, 15 hours a night for next to nothing. We’d play all night for $50. We were black-man rich.”

Igalur founded Chicago blues label Alligator purely to release the Houserockers’ material. The Houserockers were also pretty bad-ass characters as well, which always helps in the mythology-stakes. Taylor’s approach to leading a band was somewhat visionary for the time as Igalur recounts:

“Whatever they (the Houserockers) had a show, they didn’t rehearse. That was sort of a rule. They followed that rule very closely. They also followed the rule that you REALLY shouldn’t perform unless you had a reasonable amount of alcohol. He set an example for that. In that regard, he was sort of an exemplary bandleader.”

Tales of Taylor pulling a lady at a show, taking the car and leaving Brewer and drummer Ted Harvey hitching a ride home are hilarious. Or Taylor slapping a sound-asleep Harvey and imploring him to “wake up and argue!”

Get this (again from Iglaur):

“They also liked to tease each other about having sex with each other’s wives and girlfriends. I remember when Brewer said about one of Hound Dog’s girlfriends ‘yeah, I knew her when she was a whore on 43rd Street.’ In fact, it was a remark like that, directed at Hound Dog about his wife that led him to shoot Brewer in 1975, luckily not fatally”

Brewer won an award for a record he cut long after after Taylors death (of cancer in 1975). He had this to say about his album being declared Blues Album Of The Year:

“I don’t know why. It sounds like shit”.

He died of natural causes in August 1999, aged 69 or maybe 72, or 73. He wasn’t sure.

Go see




Chris S

Chris lives for the rock and can often be seen stumbling drunkenly on (and off) stages far and wide. Other hobbies include wearing jumpers, arsing about with Photoshop and trying to beat the world record for the number of offensive comments made in any 24 hour period. He has been married twice but his heart really belongs to his guitars. All 436 of them.


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