performed Saturday, May 25th at the San Diego Jazz Festival with the Kim Waters
band. It's questionable if anyone in the crowd had the faintest idea that Phil Perry had gone into the hospital just three days prior to the festival and had his heart Pacemaker replaced and a new one installed along with a Defibulator. Perry sang with the same exuberance and high tenor musicality that his fans expected. Later, in his hotel room, he shyly displayed the large, square, chest bandage from his recent operation, only after his wife/manager mentioned that his pacemaker had malfunctioned on Wednesday and he had to be rushed to the hospital.
“I don’t get exhausted from doing music,” Perry shared. “I used to stand up under the street lamp with the older boys. They would always sing the lead, but I would sing the tops in the background and that’s how I learned.”
“I was very fortunate. My parents were both educators in the East St. Louis public school system and they sent me to Catholic school. Well now, the nuns thought that I had a propensity for autism, because I couldn’t focus on them. I think what really turned my life to music was Sister Elizabeth Ann. It has to be third grade. She loved to give pop math tests. I hated them. But I didn’t mind doing the math homework, because it was pretty easy for me. I was always ready for the test. I probably was the second or the third person finished with the test and I took my extra pencil and started beating a rhythm on my desk.”
(He began to demonstrate, playing an elaborate, repetitive rhythm on the table between us)
“She looked at me like, WHAT? She came up behind me and I was doing this rhythm.” (He continued to demonstrate for me.) “She said, come with me. I thought I was getting ready to get the beating of a life, ‘cause back then, when you loved the kids that she was teaching, you took care of them when they need taking care of. Today they call it child abuse.
“So, she took me to the principal; Sister Flavia. She got a half inch away from Sister Flavia’s face and said, ‘We are not doing right by this boy. This boy isn’t autistic. We need to send him to the University of Illinois and get him tested. I just heard him change rhythms and change timing in twenty seconds. Nobody his age is supposed to know how to do that.’
“So I went and I took the test. When I came back, my parents had to go to the head of the Diocese for them to approve the change to my curriculum. So that’s when I was sent to the music room, when the rest of my class was going to recess. Sister Elizabeth Ann was the one that would play the piano for the men and boys choir and the combined boy’s choir. That’s where I started singing.
“When I got to middle school I was singing with the Montclairs.” (a group of neighborhood boys who had formed a group in East St. Louis).
“So some of the members of the group and I started doing talent shows and we won. The first prize was getting the opportunity to go into the recording studio. In 1969 we had our first record which was called ‘Hey You – Don’t Fight It.’ That was my embarkation on my journey.”
Phil Perry not only took the reins as lead singer for the Montclair group, he was also a talented songwriter. The Montclair’s first 45rpm record was released on the Arch Record label and Perry collaborated with Keith Frye on this song release. The members of the group at that time consisted of Kevin Sanlin, Clifford Scotty Williams, David Frye, George McLellan and Phil.
Perry’s new CD, Say Yes
, is another amazing tribute to Perry’s exceptional vocal abilities and a flash back to the days of R&B crooners and blue-light-in-the-basement parties, yet evenly balanced with smooth jazz overtones and a modern day productions by Chris ‘Big Dog’ Davis.
“I can get sick from spending too much time in the studio.” He acknowledged.
(He pointed to his wife and manager in the other room chatting with another person.)
“She’s pretty fussy about the recording process with me, because I can do eighteen or twenty hour days and I can do it for a week. And she’s like, you know, you’re a heart patient now. You have to be a little wiser. So I’ve kind of curtailed it. When you have loved doing a particular thing your whole life, no matter how exhausting it becomes, you never consider it work.”
It certainly didn’t appear to be work on May 25, 2013, when Phil Perry exhibited his amazing talent, tenacity and dedication by performing effortlessly. He was rewarded with much applause and appreciation from the San Diego jazz festival crowd.