He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and took up the ukulele and later the guitar as a child. He also sang, influenced by, and a fan of, Big Joe Turner, Jimmy Rushing, Louis Jordan, and Wynonie Harris. He joined the St Louis bands of Dewey Jackson and Jimmy Powell and was later taught lap steel guitar by Floyd Smith. He later went on to join Lorenzo Flennoy's Trio. A pioneer of the lap steel guitar, he recorded with the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers, among others. In late 1945 he recorded with Lucky Thompson in a band also featuring Marshal Royal and Charles Mingus.
His Rhythm Aces, the band he used on his Modern recordings for the Bihari Brothers, included Jake Porter, trumpet; drummer Al "Cake" Wichard; Maxwell Davis, Marshal Royal, Jack McVea, Bumps Meyers, Willard McDaniel, Lloyd Glenn, Bill Street and Art Edwards. His repertoire included "Big Fat Mama", "Big Legs", "Fatso", and "Punkin' Head Woman".
- Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 139. ISBN 978-0313344237.
- Ray Topping, Liner notes for Swinging the Blues, Ace Records. Retrieved 9 October 2016
- Jazz Discography Project. "Charles Mingus Catalog". Jazzdisco.org. Retrieved 2016-08-20.
- Richie Unterberger (2003-07-22). "Drinkin' and Stinkin' - Gene Phillips & His Rhythm Aces,Gene Phillips | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-08-20.