Greg Phillinganes

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Greg Phillinganes
Phillinganes performing with Herbie Hancock in 2010
Phillinganes performing with Herbie Hancock in 2010
Background information
Birth nameGregory Arthur Phillinganes
Also known asMouse, Philly Steak
Born (1956-05-12) May 12, 1956 (age 67)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
  • Keyboards
  • synthesizer
  • vocals
Years active1976–present[1]

Gregory Arthur Phillinganes (born May 12, 1956) is an American keyboardist. A prolific session musician, Phillinganes has contributed to numerous albums representing a broad array of artists and genres. He has toured with artists including Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour and Toto, was musical director for Michael Jackson, and has released two solo studio albums.


Gregory Arthur Phillinganes was born in Detroit, Michigan on May 12, 1956.[2] He began playing a neighbor's piano by ear at the age of two, beginning lessons a few years later after his mother purchased a piano for him.[1] He took lessons from two different instructors before his mother brought him to Misha Kotler, a Detroit Symphony Orchestra pianist who introduced the discipline and technique Phillinganes required to excel. Phillinganes credits Kotler with showing him proper hand posture and for influencing him to play with "a sense of dexterity and definition".[1]

Phillinganes was discovered by Stevie Wonder after the drummer Ricky Lawson gave him a cassette of instrumental renditions of his own songs by Phillinganes. Phillinganes auditioned for Wonder's band, Wonderlove, and played with them from 1976 to 1981.[1]

The year 1978 began a three-decade-long involvement with Michael Jackson and the Jacksons for Phillinganes. He arranged the Jacksons' 1978 album Destiny and played keyboard on the 1980s Triumph album.[3] In the process, he became close with the Jackson family, accompanying them to Walt Disney World and referring to Katherine Jackson as "mom".[4] He contributed to every one of Michael Jackson's solo albums, and cites the title track from 1982's Thriller as a classic example of his work. In an interview with Atlanta, Phillinganes recalled, "I did the synth bass part, those high-pitched synth parts, I did the Rhodes [keyboard] part and even did the pipe organ that Vincent Price does his rap over. It was crazy! When I listen to it now, I just think about all the fun we had creating all those layers in the studio."[3] Although paid as a session musician for his contributions to Thriller, the best-selling album of all time,[5] Phillinganes noted that he and the other participating musicians do not receive royalties.[4] He was the musical director for Michael Jackson's Bad and Dangerous concert tours, as well as the Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special. He describes his involvement with the 30th Anniversary Special as particularly emotional considering his long history with the family. Phillinganes has spoken at length about how much of his life he had spent with the Jacksons, and Michael in particular.[4]

In 1981, Phillinganes released his first solo album, Significant Gains.[6] The Boston Globe reviewer Richard Cromonic noted Wonder's influence on the album, and praised the creativity of the compositions. He criticized the lyrics as being less creative, and said that Significant Gains might be too close to Wonder's sound, calling it "blatant emulation".[7] While the album was not successful, the song "Baby, I Do Love You" was a minor R&B hit.[8] Three years later, Phillinganes released his follow-up album Pulse, which featured another minor hit (and perhaps his best-known solo hit), a cover of Yellow Magic Orchestra's song "Behind the Mask" (with additional lyrics written by Michael Jackson). This single was more successful on the dance music charts.[8] When he later joined Eric Clapton's backing band, Phillinganes introduced the tune to Clapton, who covered it on his 1986 August album. Amidst his solo recordings and touring with Clapton throughout the 1980s and the early 1990s, he became well known as a prominent session musician for a multitude of different artists, performing on many hit albums of the time. His session work has continued into the present.[1]

In addition to Stevie Wonder, Greg Phillinganes has worked and toured with other musicians including George Harrison, the Bee Gees, Donna Summer, Anita Baker, George Benson, Karen Carpenter, Eric Clapton, Donald Fagen, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Michael Jackson, Richard Marx, Paul McCartney, Al Jarreau, Quincy Jones, and Stevie Nicks among others.[9][10] In 1995 he played on the Joan Armatrading album What's Inside. Starting in 2005, Phillinganes filled in for the semi-retired David Paich on tour with the band Toto. He subsequently became a full-time member of the band and contributed to their album Falling in Between. He continued to tour as a member of Toto until the band became inactive in 2008. When Toto reformed in 2010 to resume touring and working on new material, Phillinganes had been replaced in the lineup by original keyboardist Steve Porcaro.[11] In 2022 Phillinganes was reunited with Toto when he filled in for Dominic Xavier during the 'Dogs of Oz' tour during the Norwegian shows.

Phillinganes served as the musical director for Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour for its entire run from 2011 to 2014.[3] Phillinganes was Musical Director for the 2014 Women of Soul performance at The White House featuring, amongst others Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Ariana Grande and Jill Scott.[12] In 2014 and 2015 he performed with Stevie Wonder again in the Songs in the Key of Life Tour, also serving "as the tour's Music Director."[13] He toured with the European leg of David Gilmour's Rattle That Lock tour.[14]

Phillinganes won a 2015 Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Direction for his role as musical director for the television special "Stevie Wonder: Songs In The Key Of Life"[15] and was music director for the 2016 Grammy Awards.[16]

In 2022 Phillinganes were featured in several episodes of the podcast series Stories in the Room: Michael Jackson's Thriller Album Podcast.

Selected discography[edit]


  • Significant Gains (1981)
  • Pulse (1984)

With Quincy Jones

  • One Hundred Ways (1981) - The synth melody used in the song would later be sampled by MF Doom in his song Rhymes Like Dimes (1999)

With John Mayer

With Michael Jackson

With David Gilmour

With Laura Branigan

With Donna Summer

With Sheryl Crow

With Mick Jagger

With Deniece Williams

With Thelma Houston

With Dionne Warwick

With Richard Marx

With Toni Braxton

With Stephen Bishop

With Brenda Russell

With Paul Simon

With Michael Bublé

With Bill Withers

  • Watching You Watching Me (1985)

With Michael McDonald

With Barbra Streisand

With Rod Stewart

With Leo Sayer

With Elvis Costello

With Stevie Nicks

With Willie Nelson

With Anita Baker

With Ronan Keating

With Faith Evans

With Paul Young

With Melissa Manchester

With Natalie Cole

With Mariah Carey

With Al Jarreau

  • High Crime (1984)
  • My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke (2014)

With Leonard Cohen

With Chaka Khan

With Patti Austin

With Bryan Ferry

With Ray Parker Jr.

With Minnie Riperton

With Wynonna Judd

With Joan Armatrading

With Olivia Newton-John

With Richie Sambora

With Boz Scaggs

With Cheryl Lynn

With Jennifer Holliday

With Roberta Flack

With Michael Bolton

With Ilse DeLange

  • Clean Up (2003)

With James Taylor

With Jennifer Rush

With Eddie Money

With Diane Schuur

  • Friends For Schuur (2000)

With Philip Bailey

With Kenny Loggins

With Patti LaBelle

With Terence Trent D'Arby

With Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack

With Neil Diamond

With Donald Fagen

With Earth, Wind & Fire

With Rickie Lee Jones

With Lionel Richie

With Joe Cocker

With Stephanie Mills

With Peter Allen

With Syreeta Wright

With The Jacksons

With George Benson

With Toto

With Aretha Franklin

With Bruno Mars

With Donald Byrd

With Eric Clapton

With Stevie Wonder

With The Pointer Sisters


Cited sources

  1. ^ a b c d e Regen, Jon (July 12, 2012). "Greg Phillinganes: Pop Music's Most Revered Session and Touring Keyboardist on a Life Reflected in Music". NewBay Media. Archived from the original on December 29, 2014. Retrieved December 29, 2014.
  2. ^ Wynn, Ron. "Greg Phillinganes Biography". All Media Network. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c Eldredge, Richard (June 1, 2012). "Q&A with Greg Phillinganes". Atlanta. Emmis Publishing. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Greg Phillinganes (February 4, 2011). "Greg Phillinganes–Michael Jackson". (Interview). Archived from the original on December 22, 2021.
  5. ^ Craig Glenday (ed.). "Biggest-selling Album Ever". Guinness World Records. Archived from the original on May 17, 2006. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  6. ^ "Significant Gains : Overview". AllMusic. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  7. ^ Cromonic, Richard (July 16, 1981). "Greg Phillinganes – Significant Gains". The Boston Globe. Globe Newspaper Co. p. A12.
  8. ^ a b "Greg Phillinganes : Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  9. ^ Walker, Toby. "Greg Phillinganes". Toby Walker. Retrieved December 28, 2014.
  10. ^ Beck, Matt (July 2012). "5 Ways to Play Like Greg Phillinganes". Keyboard. Miller Freeman. 38 (7): 36, 38. ISSN 0730-0158.
  11. ^ "History: Toto". Retrieved December 27, 2014.
  12. ^ "Women of Soul". Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  13. ^ "Stevie Wonder talks 'Key of Life'". Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  14. ^ "David Gilmour – News". May 20, 2016. Retrieved July 24, 2016.
  15. ^ "Stevie Wonder GRAMMY Special Wins Emmy". Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  16. ^ Greg Phillinganes (February 4, 2011). "Musical Director Greg Phillinganes @ Grammys 2016" (Interview). YouTube. Archived from the original on December 22, 2021.

Other sources

  • "Greg Phillinganes: Discography". All Media Network. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  • Ivory, Steve (March 9, 1985). "Black: Session Ace Phillinganes Takes His Own Solo 'Pulse'". Billboard. Vol. 97, no. 10. Nielsen Business Media. p. 65. ISSN 0006-2510.
  • "Phillinganes' Debut Video, 'Behind The Mask'". Back Stage. Back Stage Publications. 26 (20): 36. May 17, 1985. ISSN 0005-3635.
  • "Greg Philliganes". Music Technology. November 1992. ISSN 0957-6606. OCLC 24835173.

External links[edit]