Phil Dillon

Phil Dillon

BMHOF Class of 2000

Producer, Engineer, Singer, Songwriter, Musician

A 12-year-old Riverside boy rushes home from his first guitar lesson. Mel Bay book in hand he sits down to practice the assigned work. “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

Eventually losing his enthusiasm, he randomly strums some chords and stumbles on the fact that A minor is the first chord to “The House of The Rising Sun”. He closes the book and proceeds to look for the rest of the chords. He found them. He also found that he could write his own songs and that’s when it all began.

Phil would sneak in to Banat Hall to hear “Cesar & The Romans”, attend CYO dances because “The Rogues” were playing, hitchhike to The KB Fun-Affair to catch “Gary Puckett & The Union Gap”, walk to the Boulevard Cave because “The Madmen”, “The Rocking Paramounts” or “The Lonely Souls” were there. He’d tag along with his older sister to the Dougherty High School dances to gawk at “Tony Galla & The Rising Sons”, and when hired to sell plastic binoculars at a War Memorial concert of “The Beach Boys” and “The Loving Spoonful” he found an empty seat, put his box of binoculars under it and sat and listened to the opening act, “Stan & The Ravens”. This of course was the great Stan Szelest’s band.

Six years (and many bands later) he was asked to join the group “FLASH”. The band consisted of guitarist Jimmy Ralston, bass player Larry Swist, drummer Rich Pidanick, Hammond C-3 player Dean Mooney and Phil on acoustic guitar and vocals.

They made their debut in late October of 1970 in The Fillmore Room at The University of Buffalo and then on November 4th, 1970 to a packed house at Aliotta’s. The group played all original music written by Dillon and Ralston.

They recorded an album’s worth of that material in Rochester, at PCI Studios with a young engineer named Mick Guzauski. Mick had just recorded the live album “Friends & Love” for Chuck Mangione. This association with Guzauski would soon lead Swist down the road to becoming a Grammy Award winning recording engineer for his work with Mangione and Spyro Gyra.

In the fall of 1971 with tapes in hand, management took them out to Los Angeles where they showcased at “Gazzari’s”, “The Rag Doll” and performed at the “Love In’s” at Griffith Park.

1972, now back in Buffalo, Phil started doing solo gigs on Sunday afternoons, first at “Granny Goodness” (formerly Aliotta’s), then “Mister Goodbar” (in between fires) and then “Binky Browns.”

With all the members of “Flash” except Dean Mooney back in Buffalo, and Larry Swist now pursuing his engineering career at Jerry Meyers’ “Act One Studios” a four piece version of Flash was born with Phil on piano and vocals. He and Ralston wrote some new material and the band revamped some of the old. But soon the west coast called and Ralston answered. It wasn’t long before Jimmy got the gig as Tina Turner’s guitar player. He held that position for almost 30 years.

In 1973-74 the “Dillon McMatyus Quartet” was formed. With Phil on acoustic guitar and vocals, his brother Mark Dillon on Congas, old friends Gary Matyus on acoustic piano and Mick Novitz on bass guitar they played an eclectic mix of Dillon’s originals and great covers in a then undefined format now referred to as “unplugged”. They also taped a WNED –17-television program and were regulars at “The Library” on Baily Ave. and “Casey’s” on Hertel Ave.

It was during this time that he began subbing regularly with Debbie Ash and Michael Campagna. This continued as Michael and Debbie took up the Monday night spot at “The Bona Vista” with Polla Milligan and led to the meeting of Phil, Polla and John Brady. When Ash & Campagna left for L.A. they turned over Monday nights to Milligan, Dillon & Brady. For a while, Dillon McMatyus served as the rhythm section for Phil, John & Polla but eventually Polla dropped out and the rhythm section disbanded.

Now it was Dillon & Brady.

For three years they packed them in on Mondays at “The Bona Vista” with various rhythm sections that included players like Jeremy Wall, Jay Beckenstein, Tommy Walsh and Jimmy Calire, Thursdays at “The Central Park Grill” with Phil & John as a duo, and in time Wednesdays at the original “Tralfamadore” and Saturdays at “Quincy’s”on Forest Ave. with the Dillon & Brady Band which featured first, Pete Vitale then Duffy Fornes on drums, Carl Cedar on bass and Gerardo Velez on percussion. This was a formidable band.

As a duo or with the band, they raised the bar for original acoustic music in Buffalo and topped it off by recording an album of their songs at PCI Studios in Rochester, which featured Gary Mallaber as producer and drummer, Harvey Brooks on bass, Jay Beckenstein, Jeremy Wall and Bobby Militello. Of course it was recorded by Larry Swist and mixed by Larry and Mick Guzauski.

After the break up of Dillon & Brady in 1977, The Phil Dillon Band was formed with Andy Rapillo, Ralph Parker, Phil Youkim and Larry Eason. This was a great band but short lived and eventually led Phil to move to Rochester and join the band “Backstreet”.

The 80’s found Phil back in Buffalo working solo gigs at “The Scotch & Sirloin”, “Bourbon Street Cafe” “Rosie’s” and “Nietzches” as well as stints with “Junction West” and “The Lance Diamond Band”. He was also considered an honorary member of “The Thirds”

In 1985, at the urging of Tony Marfione at “The Cafe Casablanca”, the “The Shoo Bops” were formed. An a’capella /Doo Wop band with Phil, Willie Schoellkopf, Sheila Carlson and a drum machine. They worked regularly at the Casablanca, as well as concerts like “One M&T Plaza”, “Shakespeare In The Park” “Taste of Buffalo” and shot a very hip hour long T.V. special for Jones Intercable in Lockport at “The Taylor Theatre” in the Keenan Center.

This was also a time when Phil began putting together a tiny home studio in his basement. With a 4-Track cassette, drum machine, sampler, effects unit, and a renewed energy to write again, he set out on the path that he continues to travel today. However, the studio’s a little bigger these days.

1990 would mark the last Buffalo band that Phil would play with. “The Saints”
This was a band of Buffalo dignitaries. Nick DiStefano on drums/percussion and vocals, Bruce Brucato on guitar, Jim Brucato on bass guitar and vocals, Howard Wilson on drums and Phil on keyboards/guitar and vocals.

This band had 3 strong songwriters and lead singers in Phil, Jim and Nick; great cover songs by “The Meters”, “The Neville Brothers” and John Hiatt, and a nasty rhythm section. This was one of Phil’s favorite bands.

He also had a brief foray into the world of Buffalo theatre when he appeared in a production of “Pump Boys & Dinettes” as “Eddie” at the Upstage Theater. The show starred Robert “Ernie” Insana, Michael Hake and Dave Keller

Now living in Nashville since 1994, he writes songs, plays guitar, sings, engineers and produces recording sessions as well as running his studio and publishing company Nickel City Music.

In 1996 his song “Now That We’re Not a Family” was recorded by Capitol Records artist Lisa Brokop. This was on her self-titled album, which was her second release for the label.

In 1999 he produced and recorded the critically acclaimed “Ain’t No Stranger” CD by former “Sea Level” guitarist Jimmy Nalls. This CD features appearances by Chuck Leavell, Wayne Jackson, Mike Henderson, Jack Pearson, Lee Roy Parnell, and T. Graham Brown. It was nominated for Best Blues Album by The Nashville Music Awards (The Nammys) and also The Music City Blues Society.

He and Nalls also teamed up to produce 2 albums for Rick Moore & The Mr. Lucky Band.

With Nashville luminary Harry Stinson, Phil co-produced the release “I’d Like To Be The Man.” by singer/songwriter Michael McGrew. The two also produced the bluegrass band “Ducktown Station” and solo artist Shay Sparks.

In 2002 he worked with legendary Nashville “A” Team bass player Bob Moore on a big band project that saw the likes of Boots Randolph, Bill Purcell, Kenny Malone and Ranger Doug Green of “Riders In The Sky”.

Phil has had his songs recorded by Lisa Brokop, Jimmy Nalls, T. Graham Brown, Rick Moore, Michael McGrew, Billy McEwen, Joe Head, Doug Yeomans, Willie Haddath, Dave Duncan, Danny Mack and Yvonne Schmidt.

His song “Ain’t No Stranger To The Blues” co-written with Dave Duncan and Jimmy Nalls was used in the feature film “L.A. Blues” starring Anthony Michael Hall.

He has been playing guitar and singing with T. Graham Brown since March of 2003 with appearances at “The Grand Ole Opry”, “The Ryman Auditorium”, “The Country Music Hall of Fame”, “ Opry Live” on GAC, “The Wildhorse Saloon”, “The Bluebird Cafe”, “The Trap”, The CMA Music Festival (Fan Fair,) “GAC Classic” with Bill Cody, “The House Foundation” with Gerry House, “The Bill Cody Show / WSM Radio” and “Tennessee Mornings” with Charlie Chase and Kelly Sutton.

As a performer he has shared the bill with Joe Cocker, Bonnie Raitt, Chicago, John Prine, Mose Allison, Jim Messina, Richard Thompson, Tuck & Patti, Pure Prairie League, NRBQ, Diane Schurr, Vince Gill, Deborah Allen, Jimmy Hall, Jimmy Dickens, Jesse Colin Young, Chalee Tennison, David Ball, Livingston Taylor, David Bromberg, Tommy Chong, Father Quido Sarducci and many more.

As a Jingle singer, writer and producer, he has done spots for Fisher Price, The United Way, Xerox, Borders, AM&A’s, Topps, Mighty Taco, Kissing Bridge, McKinley Mall, Summit Park Mall, Mr. Oil Change, Island Pools and The Buffalo Destroyers.

In 2004 he began work on Buffalo blues man John Riggi’s solo project and in 2005 he recorded and co-produced Doug Yeomans’ critically acclaimed “Down To The Roots” CD that features Harry Stinson, Ronnie McCoury and Mike Henderson.

In 2006 he recorded and co-produced T. Graham Brown’s latest album “The Present” for Aspirion and Joy Records, with former Buffalonian and Hall of Fame member Mike Caputy.

In January of 2006 he began work on Willie Haddath’s solo endeavor which not only shows off Willie’s blistering guitar work but also features vocal appearances by former “Wet Willie”, “The Nighthawks, and Jeff Beck front man, Jimmy Hall, former Allman Brother, Johnny Neel, and blue eyed soul man, T. Graham Brown.

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