by Rachel Brame –
First thing about Phil, he was a man known for his instrument. His signature purple electric violin resembles Prince’s guitar. Phil Swaby was a musician’s musician and he was a friend of mine. Originally from the D.C. region and of Jamaican decent Phil was a classically trained in music. He was no usual violinist though; Phil’s playing capability was extremely versatile and he could easily shift between genres on a dime. I bumped into him initially at a little café in College Park, MD that featured open mic talent most evenings. Initially, I went to support my friends who were there to play and wound up a bigger fan of his talent by the night’s end.
Over the years I’ve followed him in his career up and down the east coast. I discovered that he played in a band during his college years at Antioch College in Ohio when I struck up a conversation with my local Washington Times delivery man in Gainesville, VA. Seriously, the happenstance of my gas station newspaper guy claiming to have been in a cohesive musical unit with Phil way back when absolutely floored me at first, but I cannot deny the power a photograph. My jaw needed to be carefully lifted off the floor after seeing that one! The only formal recordings I’ve found he made were two albums duetting with Johnny Bonneville released by Entropress in 2004: Songs About Devils, Farms & Trains, and Live at the Grog & Tankard. He’s also included in the lineup of a compilation record Greatest Hits of the Smoke – In Vol.1 released in 2006 which is available on iTunes. Another obscure various artist mix he appears on is Kitsch 3: Your Passport To Amalfi Days And Vegas Nights; it’s released by Atmosphere Music out of the U.K. and to be honest discogs.com is the only place I’ve seen it marketed anywhere.
He joined Lee Travis and the Bounty Hunters in July 2007; which is consequently, the same month I married and moved down south also. They were (and continue to be) the house band for the infamous Bowery in Myrtle Beach. He was very proud be a part of the legendary place where the band Alabama was discovered. He was a beloved addition in the band, and people who called it their home welcomed him there. Personally, I felt torn about seeing him play on his newfound home turf. I wanted to be there to support him and his music, but I just could not bring myself to patronize a place of business that continued to rock the confederate flag the same way that “Birth Of A Nation” does. In an interview, back in 2011 with Grand Strand magazine he’s described as “a curious sight in this rebel-flagged-bedecked unashamed redneck Mecca.”1 Since the flag has since been removed from South Carolina’s capitol, the Bowery’s website has scrubbed its old stars and bars symbolism; it’s at least a step in the right direction.
I DID see him play at Joyland while his band rolled through Bradenton, FL on a few winter tours. Caught up with him there a couple of times. My highlight from those moments was when he’d rip out a rowdy rendition of AC/DC’s “Back In Black”. Some of my favorite photographs of Phil’s were of the amazing sunsets he’d catch on an entire week long Key West cruise the Bounty Hunters were booked to play year after year.
He was still outwardly happy and vibrant up through Halloween 2015. I found out the next summer that he’d died of lung cancer on January 28, 2016; he was only 51. Consequently, this is also my better half’s birthday. It is also the date LEGO and NASA came into existence. It’s an anniversary I will never forget; the cycle of life just synchronizes perfectly sometimes. There’s no doubt in his wake he has touched hearts and minds through seamlessly integrating country music with his undeniable talent. He did what he loved for a living, and found a great deal of satisfaction playing, pulling strings, and making people sway. Anyone who he’s moved with his melodies will know it is what he will be remembered for.
⦁ “Fiddlin’ Phil” Grand Strand mag.com, Issue June 2011, accessed Nov. 1 2016.
Songs About Devils, Farms & Trains, 2004
Live at the Grog & Tankard, 2004
(Can be found @ http://www.allmusic.com/artist/fiddlin-phil-swaby-mn0002412997)