I first discovered Phil and Tommy, the Emmanuel Brothers when I was still at school.
I remember seeing them play at the Teachers Club in Surry Hills, where they would perform sitting on two kitchen chairs placed at the front of a small stark stage. No big amps, no flashy lighting.. just two brothers and their guitars. They were incredible.
It was easy to say they were incredible, but it wasn’t until you actually saw them play that it became apparent just how incredible they were. As a budding young guitar player, I could only imagine that one day I could play like that.. but I also had a niggling feeling that what I was witnessing was beyond the capabilities of a mere mortal like myself.
It wasn’t just the playing, they were also great showmen. The two of them bouncing off each other like only brothers can.
And then there was Goldrush.. probably the greatest country rock band to grace the stages of Australian pubs, featuring Phil on lead guitar, and Tommy on drums (go figure that one!). I recall one particularly big night out (with a fake ID) at the Vicar of Wakefield hotel in Dural, watching Phil tear it up with his Blonde Telecaster, trading licks with the banjo player and sly looks with Tommy. At one point Tommy jumps of the kit and plays half the solo that Phil is in the middle of, on the same guitar Phil’s playing...while he’s still playing it! It was beyond belief.
A little later, I’m working for what was then the biggest Guitar shop(s) in Sydney, Venue Music. I came to know Phil through his brief association with Peavey amplifiers, which he confessed to me, and anybody who asked him, were not his amp of choice, but merely a commercial relationship. It’s good to know that money can’t buy everything.
I worked with brother Tommy as a sound engineer. Later on at my own gigs, people would often tell me I had the best acoustic guitar sound they had heard. That’s was because I had learnt from the best. Nobody took more care than the Emmanuels when it came to ensuring that their guitars had the best tone and earth shaking bottom end. A sound check with Tommy could often take over an hour.
I asked him to show me how they had mastered their notorious right hand technique, where they split rhythm from melody on each hand. He told me it would be easier showing me how to put toothpaste back in the tube.
What an absolute loss it is, to know we will never see Phil and Tommy together again. What a loss it must be for Tommy, losing his lifelong duo partner, his wingman, his brother.
The Australian Music Industry is a poorer place without Phil Emmanuel.