In the most recent issue of Rolling Stone, rocker Melissa Etheridge talks about her spirituality and an encounter she claims to have once had with a guitar virtuoso named Phil Keaggy. The reason you've likely never heard of him is because after converting to Christianity in the early '70's he quit his band critically acclaimed band Glass Harp and made the mistake of entrusting his career to the Christian music business which promptly kept him locked in the basement of Christian rock, and away from mainstream music fans.
Though he spent years playing for the faithful and recording amazing tracks like this one , the labels he associated with rarely bothered to take his music out of religious circles.
Jim Hendrix was rumored to be a fan, but my favorite quote came from rocker Ted Nugent, no slouch of a guitarist himself, who once said: "Whatever happened to that Phil Keaggy? He could have saved the world with his guitar."
In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, rocker Melissa Etheridge has her own memories of Keaggy which have kicked up a controversy. The RS article reads:
"In high school I had dreams of maybe having a career in Christian music." (Her first real gig was opening for Phil Keaggy in her hometown, and after the show she asked him what he thought of her set. "He basically said, 'I don't think there's a place for people like you in Christian music.' But he said it very nicely. I thought, 'Ok. They don't want me, I don't want them."
Keaggy heard of Etheridge's comments and responds exclusively to the Huffington Post:
"I believe that Melissa Etheridge is a gifted and dedicated artist who has proven herself to be creative and brave especially in light of her victory over cancer. It was brought to my attention that I was mentioned in a Rolling Stone article featuring Melissa. I was surprised to see a quote of something I had supposedly said to her.
Well, first off, I hardly remember saying such a thing to her, at least in such a negative tone, as may be perceived. As I recall, in my own journey around that time, I had my own issues with the Christian Music Business as I saw it. Yes, I was signed to a Christian label and had my own frustrations with the those in charge as they had issues with me as well.
There was much disagreement between me and them from selection of songs to artwork. Even before I went independent in 2002, I had long ago had an independent / artistic streak.
Melissa and I have never met since that day and I regret if she feels offended by what she thinks I said and meant.
As I look again at the words she claims I said, I wonder if, in reality, I was quite impressed with her music and delivery and thought perhaps CCM and the business of Christian music of that day would ever "get her"-- and be able to support her. Finally, I wish her all the best and applaud her fortitude throughout all the adversities of life."
A class act as always. We can only hope that in the twilight of his career, Keaggy will receive the recognition and the audience he always deserved. Even Rolling Stone recognized Keaggy's prowess in this recent article on the top 25 underrated guitarists.