Mike poses with his long-haired Chihuahua named Bearto.
We asked Mike to tell us a bit about himself and his instrument, and this was his reply. We quote him in blue text below:
As a child, my mom would frequently take me with her to the Miller & Rhoads Tea Room for lunch. This was Richmond's finest department store and featured Eddie Weaver at the Hammond organ with a Steinway piano at a right angle so that he could play both of them at the same time. I really preferred his pop style over the classical stuff my two older sisters were learning how to play on the piano at home. I was probably around seven. My parents wanted me to take piano lessons as well, but I said, "No." I wanted to take organ lessons, but they said, "No."
Eddie Weaver, in addition to his daily Tea Room duties, was also a well known theatre organist having played in Rochester, New York, for many years and then moving to Richmond where he was the featured organist at the Loews Theatre 3/13 WurliTzer, the Byrd Theatre's 4/17 Special WurliTzer, and the Mosque 3/17 WurliTzer. It was always a thrill to hear Eddie playing any one of our three Kings. Incidentally, all three organs are still here. The Byrd is played every Saturday at 7 and 9 PM. The Loews, now the Carpenter Center organ, is temporarily in storage while the theatre is being refurbished, and the Mosque, now the Landmark Theatre, is silent but still there.
When I turned 18, and could get credit on my own, I bought my first Hammond L-100 and took the six free lessons that were included in the deal. I was hooked. I traded up to an M, then an E, and finally an H with twin Leslies. That was 1967, the year I got married.
At about that time I met Bill and Marge Floyd, who had just moved to Richmond from the New York / New Jersey area where Bill played the Mighty WurliTzer at the Brookland Paramount Theatre, plus in the summers, he played another big Theatre Pipe Organ at Surf City, New Jersey.
In 1971, I sold my Hammond H to a church and bought a Lowrey theatre model.
Bill Floyd introduced me to Lee Stadele who was an Allen Organ dealer in New Jersey. In 1973, I sold my Lowrey and bought my first used organ, an Allen 4??, single MOS computer Digital Theatre Organ. It was white with a little gold, and was self contained except for a single external gyro speaker cabinet.
In 1976, I built a new home that had a large great room with an open balcony, perfect for a larger Allen. Lee found a special 621 which was a two manual, multiple MOS computer Digital Theatre Organ. It had eight external cabinets and 7 rack-mounted amps. This was a magnificent Allen that I enjoyed for about 15 years. Then my wife and I became interested in boating. This distracted me from music for about ten years. Then I lost my wife to a stroke, sold the boat, and re-kindled my interest in theatre organs. We had planned to retire to our boat and spend our autumn years cruising the Chesapeake Bay. I had sold the Allen and my Steinway, and bought a Roland Atelier A70 which I installed on the boat. That little Roland was a joy to play.
Mike Phillps' residence in Chesterfield, Virginia.
In the mean time, I bought my present little house (knowing it would probably be just me for the rest of my life.) I didn't require a lot of space as a single man. I then asked Lee to find another Allen and he came up with a cream puff MDS 312. It was self contained, but we added two Herald 200 cabinets which I placed directly on top of my kitchen cabinets as there was really no place else for them to fit.
The MDS 312 never really satisfied my desire for "the big sound". So, having been spoiled by the big sound of the more powerful 621, I asked Lee to find a cream puff 317 for me. He said, "No" because he did not think that would satisfy my wants. We were at odds for a few months. And then, he presented me with the idea of the Allen GW319EX. It was way over my budget, but Lee said he could be creative in the deal structure. Then he dropped the bomb! It was gloss black! I had seen pictures of the flat black EX that Allen had been advertising and I did not care for it. He was relentless. He said, "Mike, this is the organ for you. It is a world class instrument that you will forever regret not buying!" So, I agreed to at least look at a picture of it. As soon as I saw the photo, that was it. So, Lee put the deal together to everyone's satisfaction.
The great room of Mike's residence.
Of course, buyer's remorse set in immediately. How was I going to install this thing so that it would fit my space? But after a few days of evaluating the room and what would be arriving in a few weeks, I came up with a plan. The Allen GW319EX was installed in May of 2005, and now you folks at Walnut Hill are, I hope, enjoying the sounds of this fine instrument.
Les Hickory seated at the console having some fun.
My neighbor, Les Hickory, also an accomplished theatre organist and musician, was most helpful by specifying and installing the shelves and running the wiring to accommodate "Black Beauty" ("BB" for short.) Les has also been indispensable with tweaking all those little things that tend to present themselves in a project of this magnitude.
It was a Godsend to me when Les and his wife Mary relocated here from Saint Louis to be closer to their children. I had known Les back in 1970 when he performed a couple of concerts on my Hammond H, but I had not seen nor heard from him for 35 years. Now he lives in the same community as me and we are enjoying a great friendship once again. What a small and wonderful world!
Les is a fine organist and he is the technician that keeps Black Beauty going to this day. Walt Strony voiced "BB" in Oct 2005. Les and I have tweaked it a little since then, but nothing serious. So, once again, Lee Stadele, thanks for pushing me. You were right! "BB" is exactly what I was looking for!
Standing in the great room facing the kitchen.
I am turning 64 in March and have my share of health problems. But, with great friends, a loving daughter and son-in-law, a nice little house with all the conveniences I need, and Black Beauty, I can thankfully say that I am happy.
And now, you know the rest of the story. Thanks muchly, Sir Mike! We are greatly indebted to you for sharing with us this magnificent machine and the music she makes, indeed.