The rise and fall of the Phenix

Let me start with a confession. My brother was (and still is) a Genesis fan. And with that followed a progression to Phil Collins and his enormously successful solo material. And, I, being not exposed to much music in my lifetime that wasn’t doo wop (sorry dad), followed his lead, and found myself inspired by Phil’s many faces.

He was an amazing drummer (which was my first inspiration to someday want to play drums – for now, it’s just Rock Band on easy, but SOMEDAY…), and a talented song writer who knew how to capture a mood at a great time to sell records. He was a great performer who could get a crowd behind him during a live performance.

In the sea of brooding melodies about apartheid, love and love lost, radio ready hits that sold beer, dance pop melodies with catchy titles, and collaborations with Philip Bailey, David Crosby and Eric Clapton among many others, Phil Collins became a very wealthy man. Some estimates put his personal worth at between $100 and $600 million dollars.

One of these collaborations was with the Phenix Horns. Previously known for being Earth, Wind and Fire’s brass section (known as the EMF Horns for the early part of their run), they also collaborated with a number of artists, including Phil Collins starting in 1980. They developed a kinship with Phil, being everything from backing horns, to vocals, to being comic foils to Collins’ on-stage routines.

So, when Phil Collins embarked on his Serious Hits…Live tour in 1990, which was meant to take some of his more pop heavy songs and hits, and give them a little bit more of a jazz edge, The Phenix Horns provided the ideal brass section for the exercise. After all, they’d played on just about all of his solo tours since 1982. I remember my brother’s excitement about seeing the tour in 1990 and when the Live CD came out, it was clear that the songs that featured the horns, stole the record and the live performance.

Phil Collins’ “Hand in Hand”, featuring the Phenix Horns in 1986

Sidebar for a second – the inspiration for this post found me when in Costco, with the bridge of “Hand In Hand”, a nearly instrumental classic Phil Collins song that was made whole by the additional of the brass section, started to run through my head. And, the song, whether performed in 1986, or 1990, or beyond, had that sort of magic quality that I think most pop music lacks. The horns busted through walls and left an impression on me as something special… 15+ years later. In between the oversized boxes of 100-calories snacks and 3 packs of wheat bread, I turned to my iPhone and typed in “Phil Collins Phenix Horns”. First result, was the Phenix Horns Wikipedia page, which references their story.

The Serious Hits…Live tour was a worldwide sensation, and Phil Collins offered the Phenix Horns 0.5% of the royalties from the sale of the CD, which too sold nearly 8 million copies worldwide. These were after all his friends, a talented team he collaborated on for many of his biggest hits, and it was great gesture to see. After all, they hadn’t received any previous royalties on any of the millions of CDs they’d contributed to. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

But, fortunes started to turn for the Horns after this. Harry Kim, remained in Collins’ employ in his touring band. Saxophonist Don Myrick left the Horns after 1990, only to be shot dead on his doorstep after years of struggles with drug addiction in 1993. The other two members of the Horns who had not played with Collins since the royalties started to kick in, Rahmlee Davis (trumpet) and Louis Satterfield (trombone), had fallen on tougher times and were relying on these royalty residuals for day-to-day living.

In 1996, after Collins discovered that an “accounting error” was allowing the Phenix Horns to collect residuals on all 15 tracks instead of the 5 tracks they played on, Collins cut off the residuals altogether without explanation. Unclear as to what happened, Davis (forced to pawn his instruments to live) and Satterfield (now, unable to work due to a heart condition that forced him to stop playing trombone, and helping his wife battle cancer was now nearly destitute), sued Collins.

Collins, again, worth in the neighborhood of $600 millions countersued the Horns for $780,000 in back royalties. And he won. Collins was not seeing to have the duo prepay the money, but now had the court’s backing that he would pay them no more royalties going forward.

The Phenix Horns disbanded in 1996. Davis, resumed a solo career as a performer as a session musician. Satterfield died in 2004. Collins went on tour until 2006, to reunite with Genesis for a 40th Anniversary World Tour, and continues to work on Broadway and occasionally making live performances as well.

Funny how a story like this can show quite another face than those you were accustomed to.

5 thoughts on “The rise and fall of the Phenix

  1. “Rock Band on easy”? Seriously? Give yourself some credit, dude. You didn’t miss a beat on the medium-level songs, and weren’t too shabby on the hard ones either. 🙂

  2. Unfortunately, this is an ongoing problem in the music industry. There was an issue about Paul Simon and musicians he used on some of his albums and Chuck Berry was accused of not giving co-writing credit to his fellow musicians which would allow them to share revenues. Plus all of the blues and R&B artists sold their songwriters credit for pennies on songs that were later covered by other (mainly white) artists that made thousands of dollars for the publishing and recording companies.

    I remember interviewing one band member who told me his band was on the verge of breaking up because the lead singer didn’t want to share writing credits with the rest of the band members. Most people don’t realize that it is in songwriting, not album sales or touring, where the real money is made, and, as in your case, it is ongoing flow of revenues, not a one-time deal.

    It’s terrible to see the dark side of people you admire, whether they are famous or just people we are close to. I think this is one reason why I’ve often heard that it is very difficult to go into business with relatives or close friends…money does strange things to people, even small amounts.

  3. Really nice of multi-multi-multimillionaire Phil Collins to leave his former band-mates destitute, just because he could.

  4. Let me say this. Giving the ract that he did offer them 0.5% of the royalties of the CD? Correct? Listen, business is business. Friends, family? It really does not matter who it is. They got paid their share and maybe over since there was a cut point by Mr. Collins correct. Friendship has nothing to do with business! As a matter of fact thats a very …emm not so good of an idea in the first place. Mixing the two together, but since it happened that way its a sad affair it had to come to that point but hey. It is his money and he has a right to do do as he sees fit with it. He shared the wealth! No one can argue that. If they needed more hell just ask him for it…I would if I was that close to him! Did they do that? Phil is not a bad guy when it comes to giving and helping people. Its how you do it. Maybe the turn of events could of and would of changed. As a matter of fact…I don’t doubt that in the least! But some people feel..well he could have just let them them go on keep getting money forever…oi think not you guys…lets be fair here. Would you? Enough said…

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