Wes Phillips: RIP

Written by Bill Leebens

This has been a terrible year for musicians— we all know that. We’ve lost Bowie, Kantner, Martin, Prince, and I don’t know how many more. Is there something about an election year that affects the will to live? 

Sorry. Sick joke.

It’s been a bad year for audio, as well—and on a personal level, for me. Richard Beers of THE Show passed away some months ago, and I recently learned of the passing of Wes Phillips.

Wes is best known for his longtime association with Stereophile magazine—as Deputy Editor from 1995 to 1999, then as a writer from 2000 until 2011. His experience went well beyond the magazine world, however, covering every aspect of the world of reproduced music. At one time or another, Wes worked for a record-pressing plant, the Musical Heritage Society, Tower Records, and audio retailers Stereo Exchange and Innovative Audio in Manhattan. He also did PR for a number of companies, during a period away from journalism.

His knowledge of both music and audio was staggering, and while he freely shared both his knowledge and his opinions, there was never a hint of condescension or derision— just an easygoing conversation, as amiable as a good ol’ boy talking about a favored and long-gone dog over a couple Jack and Cokes. I never knew anyone who was as excited to share news of something good and new, or as dedicated to champion obscure artists who had never received what he felt to be suitable attention.

Wes knew more about more types of music than anyone I’ve ever met (rivaled in some areas only by my brother Chuck, who also worked in record stores and had most of the Schwann catalog committed to memory), and had the habit of compiling mix-discs of obscure but wonderful music and sending them to friends. I’ve pretty well worn all mine out, unfortunately. Who else could’ve conceived of a mix of Astor Piazzolla, a throat-singer, and Train, for goodness’ sake, out-Zepping Led Zeppelin… and made it work?

Wes was equally knowledgeable about noir, fantasy and science-fiction, and somehow managed to be as well-informed about current titles in those fields as he was in music. While he could compare and contrast Spider-Man of the Ditko and Romita eras with a straight face, Wes was one of the rare comic book geeks who could express amusement about his addiction.

Two of my fondest memories: an incredible late night sushi dinner in Las Vegas during CES 2009, Wes expertly navigating the menu, a big, bespectacled Gaijin ordering unagi and sake with amiable authority in Japanese, respectfully listening to the waitress’s guidance. The other took place in Tampa, when Wes was attending an event at George Liu’s Audio Visions South. Wes, Michael Fremer, Steve Silberman and I had breakfast, and the discussion became, shall we say, heated.

Through the years, Wes supported me with advice and with introductions to potential clients. The attitude of such folks was always, “if Wes says you’re okay, you must be”. I owe him more than I could ever repay—or can repay, now.

Wes was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1952, and grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia. He and wife Joan Manes were together for many years.

During the last several years, Wes endured a heart-rending succession of ailments and illnesses which kept him confined to nursing facilities. I heard from him less than before, but when I did, his attitude was upbeat and without complaint. He read even more ravenously than before; I sent boxes of books on a number of occasions, and he was always appreciative.

On a personal level, I mourn the loss of yet another friend and mentor. For the audio community, I mourn the loss of an incredibly gifted writer who could convey information with enthusiasm and humor, all in an unforced, conversational style that seemed to just flow.

Rest in peace, my friend. You will be missed.

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