Walkin’ To New Orleans: Phil Phillips


Phil Phillips

We’re taking a trip from Texas to New Orleans and plan to get there in time for Mardi Gras.  Along the way, we’re revisiting some of the interesting characters we’ve met in past years.  Today we stop in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

It’s a long way from crawfish Louisiana to a sun-drenched Caribbean island, but Phil Phillips made that trip in 1984 – or rather, his song did.  “Sea Of Love,” written and sung by Phil Phillips, soared (almost) to the top of the pop charts in 1959 and in 1984 it nearly accomplished the same feat.

“Sea Of Love,” which sold more than 2 million records upon its initial release, is one of the biggest hits ever to come out of South Louisiana.  In 1984, when the song went back to the top 20 thanks to a cover by the Honeydrippers (Robert Plant and Jimmy Page), Phillips was basking in the spotlight once again.  “The song never seemed to die out,” he said at the time.  The Honeydrippers’ rock-star version played out in a popular music video as a sunny lament on an island somewhere.

The original “Sea Of Love” was recorded in Lake Charles by entrepreneur George Khoury (listed as a co-writer with Phillips) and producer Eddie Shuler.  Backed by a bizarrely crooning background chorus, the song reached No. 2 on the pop charts five decades ago. 

“I was working as a bellhop at the Chateau Charles motel in Lake Charles,” Phillips recalled.  “At that time I was going with a girl who thought I didn’t love her.  She thought I was foolin’ around on her, so I had to do something to convince her that I wasn’t.  So I sat on the steps of my house and came up with the song in just a few minutes.  It just came out real natural.”

Phillips was singing the tune when a gas company 41htirm9hzl__sl500_aa240_worker happened to hear it.  He helped link up Phil with Khoury and eventually, Eddie Shuler.  Once it was recorded, the song didn’t take off immediately.  “One DJ in Baton Rouge kept playing ‘Sea Of Love’ because the people kept requesting it,” Phillips said.  “But he got fired for playing it so much.  When they told him he was fired, he locked himself in the studio and played it over and over and the people got behind him.  He finally got his job back, and the song took off after that.”

After “Sea Of Love,” Phillips could never find a second hit – I don’t know how you could follow “Sea Of Love” anyway.  He did cut an anti-drug side in 1968, “The Evil Dope,” but that stiffed too.  He rarely plays any more, and he makes his home in Jennings, Louisiana.  He never really received all of the money the song made, because he didn’t know enough to get decent management.   But he isn’t bitter – he’s overjoyed when people remember “Sea Of Love.”  How can you forget it? 

“Sea Of Love” has been covered and re-covered, it’s appeared in movies and TV commercials, but the only time Phil Phillips ever makes a dime off his giant hit is when he decides to sing it in person. 

MP3: “Sea Of Love”

MP3: “The Evil Dope”

Phil Phillips backgrounder for the Ponderosa Stomp

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