Phil Manzanera Marvels Over ‘Last-Minute’ Entry Into Roxy Music: ‘I’m So Lucky’
In retrospect, guitarist Phil Manzanera admits he was in the right place at the right time when he joined Roxy Music in 1972. Barely in his 20s, he had previously auditioned for the British art-rock band – which included singer Bryan Ferry, keyboardist Brian Eno, saxophonist Andy Mackay, drummer Paul Thompson and bassist Graham Simpson – but lost out to David O'List, who played with the Nice.
Undeterred, Manzanera stayed close to the band as its roadie. So when O'List departed from the band, the other members didn't have to look far for his replacement.
“It's incredible,” Manzanera tells UCR. "I joined on the first week of February 1972. Our first contract [with E.G. Records] was signed. A month later, we were recording the first album [Roxy Music], and two months later it was out and was No. 4 on the charts. So I came in at the last minute, and boom! I'm so lucky that these guys had faith in me at that point, and here we are 47 years later.”
Along with Ferry and Mackay, Manzanera was a principal member of Roxy Music during their entire run. For decades, the band has earned acclaim for their groundbreaking musical innovation and style that influenced numerous musicians, especially from the punk and New Wave eras. Now Roxy’s enduring legacy will be recognized at their upcoming induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — an honor Manzanera is thrilled about.
“We're going to have a fun time,” he says about the band’s appearance. “So we're all up for it. It's great.”
Presenting Roxy Music at the induction will be Simon Le Bon and John Taylor of Duran Duran, a group that's cited Roxy Music as an influence. “I've known them for ages since they first started,” Manzanera says.
“I remember we were doing promotion for Avalon in 1983 [and] we bumped into them in Germany at a club. I had a little chat with them. As a result, they ended up coming to my studio and recorded a single called 'Is There Something I Should Know?' with my engineer there. And then they went on to be even more famous! A bit of fairy dust was sprinkled over them from the Roxy studio. But they are very sweet, lovely guys, so it’s an honor.”
Before he even officially became a member of Roxy Music in 1972, Manzanera, now 68, already recognized there was something distinctive about the group. “When I first went to the audition and I met these guys, they were like five or six years older than me -- I knew [they] were special," he recalls.
"There's something strange about them and great -- I want to be a part of this. And then the more I met their friends who were fashion designers, art directors and models, I realized, 'Wow, this is something special.' And then we supported David Bowie at a pub somewhere, and David was doing Ziggy Stardust. He just loved us and invited us to be the support at the Rainbow. He always said, 'Yeah, we were sort of glam, Phil, but there's high glam and low glam, and we were high glam.'”
In addition to Manzanera's soaring guitar playing, one of the crucial parts of Roxy's sound, he co-wrote several songs with Ferry for the band such as “Whirlwind,” “Still Falls the Rain,” “Over You” and “Out of the Blue.” He began to contribute songs beginning with Roxy’s third album, Stranded, in 1973.
"We knew that you had to try to be different after every album,” he says. “We were very conscious of not repeating ourselves. So after the first two albums [Roxy Music and For Your Pleasure], we needed to expand and do something different. Because we had a very different way of some writing, that's why those tracks ended up the way they did because it wasn't like conventional songwriting.”
Outside of Roxy, Manzanera has forged an eclectic-sounding solo career with such albums as Diamond Head and Primitive Guitars -- as well as being a member of other bands including 801 and Quiet Sun.
“I became a musician to be free, and freedom means pursuing your musical interests,” he says. “So if you were tied to be in a band only, that probably would be too restrictive. All of us [in Roxy] from 1973 onward started doing solo albums because we had lots of different kinds of musical interests. It was sort of healthy for us to go and work with other people and to bring those experiences back. You could say that when I did the solo albums, there's no pressure, and I could do anything that I wanted to do.”
There is a strong Latin influence in Manzanera’s music, which is not surprising since he was brought up by a Colombian mother and spent his early years in Cuba and Venezuela. “My mother started teaching me the guitar in Havana in 1957, and the first songs I learned were Cuban folk songs," he recalls. "There's not overtly South American stuff in Roxy, but my wanting it to groove the whole time or to have a sort of uptempo beat would always inform my choices in recording and writing music.”
Manzanera has either collaborated with or produced other artists including several Roxy alums, as well as Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. He co-wrote “One Slip” on that band's 1987 album A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and later co-produced Gilmour's solo albums On an Island and Rattle That Lock, and Pink Floyd's The Endless River.
His friendship with Gilmour dates back to when he was a teenager in the late '60s. At the time, Manzanera wanted to become a rock musician instead of going to a university. ”My brother said, 'Look, let's go talk to a guy who's just become a professional musician. We’ll ask him what you have to do to become a professional musician,'" he says. "That guy was David Gilmour. He had just joined Pink Floyd. From our lunch, we went back to his apartment. He picked up his guitar and went to Abbey Road where he was recording A Saucerful of Secrets. So I had known him.
“Four years later, I was up in Air Studios in London and we were starting to record the second Roxy Music album [For Your Pleasure]. And in the other studio, [producer] Chris Thomas was mixing The Dark Side of the Moon. David wasn't there that day. I sent him a telegram saying, ‘Remember me? I'm in a band now called Roxy Music.’ Then we reconnected. Eighteen years ago, I happened to move next door to him, and we saw each other a lot more. Then he said, 'Do you fancy helping me with some stuff?' It's just a family affair, really. He's a lovely guy.”
As for whether Roxy Music might reunite in the future following the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Manzanera says he's always up for playing live. “We don't have any plans, we never had a plan,” he explains.
“So if we wanted to do something like that, we'd just ring each other up and say, 'Fancy doing it?' 'Yeah, okay.' And we’d do it. At the moment, I think Bryan’s very happy doing what he is doing. We're all happy doing what we're doing. And again, it's down to freedom. We don't have a manager to tell us what to do, we don't have a record company to tell us what to do. And long may it stay that way.”
Meanwhile, Manzanera continues to keep himself busy with projects, including one with fellow Roxy Music alum Mackay. “It’s called Roxymphony,” he says. "[It's] rearrangements of Roxy songs with a little orchestra and a choir. People seemed to love it when we did it [last year in London]. So we thought, 'Right, okay.' We recorded it on film and it is going to come out, and we're going to do about 10 concerts in the U.K. in October."
On what still keeps him motivated, Manzanera sums it up as "just a love of music and meeting new people. It's about chemistry and resonance. It keeps you alive. I decided I want to be a musician from the age of 10, and I had no idea how I was going to achieve that. You just have to be ready and prepared and see what happens.”