Phil Keaggy was born on March 23, 1951, in Youngstown, Ohio. An accident when he was four left him without part of the middle finger on his right hand. Phil was playing on a platform that supported a water pump on his family farm when it collapsed and the faucets fell on his finger, severing the tip. He was self conscious about it for much of his youth, especially when he began playing the guitar. He has said that, in the early days of playing, he always felt as though people were staring at his missing finger.
Phil didn’t originally want to be a guitar player, he was in love with the drums and at age ten he asked his father to get him some drums for his birthday. Not being able to afford a set of drums, Phil’s father brought him a Sears Silvertone guitar. He was disappointed but began to teach himself the instrument. He had to relearn later because he was unaware how to tune the instrument and had been teaching himself melodies with an out of tune guitar. His brother showed him the correct way to tune the guitar and taught him a few chords. Phil lists that as a turning point in his study of guitar, but says that he really got serious about the instrument when a family friend took him to a music store and asked him which guitar he like best. Phil, then in sixth or seventh grade, pointed to a 1962 Fender Stratocaster. The man purchased the guitar for Phil and even got him his first gig at Artesia hall. Phil paid the man back by sweeping driveways and working in the electronics store the man owned.
Keaggy played with a couple of local bands in the mid sixties until forming a band called Glass Harp with his longtime friend John Sferra on drums and Daniel Pecchio on bass. The band recorded a single for the United Audio label in 1969 and got it’s big break after winning an Ohio “Battle of the Bands”. One of the judges at the contest was an associate of Lewis Merenstein, a music producer who had just won Rolling Stone magazine’s Producer of the Year award. Merenstein flew to Ohio to hear the band play and was excited enough about them that Decca Records signed them to a multi-record deal.
By 1970 Phil was heavy into drugs. He thought that LSD would help him with his musical creativity but instead found that it only brought him despair and unhappiness, his relationships with people that he was previously close to began to fall apart and his sleep habits were affected by the odd hours he kept while on drugs. On Valentines Day of that year, while in Maryland with his band, Phil received a call from his brother informing him that his parents had been in a head on collision. His father was going to be okay, but his mother was in critical condition. She died a week later, and Phil’s sister told him of how she had met Jesus Christ and found peace in her life. She invited Phil to church one Sunday and he invited Jesus into his life.
In September of that year, Glass House released it’s first album and began opening for major acts of the time such as The Kinks, Iron Butterfly, Chicago, Traffic, and Yes. The band would release two more albums in as many years, with some of the tracks reflecting Phil’s recent acceptance of Jesus. But the band would grow apart spiritually and Phil left the band on August 8th of 1972. He released his first solo album the next year, on which he played all of the instruments.
Phil had just married his girlfriend, Bernadette, and the couple moved to New York. For the next three years Phil took a break from recording his own music, but occasionally toured in support of other bands. In 1976, he returned to the studio and released a successful string of records. One of those was his highly acclaimed instrumental album “The Master and the Musician”, recorded in 1978. The album was the best selling record of his career.
During the 80s the Christian music genre really began to take off and Keaggy’s second instrumental album, “The Wind and the Wheat”, released in 1988, won him his first Dove award. The Dove awards were created in 1969 by the Gospel Music Association to honor outstanding achievements in worship music.
In the 90s, Keaggy continued winning awards. His 1990 rock album “Find Me in These Fields” won him a grammy. He won a second Dove award for his third instrumental album, “Beyond Nature”, released in 1992. In 1995, Keaggy was voted number two on a list of the best fingerstyle guitarists by readers of Guitar World magazine. Further instrumental album releases of the decade would net Keaggy two more Dove awards. Keaggy found equal success in the next decade, releasing several albums and winning another Dove award, as well as being voted “Best Spiritual / Worship Guitarist” by readers of Acoustic Guitar Magazine in 2009.