Photo: Kishi Yamamoto
"Crucial" Tony Phillips came into the music business as a guitarist and writer in 1976, after being invited to play on a session by producer Adrian Sherwood. The session, mixed by Dennis Bovell, evolved into an album called 'Dub from Creation' (APLP 9001). The album became so successful that a band was formed to promote it. That band was Creation Rebel. As well as promoting the album, they spent these early formative years touring all over Europe with greats like Prince Far I and Bim Sherman. The Creation Rebel line up was initially Clifton "Bigga" Morrison, Keith "Lizard" Logan, Charlie "Eskimo" Fox, Veral "Magoo" Rose and Bonjo I, with Phillips himself on guitar.
"Crucial" Tony quickly rose to the level of band leader for Creation Rebel, with a pre-Roots Radics Style Scott on drums. Well-honed performances, crafted from their time on the road, naturally led the group back into the recording studio, following up with four further albums 'Rebel Vibrations' (APLP 9004), 'Close Encounters Of The Third World' (APLP 9008), 'Starship Africa' (ON-U LP8) and 'Lows And Highs' (ON-U LP15).
"Crucial" Tony was also one of the original directors of On-U Sound with Adrian Sherwood. Together, they produced projects like African Head Charge, the Singers And Players, New Age Steppers and Dub Syndicate to their very receptive audience. Other bands the intrepid guitarist played with during this period were Spartans, Freedom Fighters and Suns Of Arqa.
In 1980, to meet the needs of the large population of singers, musicians and producers in the area, he, along with other local musicians started up their own operation - the Ruff Cutt rehearsal room and studio. Its humble beginnings were in an unused storeroom on the Stonebridge council estate of north London. Despite this, Ruff Cutt soon became the place in the wider Harlesden and Willesden areas for young artistes and musicians to rehearse and record. It was out of the musicians who used the facility that a nucleus was formed; it was from that core that The Undivided Roots Band was to emerge some four years later in 1984.
The luxury of having their own rehearsal space and studio enabled them to work on their musicianship without some of the usual hindrances faced by most young bands. Their work soon came to the attention of CSA Records who released their first single; the self produced 'True Love', penned by Phillips and recorded at Ruff Cutt. Their debut album 'Ultimate Experience', came close behind, its release by Island Records' Mango division heralded a new phase for the band. After the departure for a solo career by their lead singer Don Campbell, the Undivided Roots Band metamorphosed into the Ruff Cutt Band. The equilibrium was finally balanced; everything now came under the Ruff Cutt banner.
The scene was set, the band now consisted of a quintet of musicians whose only aim was to play top quality music; Carlton "Bubblers" Ogilvie (fellow On-U conspirator and later to be driving force behind 2 Badcard), Kenton "Fish" Brown, Trevor Fagan, Antony "Bongo Dashie" Thomas and the re-named Tony "Ruff Cutt". Their reputation grew, making them the UK's top backing band as they continued to accompany many Jamaican legends: Alton Ellis, Big Youth, U Roy, John Holt and many other contemporary artistes. Ruff Cutt started to produce and record several of the artistes they were working with on the road, in their newly upgraded and re-located studio, releasing seventy-nine singles and five albums with some of the biggest names in the industry including Beres Hammond, Mykal Roze and Jazzwad, one of their original protégés, who himself is now a successful producer (and On-U Sound collaborator) in his own right. They also continued to make in-roads into the UK's own reggae scene by nurturing and providing early platforms for home-grown talents like Richie Dan, Vivian Jones and Starkey Banton.
During this time Phillips started working on specific projects for Jet Star's Charm division at their own Cave Studios in north-west London, a steady stream of reggae charts hit under the guidance of Tony "Ruff Cutt" Phillips soon emerged. Impressed by Phillips achievement, Jet Star CEO Carl Palmer commissioned him to produce solo albums for reggae legends Gregory Isaacs - 'Here By Appointment' and Freddie McGregor - 'The Heart Is Willing'.
Amidst all this frenzy of activity, Tony has still found the time to return to his On-U Sound roots, putting in occasional more recent appearances for the likes of Little Roy's and Ghetto Priest's On-U productions, as well as on Adrian Sherwood's self credited work.
Tony "Ruff Cutt" Phillips is currently one of the most in-demand reggae producers in the UK, while Ruff Cutt remain at the forefront of the production and live concert scene.
(Adapted and supplemented by the editor from a biography once found at www.sweetharmonyrecords.net)