WhatsUp Interview: Phil Madeira, Inductee to RI Music Hall of Fame

Barrington Native is Veteran Nashville Musician

Phil Madeira, Photo: Rick Farrell

The Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame is days away from inducting the Class of 2019, an eclectic mix of singers, songwriters, musicians and others who work behind the scenes.  

Barrington native Phil Madeira is one of those inductees. Madeira has written songs, performed live, and played on numerous albums from artists including Alison Krauss, Toby Keith, The Civil Wars, Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, and Mavis Staples. 

Since 2005, Madeira has been Musical Director and lead guitarist in the Emmylou Harris band, the Red Dirt Boys. He’s toured extensively with Harris and in recent years, he’s released several albums of his own. 

WhatsUpRI interviewed Madeira last week. Here’s what he had to say. 

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Question: How do you feel about being inducted to the RI Music Hall of Fame? 

“Well, I am truly honored to be included. You know, I always tell people that Rhode Island has a lot of soul, and in looking at previous inductees, that truth seems to be apparent. I had to leave Rhode Island to find my place in the music business, but it’s always a joy to come back, and really special to be among such stellar musicians. I’m also proud to be bringing Chris Donohue and Bryan Owings on bass and drums, my comrades in Emmylou Harris’ Red Dirt Boys.  We might even dress nice.” 

Above: Phil Madeira Photo: Rick Farrell

Question:  What’s special about growing up in New England? 

“For me, growing up in earshot of Narragansett Bay, and seeing a body of water nearly every day of my life in Rhode Island must have fed something in my soul that still responds to the force of the ocean, its beauty and life.  If you want to get real simplistic, New England has the clams. I love the city of Providence and I love where I grew up, raised by a Rhode Island mother and a Pennsylvania Dutch father.” 

Question: How did growing up here affect your musical outlook?  

“Growing up in close proximity to the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival couldn’t have hurt. I climbed the fence with classmate Tom Jones in 1969 or 70 to see Joni Mitchell at the Folk Festival and Ella Fitzgerald at the Jazz Fest. I’m not sure how much New England literally affected my music, but certainly my record Providence pays homage to where I grew up.” 

In 2018 Madeira released Providence to get critical acclaim. The jazz inspired set is full of references to familiar locales, (the ballad “Barrington” and the New Orleans inspired “Back in the Ocean State”) as well as at least one place that doesn’t exist anymore. The funky “Crescent Park” (“listen up mister, you never ride the twister”) and “Gothenburg,” a piano based immigrant story in the style of Randy Newman, are two highlights. 

Above: Phil Madeira, Photo: Rick Farrell

Question: Tell us a little about your recent album Providence

Providence was a real turn for me.  It was a departure from my guitar-driven material and a return to my second instrument (drums were my first, and guitar was the third).  Piano had been ho-hum to me for many years, but when I decided to write Providence, I knew that it would be a piano oriented recording.  However, I didn’t realize that I would fall back in love with the instrument.” 

Question:  You have a new album coming out – tell us a little about it. 

“Crickets is my new jazz instrumental project, which happened quite by surprise. It took someone else to encourage me to finish it. Having gone down the path, I’m excited about this one. I would love to play this record with my quintet at Newport Jazz Festival, which is where I was when the idea to record Providence happened. The album releases two days before the Hall of Fame event- its available for purchase on April 26th, with pre-sales available at Amazon and iTunes right now.” For more on Crickets, click here.

Madeira sums things up. 

“Here I am in my 60s and I’m more productive than ever.  I’ve just recorded a record of love songs that I’ll release at the end of the year; it’s very much in the musical style of Providence. I am looking forward to seeing many old Rhode Island friends on April 28 for the Hall of Fame event!” 

Click here for details on Sunday’s RI Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony. 

Read our 2018 review of Providence here.