Phil Emmanuel, Australian Guitar Legend, Dies at 65

Phil Emmanuel

Phil Emmanuel

Phil Emmanuel, an exceptional, award-winning guitarist who mentored his younger brother and regular bandmate Tommy Emmanuel, died last Thursday (May 24) in the Australian town of Parkes after a sudden asthma attack. He was 65. 

Revered for his versatility on the electric guitar, Emmanuel shared a stage with the greats of country, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll over 50-year-plus career, from Dolly Parton to Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette, Dire Straits, The Shadows, Midnight Oil, Jimmy Barnes, Carlos Santana and many more.

From the moment he could lift his instrument, he was playing it for family and friends. At age nine, he was already a professional musician in his family band, known variously as The Emmanuel Quartet, The Midget Surfaries and The Trailblazers. Phil took lead guitar duties, with Tommy on rhythm their brother Chris on drums and their sister Virginia on slide guitar. The young siblings toured the country for six years from 1960, and for several years their talents were the family’s sole income. 

Like his younger brother, Phil was a relentless road warrior. He would play anywhere he was wanted and needed, and he completed another national tour in February of this year. Decades after cutting their teeth in the family four-piece, Phil and Tommy toured Australia in the early '90s as “The Emmanuel Brothers” and in 1994 released the instrumental album Terra Firma, which cracked the top 10 on the national chart and was nominated for the 1995 ARIA Award for Best Adult Contemporary Album.

The 2000 Sydney Olympic Games provided a career highlight with the brothers performing at the Closing Ceremony, and the pair reunited again in late 2010 for a 50th anniversary tour. In 1991, he was inducted into Australia's Country Music Hall of Fame. 

Whatever the stage, Phil cut a relaxed figure and he was always happy to chat with fans before and after shows.

Phil is survived by his wife Amanda and his children Jesse Maree, Jamie-Lee, Georgia Dee, Jackson and Marshall Travis.

Tommy Emmanuel led tributes to the guitar great. “He taught me so much right from the start,, showed me how to recognize song keys, chords, harmonies, how to get a sound that worked, how to stay out of the way on stage and when to step forward when I had something to say, musically or otherwise,” he wrote in a Facebook post. "He was a walking contradiction, and a dreamer, but mostly, a loving kind, concerned brother."