The Phenix Horns [sic], originally known as the EWF Horns, were the main horn section for Earth, Wind & Fire, Phil Collins and Genesis. The four members were Don Myrick on saxophones, Louis "Lui Lui" Satterfield on trombone, Rahmlee Michael Davis on trumpet and Michael Harris on trumpet.
Don Myrick, Louis Satterfield and Ramlee Michael Davis recorded in the early 70s with the formation the Pharaohs, from which two albums have been re-issued on CD: The Awakening, recorded in 1971, and a live album, In the Basement, recorded in 1972.
The inception of the group came about through a pair of connections centered around Louis Satterfield. Maurice White, in the process of embarking on a solo career after working in the Ramsey Lewis Trio, met Satterfield while doing some early recordings at Chicago's Chess Studios. Satterfield was working primarily as a session bassist at the time, his most memorable contribution being the bassline to Fontella Bass's Rescue Me. White's brother Verdine soon joined the fledgling group on bass, and Maurice expanded the band's timbral palette to include horns. Myrick and Davis, Satterfield's bandmates from The Pharaohs, joined the group, along with lead trumpet player Michael Harris and featured flautist/saxophonist Ronnie Laws (Laws's role was often separate from that of the horn section itself, as he was called upon to provide a solo voice rather than serve exclusively in a supporting role).
It was Harris's unique control and precision in the instrument's upper register that helped define the section's sound. The group was less beholden to middle register three and four-part harmonies (the trademark of Chicago's Lee Loughnane, Walter Parazaider, and Jimmy Pankow), instead favoring a more staccato, rhythmic, borderline percussive approach similar to the sound being popularized by trumpeter/arranger Greg Adams in Tower Of Power (though notably excluding the contrapuntal baritone saxophone spits favored by Adams, obviously in deference to the three horn, sax-centric sound of James Brown). This sound was ideally suited for Maurice's increasingly dance-oriented songs. 1974's "Mighty Mighty" from Open Our Eyes provides an early example (as well as a rare glimpse of Myrick's considerable facility on the soprano saxophone, an instrument noted for being inherently difficult to play in tune). The culmination of this sound, however, is best exemplified by 1978's "September", which prominently features a fast-moving unison line played in three octaves (Satterfield in the lower octave, Myrick and Davis doubling in the middle octave, and Harris in the upper octave) - for Satterfield and Harris, the line is in a difficult part of their respective instruments' upper registers, and the extreme precision is a testimony to both players' virtuosity.
The section also developed a unique approach to ballads. Davis and Harris doubled on the fluegelhorn, an instrument with roughly the same range as the trumpet but with a considerably softer, warmer timbre (the flugel was a favorite texture of many jazz trumpeters, notably Clark Terry, Art Farmer and Freddie Hubbard). The softer palette created by the blend of the two fluegels with Myrick's tenor sax and Satterfield's trombone allowed the section to still play interesting countermelodies and staccato jabs (listen to the post-chorus instrumental breaks of Reasons for a prime example) without being obtrusive or overbearing.
Myrick was also developing a distinctive solo voice. Though Laws and later Andrew Woolfolk, Laws's replacement, were intended to play the featured instrumentalist role in the band's live shows, Myrick eventually won over some of those duties for himself. He was particularly adept on the alto saxophone, distinctly demonstrating the influence of soul-influenced bebop saxophonist Julian 'Cannonball' Adderley. His tour de force is the burning, passionate solo on the 1979 single "After The Love Has Gone".
1979 saw the arrival and almost immediate departure of third trumpet Elmer Brown.
Collaboration with Phil Collins
In 1981, the foursome joined Genesis drummer Phil Collins and producer Hugh Padgham in the studio for the recording of Collins's debut solo album, Face Value. Five of the musically diverse album's 12 tracks featured horns, with a sixth (a rendition of the Beatles's Tomorrow Never Knows) featuring electronically manipulated samples of the section. The group's (and in particular Harris's) extreme precision was put to good use in up-tempo numbers like "Behind the Lines" and the mostly instrumental "Hand In Hand". Myrick's lyrical alto playing is featured prominently on "If Leaving Me Is Easy", as are Harris's and Davis's signature fluegelhorn lines. The section also joined Collins's band Genesis at Fisher Lane Farm Studios, in Surrey, England, on the song "No Reply at All" on their album Abacab, as well as on "Paperlate", a song from the band's EP 3×3 which was also included on the U.S. release of the album Three Sides Live.
The foursome developed a strong kinship with Collins and elected to join him on tour and for the recording of subsequent albums, while still intermittently performing and recording with Earth, Wind & Fire. 1982's Hello, I Must Be Going! saw a feature instrumental piece, "The West Side," penned for Myrick by Collins. Early concert footage shows the section doing considerably more than playing their instruments. Prior to 1989 Collins did not use dedicated backing vocalists in his live band, relying instead on instrumentalists. While guitarist Daryl Stuermer and bassists Mo Foster and Leland Sklar sing sporadically, the horn section sings and plays percussion on virtually every song that does not feature horns. During the extended intro to "Hand In Hand", the foursome join Collins at the front of the stage for a vocal call and response. Harris also contributed a brief co-lead vocal on the closing number, a rendition of the Isley Brothers's "It's Alright". Additionally, Satterfield played baritone saxophone to brighten the section's sound for certain parts.
Following the 1985–86 tour, Michael Harris departed the group and was replaced by Harry Kim. The horn section saw a diminished role in the live show. Collins began employing backing vocalists and occasionally dedicated percussionists. Following the 1990 live album/video Serious Hits… Live! Don Myrick also departed, largely due to continued struggles with drug addiction. Myrick was shot to death by a Santa Monica Police Department officer in the doorway of his home in 1993. He was replaced by erstwhile EWF co-saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk. By the time of the recording of 1996's Dance into the Light, the Phenix Horns had dissolved. They were replaced by the Vine Street Horns, featuring Phenix Horns replacements Woolfolk and Harry Kim along with 2nd trumpet Daniel Fornero and trombonist Arturo Velasco.
In 2000, Collins sued two members of the Phenix Horns, Louis Satterfield and Rahmlee Davis, to recover overpayment of royalties over 6.5 years. Due to an accounting error, Satterfield and Rahmlee had been paid a 0.5% royalty for their contributions to the Serious Hits... Live! album while Collins' management contended that the pair should have been paid only for their contributions on 5 tracks of the 15-track album. The court ruled in favor of Collins but awarded only half of the $384,000 he sought. Satterfield and Rahmlee were not required to pay back any money already paid out, and the $192,000 damages were to be paid from future royalties.
Breakup of the group
Band leader Don Myrick was killed in 1993. Louis Satterfield died in 2004.
Rahmlee Michael Davis ultimately resumed a career as a solo jazz artist and occasional sideman/session player. Louis Satterfield returned to performing until his death in 2004. Don Myrick is buried in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood/Los Angeles, across the street from The Forum, former home of the LA Lakers. Kim and Woolfolk still do session work with Fornero and Velasco under the Vine Street Horns moniker. Ronnie Laws performs primarily as a solo jazz artist. Michael Harris has been recently touring with Al McKay All Stars, performing classic Earth, Wind & Fire hits.
- Jisi, Chris. "Transcription: "No Reply at All" by Genesis - Mike Ruth Line." 19.10 (2008): 78-80. Web.
- Kelso, Paul (29 March 2000). "Collins sues tour horn players".
- "Phil Collins Wins Royalties Lawsuit". MTV.