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Producer/Engineer Knox Phillips, Dead at 74

The son of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, Knox Phillips made his own way, recording the likes of Willie Nelson, John Prine and Jerry Lee Lewis before becoming an emissary of Memphis’ music scene.

Knox Phillips at the 2005 Memphis Chapter of the Recording Academy Honors.
Knox Phillips at the 2005 Memphis Chapter of the Recording Academy Honors. Mike Brown/Getty Images

Memphis, TN (April 17, 2020) — Knox Phillips, a respected producer and engineer for the likes of Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis and others, and son of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, died at home Monday after a long battle with Cancer. He was 74.

Phillips was born into a musical family—both his parents, Sam and Becky Phillips were DJs on local radio stations in Memphis, and his father additionally opened his own studio, the Sun Studio in 1950, so Knox and his younger brother Jerry grew up around recording sessions, having world-famous artists hanging out in the family kitchen at all hours, and more. Helping out at the studio, he packaged records after school and learned record production from his dad and Scotty Moore, Elvis’ guitarist.

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While at college in the mid-1960s, Phillips began recording garage bands, and eventually wound up engineering a number of notable releases, including top-selling sides for Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker and the Amazing Rhythm Aces. By the 1970s, he was running the Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis, a hub for producers like Jim Dickinson, became a Grammy trustee in 1971 and founded the Memphis chapter of the Recording Academy in 1973. During the time, Phillips produced a string of six Jerry Lee Lewis albums and notably recorded John Prine’s 1979 collection, Pink Cadillac, which he co-produced with both Sam and Jerry Phillips and Prine.

Spending much of the ’80s and ’90s producing and engineering, as well as branching out into film and TV work, Phillips was diagnosed in 1996 with cancer in his tear duct, which soon spread to his neck. While he recovered, radiation treatments damaged his hearing which led to his largely leaving production work behind. Instead, he managed the studio, a publishing company and other concerns owned by the family, becoming an emissary of sorts for the musical heritage of Memphis, though his health faltered in recent years, taking him out of the public eye as he battled cancer again and other illnesses.

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