In Memoriam: Tony “T.S. McPhee

In Memoriam: Tony “T.S. McPhee

Groundhogs leader Tony “T.S.” McPhee ranked with the greatest British blues guitarists, whether solo acoustic or ensemble electric, slide or fretted. He died June 6 at 79.

McPhee’s ability to tap into authentic blues and venture beyond its confines was remarkable.

“Tony played with his fingers on a cherry red Gibson SG, and his ability to emulate John Lee Hooker was uncanny,” said Blues piano great Bob Hall, an original Groundhog.

The group was Hooker’s favorite backing band in England, earning the nickname John Lee’s Groundhogs, and accompanied him on the 1966 live album, … And Seven Nights.

Paired down to a trio, the Groundhogs released standouts like Blue Obituary before taking a more “power” stance as on 1971’s “Cherry Red.” Early-’70s albums like Who Will Save The World broke the U.K. Top 10 and experimented with a hybrid of blues and progressive rock. Half-jokingly, McPhee later dubbed it “progressive rock with balls.”

McPhee’s career slowed after suffering a stroke in 2009.

“I liked Mac’s early blues period best, when John Lee’s Groundhogs were an exciting, trail-blazing band – and a whole load of fun,” Hall reminisced. “When Mac played, it sounded like the blues, deep and soulful and not rock and roll.”

This article originally appeared in VG’s August 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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