Life was hard in the Delta and George came to Texas in search of a better life. The G.I. Bill afforded his business school education and after serving in the Navy, he went back to Austin and began a 40-year career with Merrill Lynch, embarking on a very different life than he had known growing up. He also reacquainted himself with former â€œCotton Bowl Queen,â€ Eva Gayle Maxey. Soon, the two were married.
Eva Gayle was born in Austin, her parents both having graduated from the University of Texas around the beginning of the Great Depression. Her father, Ed Maxey, had grown up on an Oklahoma farm. He claimed to be part Cherokee and local sports articles in the newspaper later reported the same claim. After his mother died when he was very young, his mother remarried. Edâ€™s stepmother didnâ€™t like kids and gave the ultimatum that either the kids went or she did, and with that, Ed Maxey became one of the first displaced Oklahoma farmers. Many would follow over the next 10 years, including Woody Guthrie, a big influence on Philip Gibbsâ€™ work.
Ed went to the University on an athletic scholarship, playing football, basketball and baseball. Newspaper clippings show his name at the top of an unbelievable amount of statistic lists, including batting average, basketball points and football yards. He played semi-pro baseball during the summers, and it is a shame sports stars were not paid as well as they are today. In 1929, when he graduated, the NFL and the NBA did not yet exist. If they had, Ed would have been a good candidate for either of them. Instead, the Depression came on and the trick was to find gainful employment. He went to work for Binswanger Glass and with the help of his wife, Anamary, started his own glass company, Maxey Glass, which still stands today on East 5th Street. Until his death in the 1980s, he carried the distinction of being the oldest living letterman from the University of Texas.
Anamary Maxey was one of the first women to receive a PhD in physics from the University of Texas. She came there from Alvin, Texas, where her Welsh-born father, Watt Davis, was mayor for a while, toward the end of his long life of travel that involved a good deal of coal mining in places like Pennsylvania, Iowa and Colorado, before he settled in Texas. Anamary was instrumental in running the glass company as well as helping Ed with alcoholism that plagued him. Anamary recently passed away at the age of 94 and was mentally active and inquisitive right up until the very end.
George and Eva Gayle Gibbs had three children: Pam in 1970, Katherine in 1974 and Philip in 1976. Philip and his sisters were sheltered from the hard times their ancestors had known and were lucky to get good educations in Austin schools. Pam went on to New York University, studying theater. There she began a career in television as a music director. She earned two Emmy Awards for her work. Her husband, David Magee, also a theater major, began writing screenplays and in 2005 was nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay of Finding Neverland, starring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslett, and Dustin Hoffman. Pam has since retired from television and spends much of her time raising her three children, Kyle, Lindsey and Amanda. David continues to write films. One upcoming film, Miss Pettigrew, starring Frances McDormand as the title character, will possibly feature a song that is a collaborative effort between David and Philip called â€œTime for Romance.â€
Katherine went to the University of Texas and then worked in Washington D.C. where she met her husband, Scott Lewis, another Texas graduate. They soon moved back to Texas and settled in Dallas where she worked to raise money and awareness for breast cancer with the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and Scott began a successful career in commercial real estate finance. Scott also has the distinction of being the person who first opened Philipâ€™s eyes to the musical world of Bob Dylan, and important development in the life of any songwriter. The Lewises are still in Dallas raising their boys Will and George.
Philip did not begin playing music seriously until he was nineteen in his second year in college. He took a few piano lessons as a child, carried a harmonica around as a boy and played the sax in his 6th grade band, but it was not until he heard the Beatles again for the first time at age 18 that he determined to learn to play the guitar and sing. He spent his youth playing sports like most boys and studying and having fun with a close group of friends. After fourth grade, in response to enforced worship and harsh discipline for trivial matters he insisted on leaving private school and going into the more diverse public elementary school close to his home. This signaled the beginning of a lifelong wariness toward organized religion, resulting in his own search for an understanding of the higher powers, rather than being satisfied with what someone called a preacher told him. He was happier in the public schools despite a rougher life. He got into his first fights there and by junior high when he was bussed across town to East Austin he saw first hand gang violence including a stabbing.
By the end of high school, Philip began working summers with his father and found sports less interesting. He began writing songs, interestingly enough, during this time, before he ever considered playing guitar or singing. This was probably because of a group of friends he had that put together a rag tag rock and roll band. Philip hung out with the band a good deal and this probably planted subconscious seeds that would affect the rest of his life. He planned to take over his fatherâ€™s business at Merrill Lynch, which he found interesting until he went the University of Texas College of Business where he found rampant materialism and pretentious business babble so off-putting that he completely lost enthusiasm for it. Looking for something more fulfilling, he began studying music, learning to play the guitar and sing. From the day he began, not a day went by when he didnâ€™t play the guitar, until two years had passed and he found himself traveling across the subcontinent of India and back in three days and decided to travel light. At the time he began playing the guitar he also began a series of restless wanderings that continue to this day. He is a musician that spends a good deal of time on the road, often just for the adventure, with no shows booked, although invariably impromptu unscheduled performances always manifest themselves in â€œpick-up gigs.â€
At twenty he left Texas for the summer with no definite destination. Heâ€™d gone on bus trips with Meyerâ€™s Mountain Men, a sort of mobile summer camp specializing in the Rockies when he was 13 and 14, and it felt good to be out West again. He stopped at the Grand Canyon to look for work and they called Yellowstone for him and he waited in the canyon to hear back. When that didnâ€™t work out he went on to Los Angeles, camping at first in the Angeles National Forest until he took a room in the Wilshire Royale Hotel, where he wrote many of his first songs. The most important lesson he learned was not to tell potential employers he only wanted a temporary summer job until school began. They wanted permanent workers.
Shortly after returning to Texas a friend showed him a brochure for a study abroad trip called Semester at Sea and in February 1998, two months after his twenty-first birthday, Gibbs set sail from Nassau, the Bahamas on a hundred day voyage around the world, exploring parts of South America, Africa and Asia before returning to the States via Seattle. He saw the Amazon, went on safari, saw the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall, and absorbed music everywhere he went.
When he got back to Texas his head was filled with musical ideas that he shared with friends Cuauhtemoc Sanchez, Danny Roark, Jessie Schulze, and Travis Landers. Many musical acts and performances resulted in Austin, San Marcos and San Antonio from this, culminating finally in a band called #34, named in honor of classmate running-back, Ricky Williams. Philip was the least enthusiastic sports fan but went along with the idea when Sanchez explained to him that 34 was a mystical number like the number 7 which was the sum of 3 and 4 and kept pointing out surprising occurrences of the number everywhere. The band was the last and most complete band formed during this time but only played three shows before Gibbs, Roark and Landers graduated from college and everyone went their separate ways. Gibbs moved to New York soon after.
New York was a coup. Gibbs got a job in the finance department at EMI Music Publishing where he gained valuable knowledge of the music publishing industry, but few lasting contacts, quitting after only a year to follow the muse southward. While in New York though, he did play 3 to 5 nights a week at all the open mikes and writers nights he had the energy for in coffeehouses, bars and what Bob Dylan called â€œBasket Houses.â€ It was here that Gibbs made close friendships that would last. James Thomas, Joe Humel, Mo Goldner and Ernie Paiz were just a few names that would continue to pop up in Gibbsâ€™ life for years to come. Paiz owned a futon shop on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg close to Gibbsâ€™ apartment where musicians would regularly gather and play songs into the night. When Thomas headed out for Nashville in the spring of 2000, Gibbs took note. A few months later he took his first record, a Brooklyn Country E.P. called Digging in the Bottom of Mines, to Tennessee where he stayed for the next nine months on the banks of the Cumberland River. He continued playing 3 to 5 nights a week, working odd jobs and writing at a furious pace.
In Nashville he made many more friends and over Christmas took a trip home to Austin to play his first gig there in over a year and a half. His old friend David Cotton who had booked #34 at Steamboat on 6th Street called when he got Digging in the Bottom of Mines, and booked him to play at the Saxon Pub. The show was on December 26th, 2000 and was a tremendous success. It would be the first of many Saxon Pub shows for Gibbs. Days later, Thomas arrived from Nashville and from Austin the two songwriters began an epic journey, first heading to Mexico and back and then going west to California. In Los Angeles they picked up Humel and a couple of his friends who flew in from New York. The next day they all drove to San Francisco staying at the house of a girl Humel knew, for a few days. From there they went back to L.A., put Humel and entourage back on a plane to New York and Gibbs and Thomas headed east. First they went to Las Vegas to see a friend and gamble. Next they went to Colorado and on through the heartland to Chicago, knocking on the door of Bloodshot Records one cold and clear January morning. They were very kind to the songwriters and offered couches for them to sleep on. Instead, the boys played a couple of tunes, left a couple of Cds and headed out for Nashville.
In May of 2001, Gibbs moved back home to Austin, Texas. One of the first people he called was Cotton who not only booked gigs for Gibbs, but offered him a job at the Saxon Pub working the door of the club where he spent a year getting to know his hometown all over again, this time meeting everyone in the thriving music scene. At the end of that year he quit the job and began playing music full time professionally for the first time in his life. He began by recording Paper Crosses, a great album featuring many of Austinâ€™s finest musicians thanks to producer Stephen Doster, who co-wrote three of the songs on the album. He played constantly all over Texas for the next three years. He derived great pleasure particularly in playing gigs with Doster and local legend Will Sexton. In the spring of 2004 Gibbs did take on a part time job at Barton Springs in South Austin that was more a labor of love than necessity. He found inspiration for many songs from the natural wonder including a work in progress, a folk-opera called The Wellspring.
In the summer of 2005 Gibbs took inventory and realized heâ€™d performed over a thousand times and probably written as many songs. He wanted to shift gears so he quit his job at the Springs and suspended all shows in Texas for a while and went back to New York. He and his brother-in-law, David Magee wrote the song for the movie during this time and did carpentry work at the Mageesâ€™ new home in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Soon, Gibbs predictably became restless and spent more and more time in New York City eventually moving into a friends basement just two blocks away from Paizâ€™s old futon shop. He began playing shows again and palling around with Brooklyn bluegrass band, the Defibulators, who he met through an old college buddy Michael â€œMetalbellyâ€ Ginsberg who played washboard and harmonica with the Defibulators as well as with Gibbs.
In June, 2006, Gibbs headed out on the road again toward the south through Florida, Mississippi and Texas before heading west to California again. He is still traveling and to see when heâ€™ll be in your area, check http://www.myspace.com/philipgibbs.
Check out the artist's website:
1. Paper Crosses
2. Dead Ender
3. Out of My Hands
4. Pushing Me Away
5. You Don't Know
6. Another Place to Disappear
7. You're Gonna Get What's Coming to You
8. Box Bought on Sale
9. Jose Limon
10. Let it Die