Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Passings: Phil Humphrey of the Fendermen (1937 - 2016)

Phil Humphrey, one half of the duo the Fendermen, died on March 29 in a Minnesota hospital after suffering heart failure. He was 78.

Humphrey and Jim Sundquist started the Fendermen in 1958. The two shared a lot, even before going into their musical endeavor including a birthday (November 26, 1937) and their school, the University of Wisconsin in Madison where they first met.

Phil met Sundquist at a party and, even though they exchanged numbers, they lost touch and didn't see each other again until a chance meeting a time later when Sundquist was delivering bread and saw Humphrey's name on an apartment door bell.

They soon began collaborating musically, both playing Fender guitars which led to the group name. Sundquist's biography states that the duo played their first show at the Oats Bin in rural Wisconsin where they performed for beer. After performing standards and a little rock for a generally uninterested crowd, they broke into the old Jimmie Rodgers number Mule Skinner Blues. The crowd went wild and the song won them a permanent gig for the next few months.

The duo went on to playing more clubs in the Madison area where a local record store owner took interest and arranged for the song to be recorded and released on the tiny Cuca label. Even with strong crowd reaction at shows, no larger company would pick the song up nationally until a La Crosse, WI station finally played it leading to sales of 8,000 copies in two days.

Soma Records finally picked up the duo and had them rerecord the song. Personal appearances across the northern mid-west led to an appearance on American Bandstand, giving the song the push it needed, launching it up the charts to number 5 in the U.S.

Success was fleeting and the two singers parted ways in 1961 with Humphrey's retaining the Fendermen name. He toured Canada and California before settling in the Minnesota area where he ran a home renovation business and counseled youth.

Sundquist had previously died from cancer on June 4, 2013.

Humphrey is survived by his wife, six children, two step-children and two grandchildren.

Here is a video from 2008 of Humphrey and Sundquist playing Mule Skinner Blues together for the first time in 45 years.