OC Legend Phil Shane Says Goodbye, But Not Before One Last Gig

Categories: Bands We Like

Janet Brown
Sayonara, Phil Shane. Hot Damn!
On a damp Friday night in December at Harpoon Henry's seafood grill in the Dana Point harbor district, Phil Shane is chatting up the late dinner crowd in the lounge, who are bundled up in sweaters sipping Chardonnay and eating mahi-mahi. In his hand is Phil's signature drink, the Hot Damn, a short glass of cinnamon schnapps on the rocks, which he'll use to toast the audience throughout the night, provoking the eponymous call-and-response that's familiar to Phil Shane regulars.

"Hot damn!"

"Hot damn!"

It's Phil Shane night in Orange County--something of an institutional event that has been occurring for some 40 years since Shane's arrival as a fresh-faced 23-year-old rockabilly crooner from Tupelo, Mississippi. He had set out for SoCal in 1972 in search of Disneyland. Two days after pulling into Anaheim, he walked into the Jolly Roger on Harbor Boulevard and booked his first West Coast job. He's been working here ever since.

But come next month, Phil Shane and his wife/manager/seamstress/co-songwriter/co-conspirator Michlene are leaving OC for Gallatin, Tennessee, a small town about half an hour northeast of Nashville.

The new year will be a change of pace for the Shanes. After a dozen or so years of grinding, playing upward of 250 dates per year, splitting time between Orange County and Las Vegas over the past decade, Phil (64) and Michlene ("younger") opted to change tack and slow things down and to pursue other avenues. "By October of [2012], I had booked all of 2013," Michlene says. "If we're going to do this and do this, we're not going to have an opportunity to do what we wanted to do, which is get out there and do the songwriting--in the same room at the same time."

It might surprise you to learn that original music is a longtime passion for someone like Shane, who made a reputation for himself as almost purely a barroom entertainer. He's best known for his immense song vocabulary, which he estimates at 2,000. His look composites Wayne Newton, Elvis Presley and Neil Diamond, and standing at 5-foot-3, he could just as much claim Prince. Conceptually, on paper, Shane's a guy singing karaoke, '70s Vegas-style--mostly classic rock and country songs. Call it whatever you want; he owns it.

"There's only one Phil Shane," says Alex Hernandez, owner of Alex's Bar in Long Beach. "The ultimate lounge singer. He transcends every subgenre of music fan we have as far as audience goes."

As far as this set in Dana Point goes, it's mostly 50- and 60-something affluent men with Burl Ives goatees and GILF-y wives. The place felt a little stuffy as Phil queued up the opening guitar riff for Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman." But by the start of the second verse, all 70-plus folks sitting around the lounge were clapping to the backbeat, fresh drinks in hand, and jotting down requests for him.

The next night in Huntington Beach, the crowd might be 30 years younger.

"You get a pretty eclectic mix, you know," says Hernandez, who has been booking Shane for most of his 14 years running the venue. "His hardcore regulars range in age from, like, 50 to 70, 80 even, and the punkers love him, the hipster kids come out and love him. It's probably the broadest demographic out of anyone who performs at our spot."

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