Tynan Phillips, 28, is a young musician with a lot of mileage under his belt. Born in South Lake Tahoe and raised in Gardnerville, he got his first guitar at the candy dance in Genoa when he was 10.
“I had to have it,” he said. “It was like 70 bucks or something. My dad wanted nothing to do with it, and my mom was like, ’Just get it for him.’ So I got it, and I remember only that moment, because I took the guitar to show-and-tell, or whatever, at 10 years old, and my teacher was like, ’Well, are you going to play us a song?’ And I said, ’I don’t know any—so here’s my guitar.’”
Phillips didn’t start playing until he was 15. He taught himself to play by ear.
“Eight hours a day I was studying, at least—through the midnight hours,” Phillips said. “I would go straight home from school and just play my guitar until my fingers bled, until I could play the song exactly how it was. And I wasn’t even into good music yet.”
Phillips became interested in jazz and blues during his late teens and began playing shows in Reno. He got a manager—John Procaccini from the Upstage Center in Carson City—to help him launch his music career. After opening for Ben Harper and playing alongside John Mayer, his career seemed primed to take off. He was asked to put a CD together, but pressure from his industry mentors to give the album a mainstream pop sound didn’t sit well with Phillips. When The Path I Choose was released in 2006, no one was happy with the result.
“The people on that, just the producers and everybody else, that were trying to like mesh me into this category here, just totally threw my entire emotions off,” Phillips said. “I couldn’t—that’s why I’ve been kind of under the radar for the last 10 years in my own hometown, because I didn’t like what was being forced upon me. That was not the path I wanted to choose, but it worked out in the way that I did learn—I grew immensely from that situation and did respect music a lot more after going through all that.”
However, the failure of his debut album wasn’t the only factor behind Phillips’ decision to back away from pursuing celebrity. Shortly after the CD was released, he was seriously injured in a car accident while driving through Minden.
“I fell asleep at the wheel,” he explained. “I was working super hard. I was helping my dad do construction, and he did a street sweeping company. So I was back and forth to Reno, and I fell asleep driving home … and slammed into a bridge abutment, and front flipped over into the river—broke my back, ripped open my hand.”
For Phillips, the accident served as a wakeup call. When he was able to play his guitar again, he chose to book gigs at small venues in Minden and Gardnerville, where he could pursue his love of jazz and blues and focus on recovering from his spinal injury. At one of his shows, he made friends with a local couple who taught Pilates and Jiu Jitsu.
“They gave me free therapy, basically, and it completely healed my back,” Phillips said.
The martial art became a new passion for Phillips. Today, he divides his time between teaching Jiu Jitsu and practicing his fingerpicking, thumb-slapping style of blues and jazz guitar at local venues. Phillips and a friend are looking to put a band together, but the pursuit of musical acclaim still isn’t on his radar.
“I don’t think I like the limelight as much as I like knowing that people enjoy the music that was created, so I think producing might be the next best step for me,” Phillips said.