Alongside Dave Hole and Geoff Achison, Phil Manning (b. 1948) is recognised as one of the best blues guitarists Australia has ever produced. Tasmanian-born Manning's earliest influences included The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Pretty Things and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. From there he exploded Chicago electric blues (Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Jimmy Rogers, etc.) and Mississippi Delta acoustic blues (Son House, Robert Johnson, Tommy Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, etc.).
Manning had spells in Anonymous Incorporated, Cocaine Spell, Tony Worsley and the Fabulous Blue Jays, Bay City Union and the Laurie Allen Revue before joining Perth band The Beaten Tracks as replacement for the departing Dave Hole. In December 1968, The Beaten Tracks relocated to Melbourne where the band evolved into the first line-up of the legendary Chain. Manning left Chain for the first time in July 1971. He formed a duo with Warren Morgan (keyboards; ex-Chain, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs) called Pilgrimage (named after the first track on the Live Chain album). The duo only worked together for four months and issued one single on Festival/Infinity, `Walk in the Light'/`Just for You' (November 1971). Pilgrimage supported UK visitors Pink Floyd (September) and Elton John (October).
In November, Manning rejoined Chain for three months, after which he joined Leo De Castro's Friends on a freelance basis. In April 1972, he formed Willy and the Philtones which had evolved into Band of Talabene by July. By December 1972, Manning was playing with Mighty Mouse; in February 1973, with a simple name change, that band became Chain line-up #15. Chain stayed together until July 1974, and with the band's break-up -Manning commenced his solo career. Throughout that period, Manning also worked as an in-demand -session player, appearing on albums by the likes of Russell Morris, Frieze, Ted Mulry, Brian Cadd, Dutch Tilders, Matt Taylor, Jim Keays, Renée Geyer and Mándu.
Manning issued his debut solo album, I Wish there was a Way, in December 1974. The album featured Manning in mellow, reflective singer/songwriter mode and it produced two singles, `Love is the Mender'/`Take Your Chances' (December) and `I Wish there was a Way'/`Aborigine Song' (March 1975). In May 1975, Manning launched the first Phil Manning Band which comprised Greg Cook (guitar, synthesiser; ex-Cam-Pact, Mándu Band), Eddie McDonald (bass; ex-Bakery) and Bruce Devenish (drums). The band recorded the commercial pop rock single `Train to Ride'/`Tend to My Friend' which came out in October 1975. By September 1975, The Phil Manning Band line-up comprised Steve Cooney (guitar), Paul `Sheepdog' Wheeler (bass; ex-Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, MacKenzie Theory) and Tony Doyle (drums). Trevor Courtney (drums; ex-Chants R&B, Cam-Pact, Vibrants, Skylight) replaced Doyle in November 1975 but the band folded in March 1977.
Between April and June 1977, Manning was a member of John Paul Young and the All Stars alongside his old sparring partner in Chain, Warren Morgan. In July, Manning and Jim Keays (ex-Master's Apprentices) formed The Manning Keays Band with John Grant (keyboards; ex-Freeway), Andrew Kay (violin, keyboards), New Zealander Peter Cuddily (bass; ex-Space Waltz) and Robert Ross (drums). The band commenced recording an album, but Keays left early in the sessions. Rather than shelve the project, the guitarist renamed the band Manning and issued the undistinguished soul-pop album Manning in May 1978. The album yielded the singles Percy Sledge's `When a Man Loves a Woman'/`Loudspeaker' (December 1977) and `Call Me'/`Loudspeaker' (April 1978).
By July 1978, The Phil Manning Band comprised Grant, Cuddily, Midge Marsden (lead guitar) and John James (J.J.) Hackett (drums; ex-Rum Jungle). This was a more roots'n'blues-oriented outfit capable of playing blistering blues-rock. Manning's brother Dennis joined on keyboards to fill out the sound. In May 1979, PolyGram issued the single `Just the Way It Goes'/`I Believe It's Over'. Marsden was something of a guitar hero in his native New Zealand, and the line-up of Manning, Marsden, Grant, Robbie Geappon (bass) and Bob Bickerton (drums; ex-Rock Granite and The Profiles, Mándu Band) issued the New Zealand-only album Live on Polydor (1979). By early 1980, the band had broken up and Manning returned to Tasmania for a brief holiday. That extended into a nine-month hiatus during which time he played a few solo club dates. At the end of the year, Matt Taylor invited Manning to join him in a blues band he was forming in Perth.
The Matt Taylor Phil Manning Band (with Roy Daniel, bass and Ric Whittle, drums) issued the exceptional Oz Blues album and the rare `Spring Hill'/`The Line' single (both June 1981). The album featured a strong blend of R&B material, raunchy boogies and purist blues tracks. The band toured across the country but dissolved in December 1981. Manning formed a new Phil Manning Band with Englishman Chris Copping (keyboards; ex-Procol Harum), who was replaced by Mick `The Reverend' O'Connor, Kerryn Tolhurst (guitar; ex-Dingoes), Wayne Duncan (bass; ex-Daddy Cool) and Gary Young (drums; ex-Daddy Cool). By 1983, The Phil Manning Band had been trimmed to The Phil Manning Rock'n'Roll Trio with just Duncan and Young remaining. The Trio broke up at the end of the year after touring constantly but getting nowhere. They had also spent time backing soul/jazz/blues singer Renée Geyer.
Manning and Taylor re-formed Chain in December 1983; Manning stayed with the band until the end of 1986. Manning settled into country Queensland with his family, and issued a solo acoustic album, It's Blues, at the start of 1988 on his own Tamborine Music imprint. In 1990, Manning issued the cassette-only release Live at the Storey Bridge. Both albums were enjoyable romps through a selection of Manning originals and covers of material by Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Blind Blake, Big Bill Broonzy and Paul Simon. In 1991, Manning formed a new band with Paul Cheeseman (bass) and Don Lebler (drums; ex-Axiom), and issued his fourth solo album, Can't Stop (November 1992). His fifth solo album, The Back Shed (March 1995) featured all instrumental, acoustic country blues material. By that stage Manning was a regular performer at the annual East Coast Blues Festival, either with his own band or backing the likes of ex-Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor and Renée Geyer. In May 1995, Manning and Taylor re-formed Chain once again; since then, Manning has divided his time between touring commitments with Chain and performing solo shows. Manning issued a new album, Two Roads, in August 1997.