ALTAMONT — The village has its own song — country style.
“Awesome” is how Mayor James Gaughan described it. “It’s kind of fun,” he said of the “homegrown song,” adding, “It talks about the park and the Home Front Café.”
Both the melody and the lyrics were written by Richie Phillips, who has been with the country music radio station WGNA for 25 years. For the last 15 years, he’s been part of the “Sean and Richie Show” for which he has composed “Your Town Thursday” songs. (The songs are available online through the station’s website.)
“People give me information,” much of it through “Facebook friends,” he said, “and I write a song about it. I’ve been doing it for years,” he said this week.
Phillips, who is 60, doesn’t know how he missed Altamont since he’s fond of the village, he said, familiar with it from Countryfest, which was long held at the Altamont fairgrounds, and from being a deejay at “a lot of weddings” at the Altamont Manor.
Many times, he writes parodies, Phillips said, and he started “The Altamont Song” with a line reminiscent of Arlo Guthrie’s 1960s’ classic “Alice’s Restaurant”: “You can find anything you want down here in Altamont.”
Written in the midst of the Vietnam War, Guthrie’s anti-draft song was based on a true incident and made into a popular movie.
Phillips decided, though, that following through with the sixties song might be too limiting. “We have all age groups,” he said of those who listen to his show. “That’s an older song.”
Instead, he came up with an original tune and lyrics that include, “Not much more you’ll be needing; just don’t get caught for speeding.”
In addition to the café and parks, Altamont Manor and the Altamont Fair, the song mentions the “nice wine bar,” “a pizza place,” “a laundry mat,” “free Wi-Fi,” “a nice library in an old train station,” the village’s 1890 incorporation, and the “especially cool” Jellybean Field Day at Altamont Elementary School.
Phillips knows a thing or two about school. On Tuesday, he was on his way to “write songs with kids” as part of his “Reading, Writing, and Rhyming Tour” while he answered Enterprise questions. The program has earned him two New York State Broadcasters Awards.
“I can’t read a note,” Phillips said, but songs just come to him. He said he recently composed a song for Bethany Linderman, who is on the WGNA morning show with him, during a commercial break. “It literally comes all at once,” he said.
Music is in his blood.
Phillips grew up in a musical family on eastern Long Island. His grandmother, Ethel Fleischer, “could read anything and play anything,” he said.
She had five brothers who were involved in the invention of the cartoon characters Popeye the Sailor Man and Betty Boop, and the music to go along with it, he said.
“They were part of the Fleischer Studios back in the ’30s,” Phillips said.
He went on, “I used to write songs about my classroom teachers in fourth and fifth grade.”
Phillips graduated from Oneonta State with a degree in social studies and secondary education. He returned to Long Island where he taught for five years before joining his brother in the Albany area.
While teaching in Long Island, he had played in a piano bar on the side. “I made more money on the weekends than teaching,” he said.
Phillips also said, “I felt like I never left home.”
Once in Albany, he got a job playing at the 21 Club. “All these politicians came in and I’d write songs about them,” he said.
In the 1980s, he was asked to write songs for the Legislative Correspondents’ Association show, which annually spoofs state politicians.
“It didn’t click for them,” said Phillips, explaining, “It’s hard to write for someone else.”
So now he writes what comes to him, and last week that was a reverie on Altamont: “It’s the home of the Fireman’s Ball: We could have fun and get rowdy down at the oldest fire department in all of Albany County. So take a little jaunt down here to Altamont....”