Phil Thomas Katt's career rekindled by Internet videos.

By: Rebecca Ross

Published in the Pensacola News Journal, Saturday June 19, 2010

Photo by: Tony Giberson

The Music Man

The smooth, Southern voice is instantly recognizable, as are the trademark black shag and dark shades.

Phil Thomas Katt has been a fixture on the Pensacola music scene for decades, but the self-described eccentric is finding new fame online.

Thanks to a slew of YouTube videos, Katt has become something of a lovable cult icon to a growing group of fans and fellow musicians. His quirky music videos have received more than a million hits, and propelled one local artist to accidental Internet stardom.

Katt, best known as the host of local cable music show, "The Uncharted Zone," is enjoying the unexpected ride.

"I can't really explain it," he said, sitting in his West Pensacola home studio. "The videos had been on YouTube for a while, and then, last year, things really took off."

The low-budget but action-packed videos got their start on "The Uncharted Zone."

For 15 years, Katt and his co-hosts have showcased local bands and musicians. The majority of the program's featured videos are created by Katt at Studio 9, and include his signature special effects, local scenery and, quite often, comedic or dramatic story lines.

"He's a total perfectionist," said Tommy Robinetti, longtime friend and "Uncharted Zone" co-host. "Even when we're just hanging out at his house, he's editing videos. If we go somewhere, he brings the camera along. Everything's work for Phil."

It's a labor of love for the kind-hearted Katt.

"I've always wanted to help local musicians get good exposure. I know how hard it can be," said the solo musician, who performed at skating rinks and private parties during his early career. "The show was one way to help. Making inexpensive music videos was another."

Helping one local artist led to Katt’s newfound fame.

Pensacola singer/songwriter Mark Gormley, with his signature polo shirts and chunky glasses, became an unlikely YouTube sensation thanks to the Katt-produced video for "Without You."

A frenetic mix of Gormley, scenic backdrops and a lovely young lady, the video achieved cult status through word-of-mouth and blog posts. To date, it has received nearly a million YouTube views.

"It spread like wildfire," Katt said. "I started hearing from folks all over the country. Mark never cared about being a celebrity, but the interest was there."

A fascination with Katt's unique YouTube videos prompted one Detroit band to make a special Pensacola detour in 2009.

Al McWilliams, with Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Quack Media, was a huge fan of both Gormley and Katt. When he realized one of his bands, The Hard Lessons, would be swinging "kind of" by Pensacola on its way to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, he had a crazy idea.

"Everyone here loves PTK," Williams said, referring affectionately to Katt. "How cool would it be to send the band down there to shoot a video with him? We had to do it."

Shot in front of a green screen at Studio 9, the guitar-driven "Sound the Silent Alarm" includes a dancing cameo by Katt himself.

"He's the nicest guy," Williams said. "PTK's completely sincere and earnest about what he does. People might laugh, but I think they're laughing with him, not at him."

A video collaboration with Chicago-based band Cast Spells, starring actor Horatio Sanz, will be released in the near future.

Kosuke Kasza, with Dovecote/Deathcote Records in New York, heard about Katt through band member Dave Davison and Cast Spells producer, Jason Cupp.

"They had been fans of Katt's for some time, and we were instantly hooked after seeing his Mark Gormley videos," Kasza explained. "We all thought it would be the perfect opportunity to collaborate with him. We were blown away with the result."

Other national names have come a'callin', as well — "There are some projects I can't talk about just yet," Katt said — but his love remains mostly local.

Mark Lang, drummer with Pensacola rockers Skin Wiggin, said his band had a lot of fun making music videos with Katt earlier this year.

"PTK makes it look easy while taking the music to another level," he said.

Two of Skin Wiggin's Katt-created videos are on YouTube, and another, which will feature area skateboarders, is being planned for July.

"We'd like to thank PTK and Tommy Robinetti for their support for local musicians," Lang said.

As for Katt, helping others achieve success has rekindled a passion for his own music. Currently, he is finishing his latest album, which he hopes will do well.

"I thought I was getting too old for it, but I figured with all this new interest, why not?" he said. "It's really given me a whole new excitement."

Fairly new to Facebook, Katt already has more than 700 online friends, as well as a fan page petitioning for him and Robinetti to host "Saturday Night Live." The internet buzz reminds him, he said, of his Katt Line days — referring to his popular '80s phone line that hundreds called to hear daily messages and music. And it's a nice pat on the back for a lifelong ambition.

"The first time I performed, I sang the 'Gilligan's Island' song for the neighborhood kids. I knew right then that I wanted to be a musician," Katt said. "All these years later, I still love it. I always will."