Utah Phillips

Utah Phillips

Infobox Musical artist
Name = Utah Phillips

Img_capt = Phillips speaking at Waldheim Cemetery, Forest Park (outside Chicago) in May 1986 during ceremonies commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Haymarket affair.
Img_size = 160 px
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Background = solo_singer
Birth_name = Bruce Duncan Phillips
Alias =
Born = May 15, 1935
Died = death date and age|2008|5|23|1935|5|15
Origin =
Instrument =
Voice_type =
Genre = Folk music
Occupation = Songwriter, performer, raconteur
Years_active =
Label =
Associated_acts =
URL = [http://www.utahphillips.org/ www.utahphillips.org]
Current_members =
Past_members =
Notable_instruments =

Bruce "Utah" Duncan Phillips (May 15 1935 – May 23 2008) [http://www.kvmr.org/utah_letter.html "Utah Phillips Has Left the Stage"] , KVMR, Nevada City, California, May 24, 2008. Accessed 2008-05-24.] was a labor organizer, folk singer, storyteller, poet and the "Golden Voice of the Great Southwest". He described the struggles of labor unions and the power of direct action, self-identifying as an anarchist.cite web |url= http://www.thenation.com/doc/20041025/crane|title= Voting For the First Time|accessdate=2007-12-27 |quote=I'm an anarchist and I've been an anarchist many, many years.] He often promoted the Industrial Workers of the World in his music, actions, and words.

A fan of T. Texas Tyler, Phillips adopted the stage name U. Utah Phillips.


Early years

Phillips was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Edwin Deroger Phillips and Frances Kathleen Coates. He attended East High School in Salt Lake City. His father, Edwin Phillips, was a labor organizer, and his parents' activism influenced much of his life's work. Phillips was a card-carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World, the "wobblies", headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. Phillips rode the railroads, and wrote songs.cite web |url=http://theunion.com/article/20080526/NEWS/88594631 |title=From hobo to fame |accessdate=2008-05-26 |last=Pelline |first=Jeff |coauthors=Butler, Pat |date=2008-05-26 |work= |publisher="The Union"]

He served in the United States Army for three years beginning in 1956 (at the latest). Witnessing the devastation of post-war Korea greatly influenced his social and political thinking.


Following service, he returned to Salt Lake City, Utah and joined Ammon Hennacy from the Catholic Worker Movement in establishing a mission house of hospitality named after the activist Joe Hill. [cite web |last=Rattler |first=Fast |title=Utah Phillips on the Catholic Worker, Polarization, and Songwriting |url=http://www.olywip.org/site/page/article/2006/02/01.html |format=interview |accessdate=2008-03-01] [cite web |last=Crane |first=Carolyn |title=Interview with Utah Phillips |url=http://zmagsite.zmag.oeg/JulAug2004/crane0804.html |format=interview, Z Magazine |accessdate=2008-03-01] Phillips worked at the Joe Hill House for the next eight years, then ran for the U.S. Senate as a candidate of Utah's Peace and Freedom Party in 1968. He received 2,019 votes (0.5%) in an election won by Republican Wallace F. Bennett. He also ran for president of the United States in 1976 for the Do-Nothing Party. [cite web |last=Hawthorn |first=Tom |title=Unapologetic Wobbly folk singer found a second home in Canada |format=obituary, The Globe and Mail |url=http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20080616.OBPHILLIPS16/TPStory/Obituaries/?pageRequested=1 |accessdate=2008-06-16]

Phillips met folk singer Rosalie Sorrels in the early 1950s, and remained a close friend of hers. It was Sorrels who started playing the songs that Phillips wrote, and through her his music began to spread. After leaving Utah in the late 1960s, he went to Saratoga Springs, New York, where he was befriended by the folk community at the Caffé Lena coffee house, where he became a staple performer throughout that decade.

Phillips was a proud member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies). His view of unions and politics were shaped by his parents, especially his Mom who was a labor organizer for the CIO. But Phillips was more of an Christian anarchist and a pacifist, so found the modern-day Wobblies to be the perfect fit for him, an iconoclast and artist. In recent years, perhaps no single person did more to spread the Wobbly gospel than Phillips, whose countless concerts were, in effect, organizing meetings for the cause of labor, unions, anarchism, pacifism, and the Wobblies. He was a tremendous interpreter of classic Wobbly tunes including "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum," "Preacher and the Slave," and "Bread and Roses."

An avid railfan, Phillips recorded several albums of music related to the railroads, especially the era of steam locomotives. His first recorded album, "Good Though!", is an example, and contains such songs as "Daddy, What's a Train?" and "Queen of the Rails" as well as what may be his most famous composition, "Moose Turd Pie" [cite web |last=Phillips |first=Bruce |title=Moose Turd Pie |url=http://www.utahphillips.org/stuff/mooseturdpie.mp3 |format=mp3 |accessdate=2008-01-12] wherein he tells a tall tale of his work as a gandy dancer repairing track in the Southwestern United States desert.

In 1991 Phillips recorded, in one take, an album of song, poetry and short stories entitled "I've Got To Know", inspired by his anger at the first Gulf War. The album includes "Enola Gay," his first composition written about the United States' atomic attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Phillips was a mentor to Kate Wolf. He recorded songs and stories with Rosalie Sorrels on a CD called "The Long Memory" (1996), originally a college project from 1992 'cold-drill Magazine' Boise State University. Ani DiFranco recorded two CDs, "The Past Didn't Go Anywhere" (1996) and "Fellow Workers" (1999), with him. [cite web |last=Merritt |first=Stephanie |title=Life Support |url=http://observer.guardian.co.uk/life/story/0,,476493,00.html] He was nominated for a Grammy Award for his work with Ani DiFranco. His "Green Rolling Hills" was made into a country hit by Emmylou Harris, and "The Goodnight-Loving Trail" became a classic as well, being recorded by Ian Tyson, Tom Waits, and others.

Later years

Though known primarily for his work as a concert performer and labor organizer, Phillips also worked as an archivist, dishwasher, and warehouse-man.cite web |url=http://www.theunion.com/article/20080529/OBITUARIES/482688530/1046&parentprofile=1058 |title=Bruce Phillips |accessdate=2008-06-07 |last= |first= |coauthors= |date=2008-05-29 |work= |publisher="The Union"]

Phillips was a member of various socio-political organizations and groups throughout his life. A strong supporter of labor struggles, he was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers (Mine Mill), and the Travelling Musician's Union AFM Local 1000. In solidarity with the poor, he was also an honorary member of Dignity Village, a homeless community. A pacifist, he was a member of Veterans for Peace and the Peace Center of Nevada County.

In his personal life, Phillips enjoyed varied hobbies. These included Egyptology; amateur chemistry; linguistics; history (Asian, African, Mormon and world); futhark; debate; poetry; and gardening. He also enjoyed culinary hobbies, such as pickling and cooking.

He married Joanna Robinson on July 31, 1989, in Nevada City.Phillips became an elder statesman for the folk music community, and a keeper of stories and songs that might otherwise have passed into obscurity. He was also a member of the great Traveling Nation, the community of hobos and railroad bums that populates the Midwest United States along the rail lines, and was an important keeper of their history and culture. He also became an honorary member of numerous folk societies in the U.S.A. and Canada.

When Kate Wolf grew ill and was forced to cancel concerts, she asked Phillips to fill in. Suffering from an ailment which makes it more difficult to play guitar, Phillips hesitated, citing his declining guitar ability. "Nobody ever came just to hear you play," she said. Phillips told this story as a way of explaining how his style over the years became increasingly based on storytelling instead of just songs. He was a gifted storyteller and monologist, and his concerts generally had an even mix of spoken word and sung content. He attributed much of his success to his personality. "It is better to be likeable than talented," he often said, self-deprecatingly.

Until it lost its funding, Phillips hosted his own weekly radio show, "Loafer's Glory: The Hobo Jungle of the Mind".

Phillips lived in Nevada City, California for 21 years where he worked on the start-up of the Hospitality House, a homeless shelter, and the Peace and Justice Center. "It's my town. Nevada City is a primary seed-bed for community organizing."

In August 2007, Phillips announced that he would undergo catheter ablation to address his heart problems. [ cite web |last=Phillips |first=U.Utah |title=The Latest From FW Utah Phillips |url=http://www.iww.org/en/node/3587 |format=announcement |accessdate=2008-02-24 ] Later that autumn, Phillips announced that due to health problems he could no longer tour. [cite web |last=Phillips |first=Utah |title=Retirement Announcement |url=http://www.utahphillips.org/podcast/utah20071011.mp3 |format=mp3 |accessdate=2008-03-01] By January 2008, he decided against a heart transplant.

Phillips died May 23 in Nevada City, California, from complications of heart disease, at the age of 73. He was survived by his wife, sons, Duncan and Brendan, and a daughter, Morrigan. Following a private service, a public memorial was held on June 1, in Pioneer Park, in Nevada City. His service was officiated by Meghan Cefalu, a Unitarian Universalist pastor. The night he died local newspapers reported an unusual thunder storm. Those close to him remarked that he rode out of town on a bolt of lightning.


Notes and references

External links

* [http://www.utahphillips.org Official website]
*September 2003 [http://www.progressive.org/mag/interview/utahphillips Interview] in "The Progressive"
* [http://www.folk.org/Awards/1997.htm Biography] from the 1997 Folk Alliance Lifetime Achievement Awards
*Summer 2005 [http://www.unlikelystories.org/ricard0605.shtml Interview] in "Unlikely Stories"
*Fall 2005 [http://www.yesmagazine.org/article.asp?ID=1289 Interview] in "YES! Magazine"
*Turtle Vision photo gallery of [http://www.turtlevisionphoto.com/tv_pages/tv_music/UtahG.html Utah Phillips]
*cite news | last =Simon, Scott | title =Remembering Utah Phillips | work =Weekend Edition | publisher =NPR | date =May 31, 2008 | url =http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91028141 (Radio broadcast)
* [ [http://www.democracynow.org/2008/5/27/utah_phillips_1935_2008_legendary_folk The “Golden Voice of the Great Southwest”] , Utah Phillips memorial page on "Democracy Now!"
* [ [http://www.progressive.org/mag/interview/utahphillips Utah Phillips interview] with David Kupfer, "The Progressive", September 2003.

NAME= Phillips, Utah
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Songwriter, performer, raconteur
DATE OF BIRTH= May 15, 1935
PLACE OF BIRTH= Cleveland, Ohio, United States
DATE OF DEATH= May 23, 2008
PLACE OF DEATH=Nevada City, California, United States

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