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May 27, 2008

RIP: Utah Phillips

Beloved musician, activist and folk historian Utah Phillips died of congestive heart failure at his home in Nevada  City, California on Friday at the age of 73.

I've been a Utah Phillips fan since as long as I've been listening to music. I was deeply saddened to learn of his passing. We have lost a truly great American.

Amy Goodman pays tribute to Utah Phillips at DemocracyNow. Labor Beat released this video tribute to Phillips.


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» Utah Phillips, RIP from Thoughts from Kansas
Lindsay alerts us to the death of Utah Phillips. Not a great singer, but a great story-teller, and a repository of a quirky part of American labor history. He'll be missed.... [Read More]


Another tribute:

Listening to Democracy Now! as we speak. Fascinating hearing Utah discuss the history of the IWW and how they differed from the craft unions in the AFL.

>I've been a Utah Phillips fan since as long as I've been listening to music.

This is very interesting to me, Lindsay. Could you elaborate on this a bit?

I first encountered Utah Phillips' recordings in my parents' music collection. His music and storytelling have always been compelling to me.

I saw him a couple of years ago. Quite an act. RIP.

He said a lot of things that I like to quote, but one that was quite funny was on the difference between misfortune and calamity.

If George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were walking along the Tidal Basin and happened to fall in, that would be a misfortune. If someone came along and pulled them out, that would be a calamity.

More seriously, he made a point about direct action that one of the rebel professors here likes to quote to his undergrad students: Your freedoms, such as free speech, freedom from oppression, and so on, are not given to you; you are born with them. If someone comes along and tries to take them away, the degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free.

Amazing and inspirational! A tribute was created in his honor. Please share your memories and photos.

Come along with me to some places that I've been
Where people all look back and they still remember when,
And the quicksilver legends, like sunlight, turn and bend
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

That's the first Utah Phillips song I ever heard, more than 25 years ago. Have a great journey home, Utah.

>I first encountered Utah Phillips' recordings in my parents' music collection. His music and storytelling have always been compelling to me.

Well, that doesn't tell me a whole lot. The reason I want to probe is that Phillips was all but the incarnation of a performer you listened to because he has smart things to say but that was no fun to play. Austere, stringent, humor-impaired, not the first choice to put on for a party. And who plays records for conscious-raising sessions now?

Austere and humor-impaired? No way. Utah Phillips was a consummate raconteur with a wicked sense of humor.

Remember "Moose Turd Pie"? What about all those silly Wobbly anthems sung to the tunes of hymns? "I pray dear lord for Jesus' sake, give us this day a t-bone steak..."

My favorite story was probably the one where he roshambos the local preacher over a shot duck.

As a kid, I loved the songs about trains and cowboys and the raucous labor history of the Pacific Northwest.

Actually, favorite Utah Phillips monologue is the tall tale that starts out with a lament about how he travels so much he's never back in town to plant or plow his garden. Then, he remembers that the FBI is opening his mail. So, he sends a letter to his partner through the US mail saying "for god sake don't plow up the back yard, that's where the guns are buried." The punchline: National Guard pulled in, dug up the whole back yard in time for me to come back and plant the damned thing.

The kicker to that last story was, "Making the government work for you." Excellent.

Every time I heard a new song or story from Utah I learned something, either a new fact or a new way of thinking about it.

I liked his observation, "We need more Robin Hood bandits to balance out the philanthropists. A Robin Hood bandit gives away privately what he steals publicly, and a philanthropist, well, you figure it out."

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Bill 505 264 6979

Legendary New Mexico Songwriter Kell Robertson Headlines Tribute to Utah Phillips

Santa Fe–Legendary 78-old New Mexico “beat” poet-songwriter Kell Robertson will make a rare public appearance to headline A Tribute to Utah Phillips concert at Santa Fe Brewing Company, Monday, July 14, 2008, starting at 7 pm. Joining Kell onstage to honor their mutual friend and inspiration, the late bard Utah Phillips, will be Joe West, Kendall McCook, Mitch Rayes, Richard Malcolm (of Burning Moonlight) and White Buffalo Music Presents Georgie Angel. Additional guests and friends of both Kell and Utah are expected to show up and sit in. Bill Nevins, contributing editor of Albuquerque ARTS monthly, will MC the evening. Admission is only $5 at the door, and fine food and beverages will be available.

This will be a rousing evening of music, stories, poetry and gentle rebellion, as befits the memory of the late Utah Phillips, the widely beloved songsmith, union advocate and raconteur who collaborated with Ani DiFranco on Grammy-nominated albums.

Kell Robertson, a long time friend and comrade-in-song of Utah Phillips, is himself an American treasure who has lived quietly in the Santa Fe area for the past ten years. He has performed his music and poetry from San Francisco to New York City .. For several years he tended bar and performed at the Thunderbird in Placitas, where he played and sang with the likes of Lightnin' Hopkins and hosted poetry and sang at Silva's Saloon in Bernalillo.

Kell lived in San Francisco for many years in the late 50s and early 60s, where he made his living singing at noted venues such as Vesuvio's and the Coffee Gallery, favorite hang outs for Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and other Beat writers of the fabled North Beach scene. Kell’s songs, recorded on the albums Cool & Dark Inside and When You Come Down Off the Mountain, are finely crafted and heartfelt music of the American West. Although mostly retired from performing, Kell composes poetry and still writes and plays his guitar every night on the secluded farm where he lives near Cerillos. A new collection of poetry is expected later this year from Pathwise Press

The musicians joining and accompanying Kell Robertson onstage in tribute to Utah Phillips are all veteran performers in the Americana , blues and folk genres, well known to New Mexico audiences. Santa Fe ’s Joe West, known for his renditions of Utah Phillips songs, has been praised by the national magazine Dirty Linen for his edgy humor and warm stage presence, in the Santa Fe All Stars and other bands. Kendall McCook, like Utah himself, is a true “voice of the great Southwest” and a master story teller. Mitch Rayes is a poet and songwriter from Albuquerque who has travelled manys the hard winding road. Richard Malcolm, also from Burque, is a practitioner of the deep blues. And Georgie Angel is a Pecos-Santa Fe “outlaw” music legend himself.

It is a rare treat to have these desperados on a stage together for an evening of song-sharing in tribute to Utah Phillips and the wild spirit of what has been called “that old weird America”—weird and beautiful, that is.For more information, contact Bill Nevins at

Or phone (505) 264 6979. [30]

I haven't really been properly introduced to Utah Phillips. I'm going to try now, though. Hopefully I like what I hear. Thanks for the post, I'll definitely look into Phillips stuff.

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