Thursday, November 25, 2010

Utah Phillips

This is not a site I take proper care of.  Ah well.  But I was inspired a few weeks ago by a facebook post by Florida songwriter Ronnie Elliott.  He put up an interview with one of my old favorites, Utah Phillips.

I only saw Phillips once or twice, as I recall.  The first and most memorable was in some sort of nightspot out in the tomato fields west of Sacramento.  I don't recall too much about the place except that it was built mostly of corrugated iron, perhaps from an old barn or agricultural building, and it must have accepted minors, because I was one.  It had to be about 1976, and I think I had just learned about Phillips in a class I was taking about country western songs.  (Utah Phillips doesn't qualify, but close enough.  I didn't do much in school that year, but I guess I learned something, anyway.)  The teacher wrote songs himself, and played us "Starlight on the Rails," a song Phillips sang but didn't write.

Here's a version by Rosalie Sorrells.

According to Utah Phillips dust jacket the song was written by Louise Scruggs.  It was about perfect for me at the time, pulling paragraphs from Thomas Wolfe, the writer all young men read.  But there's something about a Utah Phillips performance.  Check this one out, pulled out at random:

Utah Phillips was a Wobblie, a great storyteller, great songwriter, and unabashed and inspiring radical.  He also told a good story.  I haven't heard this one before, but I trust it will be good.

He was also a wise man.  Here he talks about his songs, and about making a living instead of a killing.  (This is the one Ronnie Elliott posted.  I thank him for it, and for making me think about looking up Utah Phillips on youtube.)