Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Utah Phillips

...died last Friday, at his home in Nevada City, California, after battling chronic heart disease for the past few years. He had just turned 73.

Phillips was a labor organizer, the son of labor organizers from Cleveland. He ran away from home as a teenager and hitched on to the railroads, joining other "hobos" in search of day work, and the next fortune down the road. He was a teller of tall tales, and a singer of old songs, not to mention a few of his own. He was part of a dying generation of artists who could be called "the real deal." His song "Green Rolling Hills" was made into a popular hit by Emmylou Harris ("Oh, the green rolling hills of West Virginia..." Yeah, that one.) He never cared much for the commercial side of the musicians' trade. While this may have cost him commercial acclaim, he won the respect and admiration of the artists who knew him.

I met Phillips thirty years ago at Cincinnati's "Leo Coffeehouse," when it was located just south of the UC campus on Calhoun Street. At a time when the club's idea of "folk music" was the latest Top 40 turnout by The Eagles, I was one of the guys who arranged for them to see the real thing. Eventually they got tired of listening to me, and I sorta got tossed out (which is another story for another day). But time proved me right, and Phillips was one of the reasons.

He will be buried tomorrow, outside his hometown, in a plain wooden box, with only family and close friends in attendance. A public memorial service will be held at the local baseball field the following Sunday.

There is more about him at his website:

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