Bruce "Utah" Phillips
U. Utah Phillips - Bruce Duncan Phillips (15 May 1935 - 23 May 2008)
Bruce Duncan Phillips, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, was the son of labor organizers, Edwin and Kathleen Phillips. He adopted the name "Utah" from where he grew up, later taking the name U. Utah Phillips, which was a tribute to fellow musician T. Texas Tyler.
As a teenager Phillips ran away from home and lived as a hobo, illegally riding in empty railroad cars and writing songs about what he experienced. In 1956, he interrupted his life as a hobo, joined the Army, did a tour in Korea, and upon discharge became a peace activist. In 1968 he ran on the Peace and Freedom Party line for the U. S. Senate, proudly reporting that he was a card-carrying member of the "wobblies," the Industrial Workers of America.
Upon his death, according to Union.com,
- Phillips' musical career stretched over 38 years and his songs were performed by Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings and Joan Baez. He earned a Grammy nomination for an album he recorded with Ani DiFranco.
- He once told The Union that "folk music is the glue that holds the community together," as people gather to share food, music and to dance.
- Phillips, whose long, white hair and beard and colorful outfits made him a standout in any crowd, emerged as a folk music performer after the release in 1973 of his first album, "Good Though!," which included the classic song "Moose Turd Pie." The song recounts a tale of serving moose excrements to fellow laborers, daring them to complain about the food.
- Some of his more notable recordings included "I've Got to Know" (1991); the four-CD "Starlight on the Rails: A Songbook" (2005); and in collaboration with DiFranco, "The Past Didn't Go Anywhere" (1996) and "Fellow Worker" (1999), which was nominated for the Grammy.
His website included information about his excessive drinking, his connection with anarchist Ammon Hennacy, and his stint as an archivist for the State of Utah in the 1960s.
Phillips died at home, in bed, in his sleep, next to his wife. He is survived by his son Duncan and daughter-in-law Bobette of Salt Lake City, son Brendan of Olympia, Washington; daughter Morrigan Belle of Washington, D.C.; stepson Nicholas Tomb of Monterrey, California; stepson and daughter-in-law Ian Durfee and Mary Creasey of Davis, California; brothers David Phillips of Fairfield, California, Ed Phillips of Cleveland, Ohio and Stuart Cohen of Los Angeles; sister Deborah Cohen of Lisbon, Portugal; and a grandchild, Brendan. He was preceded in death by his father Edwin Phillips and mother Kathleen, and his stepfather, Syd Cohen.
Duncan wrote of his father's death:
- Dad remains in his bed in a state of rest so family and friends have the opportunity to say goodbye. Myself, I choose not to view him in such a state. The last time I saw and spoke with him in his home before I left to go back to Salt Lake was perfect.
- Utah's wish was to not be embalmed and laid to rest in a plain, hand made wooden coffin to expedite his return to the earth, which we will honor. He will be laid to rest in the cemetery down the road from his home in Nevada City.
According to Dr. Barry Andrews, who had been the Associate Unitarian minister in Spokane, Washington, before assuming the leadership of the religious education program at Shelter Rock, Long Island, New York:
- Utah Phillips was an active member of the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Spokane during the 1970s and early 1980s. He had come to Spokane as a folklorist and musician for the World's Fair there in 1972. He (re)married and had two children in the religious education program. He performed at the church many times. He also had concerts for the children. One of the children's favorite songs was, "It's Only A Wee Wee." He preached a memorable sermon on Halloween, very thoroughly researched and given in Utah's unique style - droll and hip at the same time, and very subversive, as was his wont. He had established the Brownell Memorial Library in a Victorian house near the church and used to invite the teenagers to tea. The library consisted of books given to him by the Brownell sisters some years before. He had painted the room very tastefully in the colors, he said, of the Egyptian railroad. As they drank tea together, Utah would expound on the virtues of anarchism as a philosophy of life.