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BIOGRAPHY

INTERVIEWS

PERFORMANCE

Poet, singer, songwriter, social critic and organizer of folk music at the grass-roots level, Utah Phillips has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Folk Alliance and the Joe Hill Memorial Award for Arts in Labor of the AFL-CIO. What he is most proud of, though, is to have been the co-founder and a lifetime member of the Traveling Musicians’ Local 1000 of the American Federation of Labor. Born Bruce D. Phillips in Cleveland, Ohio in 1935, he came to Utah in 1947 with his mother and stepfather, and he stayed until 1969.

From the ashes of lost dreams in Utah, he launched a national career in his move to Saratoga Springs, NY, and the rest is history. Before history began, though, Bruce was a mainstay of the 1960s Salt Lake folk music scene. In the early 1950s, already a poet and songwriter, he met Rosalie Sorrels and her then-husband Jim in the town’s arts counterculture. Bruce would compose songs in his head and record them on Rosalie’s old Webcor wire recorder, and she would promote them by performing them. (He also performed his own songs.)

In the late 1950s, after a bitterly experienced tour of duty in Korea, deep personal loss, and a subsequent year of riding the rails, Bruce returned to Salt Lake City disillusioned, uncertain of his future, and composed many songs relating to the failure of social justice in the lives of the poor, as well as tender songs of personal loss and regret. (He says that during this difficult period, between 1959 and 1961, his meeting of Catholic anarchist Ammon Hennacy, who taught him how to transform frustration and rage into pacifism and public activism, probably saved his life.)

In the early 1960s he formed “The Utah Valley Boys” (1961-1964) and “Polly and the Valley Boys” (1964-66). In the late 1960s his entry into politics (a run for the United States Senate on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket) had disastrous results for him. But when he left Salt Lake City for good in 1969, he began a long trajectory, putting all his past experience into a new performance model independent of place. Considering the unhappiness associated with much of his experience in Utah, one might wonder why he calls himself Utah. There are two stories about that, and both of them are true. As a youth, he was a big fan of the country-western singer T. Texas Tyler, and a high- school friend jocularly named him “U. Utah Phillips, the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest.” Then in Korea, his army buddies called him Utah. Both names stuck.(from 2007 Urban Pioneers concert program).

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iconINTERVIEWS FOR POLLY STEWART ORAL HISTORY POJECT
November 30, 2004

(Tape 1, Side A)

(Tape 1, Side B)

(Tape 2, Side A)

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iconPERFORMANCE AT THE UTAH URBAN PIONEERS REUNION CONCERT

 

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 Last Modified 8/29/13