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Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips

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GUEST,Len Wallace 18 Jun 08 - 12:38 AM
Big Mick 18 Jun 08 - 12:46 AM
Jim Carroll 28 Jun 08 - 05:40 AM
Mark Ross 28 Jun 08 - 11:31 AM
GUEST,Dani 28 Jun 08 - 12:27 PM
Mark Ross 28 Jun 08 - 01:05 PM
open mike 28 Jun 08 - 01:11 PM
Deckman 30 Jun 08 - 09:23 AM
SINSULL 30 Jun 08 - 09:30 AM
open mike 30 Jun 08 - 01:57 PM
kendall 30 Jun 08 - 02:05 PM
Deckman 30 Jun 08 - 02:49 PM
Mark Ross 30 Jun 08 - 02:52 PM
kendall 01 Jul 08 - 08:04 AM
Rex 01 Jul 08 - 04:53 PM
olddude 08 Sep 09 - 09:08 AM
Donuel 08 Sep 09 - 06:50 PM
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Subject: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: GUEST,Len Wallace
Date: 18 Jun 08 - 12:38 AM

Dear Compadres in Musical Crime,

Below is an article I've submitted to a few publications remembering our good friend Utah Phillips. Perhaps others too would like to share their stories on the forum.

Yours for One Big Accordion,   Len Wallace

Remembering Utah Phillips and Rubber Cockroaches
by Len Wallace

"Reach out for each other,
raise a song together,
and let our voices carry us through".
- from "Singing Through The Hard Times" by Bruce "Utah" Phillips

It was sad news. Fellow Worker, Bruce "Utah" Phillips passed away quietly in his sleep on May 24, 2008.

Humorist, denizen of the folksong mines, raconteur of hobo consciousness, storyteller extraordinaire, songwriter and storyteller, unreconstructed Industrial Worker of the World, poet, radio show host, Korean war vet turned non-sectarian anarchist and pacifist, son of a CIO organiser, transcendentalist Unitarian with Zen Buddhist overtones, former state candidate for the Peace & Freedom Party, folk hero and legend, preserver of labour lore and knick knacks of all things useful and then some - was known to folks in Windsor.

Utah enthralled an audience of workers years ago at the CAW Local 200/444 union with his stories, songs and jokes to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Those were rare moments and even a few months ago I was being asked, "When can we bring Utah Phillips to Windsor again?"

His tall stature was accentuated by a big brimmed Stetson fedora, long white hair and white flowing, white beard. Wearing work shirt and work pants and suspenders, watch chain and fob dangling, union pins and work boots, he looked like a man from another era. In a way, he was. You couldn't help but notice him.

He was passionately committed to the belief that people could change the world and he insisted on the power of remembering. He was fond of the adage that "You don't know where you're going unless you know where you came from". The elders of our community came up with some darned good ideas, one of the them being the idea of the One Big Union of all workers. There's no need to reinvent the wheel. Remembering is a very subversive thing because it points to the "not now". The powers that be and the defenders of the powers that be want us to think that the way things are the way they have always been and always will be and frankly, that is nonsense.

Good friend Rick Taves made the same point to me after he heard an interview Utah did with Amy Goodman of Democracy Watch on U.S. National Public Radio a few years ago back:

"He talked of the parallels between the Weimar Republic and present day America, and about how an awareness of such parallels demands a possession of historical memory that is very subversive to the existing order. Those who give us Iraq and Afghanistan depend on our amnesia."

That's food for thought. Utah did it with his humorous stories filled with the exploits about terrible jobs, riding the rails, baking a moose turd pie, getting involved in a wrestling match in which he ends up biting his own testicles, making fun of yuppies, barbed references to fascists and corporate execs, new age faddists, fortress keepers. He presented it in a style of homespun tales of the front porch variety. In a way they were. They were often the wisdom of the elders of our communities. They had to be preserved otherwise they would disappear just like front porches have been replaced by the modern suburban architecture of the two car garage door in itself a sad but telling commentary on capitalist society.

Utah's stories were based on objective reality but he never let the facts hamper a good yarn. They were artfully crafted in a Mark Twainesque style full of eloquence that challenged this day and age of the internet, ipods and text messaging that has dumbed us down and made us inarticulate. "Be careful of the garp you put in your brain from reading newspapers, listening to radio and watching TV", he told me years ago. "If you stuff your brain with garbage then garbage will come out."

Utah's pockets were often a treasure trove of unexpected items - pins, clown noses, rubber cockroaches. The cockroach routine was something he picked up from the hobo jungles. You can buy a tin of them for next to nothing at a joke store. If you found yourself out of work, starving and without money on the road you could go into a restaurant and order a hot meal. After you had eaten your fill you could reach into your pocket take that rubber vermin and slip it into the mashed potatoes then stand up hollering, "OH MY GOD! There's a COCKROACH in my food! I refuse to pay for this meal!" and go walking out. By the time the horrified and apologetic owners discovered the ruse you would be down the road with a belly full of food.

Yes, I saw Utah use the routine at the CAW Educational Centre in Port Elgin, Ontario. While we sat eating with two hundred other trade unionists in the huge cafeteria I caught him reaching into his pocket. "Oh no!", I said to myself. "Please don't do this to me!" Sure enough he slipped that damned rubber cockroach ever so neatly into those mashed potatoes and then set up a bellow. The Centre's cook was brought in. Why did he do it? For fun and to teach some real history.

Another hobo trick involved getting the cork out of a bottle of hooch without a corkscrew (an item not often carried by the "bums of the rod"). You take a wine bottle, turn it upside down and smack it with the heel of your shoe. Eventually the cork will ease itself out of the bottle and you can pull it the rest of the way. The bottle should not have a concave bottom and the boot heel has to be rubber otherwise the trick can turn into an embarrassing mess.

It's useful information and this just isn't the stuff one learns in school. The same goes for the songs and stories that Utah chose to present - poetry from the Bertold Brecht, the abolitionists, revolutionaries, the songs of Joe Hill, workers' songs, songs of strikes won and struggles defeated. Pick up a school history text (if you can find one because they're not really teaching history anymore) and you'll find stories of so-called great men and leaders, national events and such, but you won't learn much about the history of the working class, the great majority of us in this society. We've been made invisible. Worker's songs, stories and poetry are the real history needing to be preserved and they became his playground of subversion.

Utah disbelieved the notion that workers are mere consumers of the dominant culture . We create culture. The problem is that history as presented to us by those with power, money and means (the "bums on the plush") is a top down affair and Utah was out to rectify the situation.

If you believe in the rat race then only rats will win. If you think that that humans are hopelessly greedy and warlike that is a hopeless position that only leads to despair. Despair and hopelessness are the gateways to fascism and totalitarianisms of all types. If you resign yourself to the way things are then you have made the choice to side with the powerful few against the powerless. Utah was adamant and engaged in what Herbert Marcuse called the "Great Refusal". When it came to war he as a former war vet made it plain that "never again would I abrogate my right to someone else to choose who and who is not my enemy."

Utah had a weakening heart and he took a serious turn for the worse last year. By the end of last year he was losing strength and he was hooked up to a pacemaker and a machine that pumped in drugs 24 hours a day. It meant that he couldn't work and couldn't go on the road. In an economic system where work for wages is the major affliction, even the sick are forced into the irrational and inhuman choice of "earning" a living or live in the streets

It's a special affliction for those who are artists, musicians literally travelling on the road to earn their bread. Pensions and benefits of any kind are almost non-existent

Benefit concerts were held across Canada and the United States so that Utah Phillips could keep up expenses. We owed him much.

Two weeks before he passed away I was able to perform at a benefit concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan. During the concert a phone hook up allowed the audience to hear Utah's voice. He described his illness and commented that at one point of serious depression he actually contemplated suicide so be dialed the suicide hotline for some counseling.

When he got on the phone he asked the hotline counselor, "Mind my asking, but where am I calling?" The guy answered, "Afghanistan".

"You're kidding", said Utah, "You mean to tell me the suicide hotline has been outsourced to Afghanistan?". The guy at the other replied, "Yes, now how can I help you?"

"Well", said Utah. "I was having suicidal thoughts.".... "Really?", said the guy on the hotline. "Do you know how to drive a truck?"

Good ol' Utah had us going till the end.

When the revolution comes, and it will, it will be humorous.

I mourn his loss. I considered him a mentor. Just before he passed away I wrote him a long letter telling him to hang in because I've learned a lot from him and there's was so much more I needed to learn. He never saw the letter. I guess I got my work cut out for me. We all do.

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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: Big Mick
Date: 18 Jun 08 - 12:46 AM

Great story, Len. I enjoyed it when you sent it out a week or so ago.

For those that don't know, Len is one of the acknowledged masters of the Piano Accordion. A great performer who joined us onstage at The Ark in Ann Arbor for our fundraiser for Utah last month. Due to scheduling conflicts, he couldn't be with us for the Grand Rapids Memorial Benefit Concert to help raise funds for Utah's family. That is a disappointment. Should you get a chance to see Len perform, either solo or with The Diggers, don't miss it. He is the real deal, an IWW member, unrepentant and unreconstructed.

We will miss you tomorrow night, sir. See you soon.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Jun 08 - 05:40 AM

Thought you might like to see the obituary that appeared in The Irish Times this morning
Jim Carroll

Radical US folk singer who documented counterculture

UTAH PHILLIPS, who has died from heart disease aged 73, will be remem¬bered as an American political songwriter and singer. If that suggests he was dour, it will have ill-served a man of warmth and wit.
To the casual listener, he might seem like a disciple of Woody Guthrie, but there was more to Phil¬lips, just as there was more to Guthrie. Along with their political views and alternative lifestyles, both had an intense love of the American landscape and its people.
"I've got no use for the govern¬ment," Phillips once wrote. "But to the country that gives me a handout from its back door, a barn to sleep in, a drink in exchange for a song, the music of its incompa¬rable language, to that country I am immensely loyal."
Phillips covered a lot of ground free-riding on freight trains, and memorialised the passing of the railroad era in songs like Starlight on the Rails, and Daddy, What's a Train?. He joined a network of migrant workers, career hobos and footloose anarchists, and stayed with the anarchists as a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies.
That aligned him with two forerunners in American music, Harry "Mac" McClintock, whose version of The Big Rock Candy Mountain is heard over the opening credits of the film 0 Brother, Where Art Thou?, and Goebel Reeves, the "Texas Drifter", a radio singer of the 1930s who interspersed his songs and yodels with jokes. Phil¬lips had a penchant for shaggy-dog stories, told with oratorical flour¬ishes, like his saga of cooking for railroad workers. Moose Turd Pie.
He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of labour activists, and spent his teenage years in Utah.
From 1956 to 1959, he served in the US army in Korea, which changed his life. "What happens," he wrote 20 years later, "when you grow up in a good solid family, maybe going to college or working at a good job, and something goes wrong in your head?"
He was also alluding to a per¬sonal crisis. For a while, he was a drifter and alcoholic, from which he rescued himself with the help of anarchist Ammon Henny, who ran a shelter for the homeless in Salt Lake City. He later commemorated Hennacy, "the best man I ever knew", in his song, Old Buddy, Goodnight. In the 1960s, Phillips immersed himself in radical politics and, in 1968, ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate on a peace and freedom platform.
He performed on the folk circuit as U Utah Phillips, an allusion to singer T Texas Tyler.
Phillips' first recording, a 1960 album for Prestige, dissatisfied him, and he did not make another until 1973, titled, from the punchline of the Moose Turd Pie routine. Good Though!. An early release on a new label, Philo Records, it brought him many admirers.
It also alerted the American folk community to a writer who could handle big subjects in colloquial language. Folk singer Rosalie Sor¬rels said: "He took the stories of working people and railroad bums and he put them in language so the people whom the songs and stories were about still owned them."
Among his best-known compositions are Green Rolling Hills, recorded by Emmylou Harris, and Rock, Salt and Nails, which has attracted Joan Baez, John Martyn and many others.
In the 1980s, he settled in Nevada City, California.
Among his albums were a collection of Wobblies' songs and sto¬ries, a concert with Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Spider John Koerner, and collaborations with singer Ani DiFranco, such as Fellow Workers, which received a Grammy nomination in 2000.
In 2004, slowed by chronic heart disease, he reduced his per¬forming, but hosted a radio show and founded a homeless shelter. He is survived by his second wife, Joanna, two sons and a daughter.
Bruce Duncan "Utah" Phillips: born May 15th, 1935; died May 23rd, 2008

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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: Mark Ross
Date: 28 Jun 08 - 11:31 AM

Here's the complete set of fotos that She Who Must Be Obeyed took down in Nevada City of the festivities.

Mark Ross

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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: GUEST,Dani
Date: 28 Jun 08 - 12:27 PM

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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: Mark Ross
Date: 28 Jun 08 - 01:05 PM

Thanks, Dani. I couldn't get the blue clicky to work.

Mark Ross

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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: open mike
Date: 28 Jun 08 - 01:11 PM

why is this thread not connected to others on Utah Phillips?
here are some other mudcat links..(the search does not bring up
recent threads about obits, memorials, etc.)

0.8912 - Thread - Message - RE: Lyr Req: Songs by Bruce 'Utah' Phillips - Nov 2 2000 9:57PM -   Art Thieme
0.8351 - Thread - Message - Utah Phillips Interview - Sep 19 2003 7:01PM -   Mark Ross
0.8169 - Thread - Message - Song Index: Sing Out Magazine - Oct 15 2004 4:11AM -   Joe Offer
0.8169 - Thread - Message - Lyr Add: MINER'S LULLABY (Bruce 'Utah' Phillips) - Nov 21 2001 11:56PM -   Stewie
0.8169 - Thread - Message - Utah Phillips 'A song in this ring?' - Jul 18 2000 12:45PM -   katlaughing
0.8169 - Thread - Message - Hood River Roll On ^^ - Mar 8 2000 8:34PM -   Stewie
0.8169 - Thread - Message - RE: BS: Kat goes to Utah-any questions for dad? - Nov 19 1999 1:19PM -   Art Thieme
0.8169 - Thread - Message - Lyr Add: I REMEMBER LOVING YOU^^^ - Jan 21 1998 1:55AM -   NonMember
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Origins: Bread and roses - Jan 23 2005 2:41PM -   Q
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: BS: How cold/hot IS it? - Jan 20 2005 1:21PM -   NonMember
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: BS: Utah Phillips is going to vote! - Oct 27 2004 2:47PM -   Tannywheeler
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: BS: Utah Phillips is going to vote! - Oct 22 2004 11:20AM -   NonMember
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Lyr Add: Short Songs/Parodies - May 30 2004 3:41PM -   NonMember
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Grownup love songs - May 9 2004 9:55PM -   NonMember
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Info Req: Ludlow Massacre (Woody Guthrie) - Apr 8 2004 11:59PM -   Art Thieme
0.7967 - Thread - Message - ADD: Trooper's Lament (Utah Phillips) - Jan 28 2004 4:19PM -   Joe Offer
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: BS: Name Change - Dec 23 2003 8:45AM -   artbrooks
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Utah in ICU - Nov 19 2003 12:55AM -   Joe Offer
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Favourite Cowboy Songs-Second Edition - Apr 23 2003 5:00PM -   NonMember
0.7967 - Thread - Message - Art Thieme & Utah Phillips: Honor 'Em! - Apr 14 2003 5:36PM -   Desert Dancer
0.7967 - Thread - Message - Obit: BUZZ POTTER--hobo poet - Mar 12 2003 2:24AM -   Art Thieme
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Folk-Legacy Custom CD's - Feb 19 2003 4:03AM -   NonMember
0.7967 - Thread - Message - Faded Roses of December - Jan 18 2003 9:29PM -   Ebbie
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Mudcatter's CD's Part 2 - Aug 5 2002 7:35PM -   kendall
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Tune Req: I'm riding on the orphan train - Jul 15 2002 12:07AM -   masato sakurai
0.7967 - Thread - Message - Utah Phillips in Hospital? - Apr 10 2002 10:59AM -   Charley Noble
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Old Songs - Apr 1 2002 6:42PM -   Mark Ross
0.7967 - Thread - Message - Lyr Add: JOHN D. LEE (Bruce U. Utah Phillips) - Feb 28 2002 4:49PM -   Uncle_DaveO
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Lyr Req: & story behind Nevada Jane, please - Feb 21 2002 10:43AM -   masato sakurai
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Lyr Req: ...the green grass grew all around - Jan 12 2002 12:09PM -   Abby Sale
0.7967 - Thread - Message - Lyr Add: THE TOWN OF OLD DOLORES - Jan 7 2002 9:43PM -   Dicho
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: BS: Search Challenge - Sea Fever - Jan 4 2002 10:57AM -   Uncle_DaveO
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Folksingers with phony identities - Sep 4 2001 12:17AM -   artbrooks
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Lyr Req: Women in Work Clothes - Aug 4 2001 1:12AM -   Helen in Canada
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Internet Folk Shows - Jun 3 2001 5:36PM -   Abby Sale
0.7967 - Thread - Message - Pullman Grand Hobo Concert - Apr 17 2001 11:30PM -   voyager
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: What's on your CD player lately ?? - Mar 20 2001 12:34PM -   Art Thieme
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Bless yourselves 'Catters for I have sin - Mar 14 2001 9:17PM -   artbrooks
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Stone Angel / Eddie's Song - Jan 13 2001 1:02AM -   Sorcha
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: BS: Kendalls CD - Dec 21 2000 3:39PM -   kendall
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Musicians and fan mail - Dec 15 2000 12:54PM -   kendall
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Lyr/Chords Req: Utah Phillips 'Orphan Train' - Nov 29 2000 12:24AM -   NonMember
0.7967 - Thread - Message - U. Utah Phillips Web Site - Aug 19 2000 6:41PM -   ChrisDunn
0.7967 - Thread - Message - ADD: Goin' Away (Bruch "Utah" Phillips) - Jan 10 2000 6:36PM -   Stewie
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Has YOUR NPR programming gone downhill? - Dec 3 1999 10:13PM -   kendall
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: What Song Makes You Drop Everything P.2 - Nov 29 1999 1:51PM -   lamarca
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: What Song Makes You Drop Everything? - Nov 29 1999 12:23AM -   Art Thieme
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Got any modern traditional... - Nov 7 1999 11:16AM -   Stewie
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Your most recent 10 songs - Sep 22 1999 3:16PM -   kendall morse (don't use)
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Your most recent 10 songs - Sep 22 1999 2:40PM -   kendall morse (don't use)
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Max Wants: - Apr 22 1999 8:10PM -   Mark Roffe
0.7967 - Thread - Message - Lyr Add: TOLONO (Utah Phillips) - Nov 15 1998 11:41PM -   NonMember
0.7967 - Thread - Message - RE: Who was Hiram Hubbart? - Jul 26 1998 11:32AM -   NonMember
0.7742 - Thread - Message - RE: BS: Has the beast returned? - Jul 13 2005 1:49PM -   jacqui.c
0.7742 - Thread - Message - RE: John McCormack - Anniversary - Jul 4 2005 4:04PM -   NonMember
0.7742 - Thread - Message - RE: BS: These Are The Good Old Days - Jun 28 2005 11:37AM -   jacqui.c
0.7742 - Thread - Message - Origins: Jesus Doesn't Collect No Tax - Jun 27 2005 4:42PM -   Franz S.

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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: Deckman
Date: 30 Jun 08 - 09:23 AM

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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
Date: 30 Jun 08 - 09:30 AM

Does anyone know the significance of the assorted items Utah kept on a table by his side during his perfomances? I remember a little hobo.

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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: open mike
Date: 30 Jun 08 - 01:57 PM

yes, that box held many things dear to him, perhaps Jacqui knows about some of them..

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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: kendall
Date: 30 Jun 08 - 02:05 PM

Len, he pulled that same trick on me while we were on the phone. He did love to pull one on me, and when he succeeded, he would laugh right out loud.His best one was during the Grass Valley performance. Those who have the DVD of that know what I mean.

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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: Deckman
Date: 30 Jun 08 - 02:49 PM

JW will be spending some time here tomrrow, looking at the pix, etc. I'll ask him about the items. Bob

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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: Mark Ross
Date: 30 Jun 08 - 02:52 PM

He pulled that one on EVERYBODY! Last year, when he announced his retirement I called him to ask, "How are ya doing?". He replied, "Better than Larry Craig, I'm holding my own."

Mark Ross

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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: kendall
Date: 01 Jul 08 - 08:04 AM

Mark, I knew I should have taken a leak BEFORE I read your post!

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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: Rex
Date: 01 Jul 08 - 04:53 PM

I've been in New Mexico for a time and away from computers. My elder son and I were listening to a rather worn tape of "Good Though" that we play during long road trips. The next day I learned that Utah had taken the great railway to heaven. I loved how he would put the sounds of the steam trains in between the songs. I met with some other musicians in Denver before this latest trip and we were recalling Utah. We sang the "Goodnight-Loving Trail". Roz Brown, Harry Tuft and others were recalling when Utah would stay with them during his Denver visits. He knew how to enjoy himself. Back when I was just starting to run around with other pickers, just out of school, I first heard the "Goodnight-Loving Trail" and fell in love with it. I was kind of dissappointed to learn that Utah had written it. I was sure it had been written by some cowpuncher in the early 1900s. I guess that's a pretty good tribute to the song.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: olddude
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 09:08 AM

Daddy what's a train
found a great video on youtube

daddy what's a train

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Subject: RE: Remembering Bruce Utah Phillips
From: Donuel
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 06:50 PM

I am ashamedly late to the after party but I have to say I am going to miss Utah terribly. Meanwhile its a great time to play catch up with so many friends and partners in musical chime who knew and loved Mr. Phillips.
Thanks for the stories and song links.

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