Forty years ago tomorrow, Phil Ochs, a singer/songwriter who had once been the the poster boy of folk music’s protest movement, hung himself in his sister’s house in Far Rockaway, New York. He was thirty-five years old. But as some wise man once said, “It ain’t the years…it’s the mileage”, and by then Phil had logged more than his share of those.
He had a brief connection to the northeastern Ohio area when he enrolled as a journalism major at Ohio State University and started to spend more time at his parents home in Cleveland. It was in 1961 that he started to perform at the area’s preeminent folk club, Faragher’s Back Room, on S.Taylor Rd in Cleveland Heights.
In 1962 he moved to New York City where the folk music scene was about to explode and catch Phil, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, Bob Gibson, Dave Van Ronk and a host of others in its’ wake. Phil is usually remembered for his politically motivated tunes such as “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” and “Draft Dodger Rag” but often lost in the stridency of those songs where such gentle gems as “Changes”, There But For Fortune”, “When I’m Gone” and “Pleasure Of The Harbor”.
Hey John, “Stand tall, Billy Sol, we don’t know you at all. Take down those pictures from the wall.”
I sang with Phil Ochs at Faraghers in 1960 or ’61.
My late father Richard Zbornik, a medical resident at the time, told me he had attended a party in Little Italy 1961 or 1962 where Phil Ochs was present. He said he sensed Phil was different than others. He described him as introspective. Phil sat in a corner of the apartment with his guitar and played a song about Billy Sol Estes.