Phil and Me

This is a page where people share their stories about meeting Phil or spending special times with him. Everyone is welcome to submit a story. Please send yours to celebratingphilochs@gmail.com or use the form at the bottom of the page.

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………as I steped on the loose tarp in the Orillia arena I went ass over tea kettle in a clump at the foot of center stage. Phil actually stopped playing one his songs and asked if I was OK, I waved and said alright and that was my first meeting with Mr. Ochs.
Kristian Bostlund

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“Hi, I’m Phil Ochs.” I can still see that shy, goofy grin. We were both journalism students at Ohio State University when we met in about 1960 while working on the campus newspaper, the Lantern.

I never knew Phil real well, but we were friends. I remember that he was very sensitive and very funny. Phil’s Lantern career hit a roadblock after he wrote some liberal political columns about Cuba and other issues in his dormitory newspaper that drew the scorn of OSU’s very conservative Board of Trustees. So he took his talent and wit to the campus humor magazine, The Sundial, where he became managing editor. One of the writers there was R. L. “Bob” Stine, later the author of the wildly best-selling “Goosebumps” books. Another of our classmates was a young golfer named Jack Nicklaus.

I didn’t know that Phil was into music until one day when a bunch of us were having breakfast, and he told us that he had gone to Cleveland over the weekend to do some folk singing. In his senior year in 1962, he left OSU and went to New York City. Before long he put out his first record album called “All the News That’s Fit to Sing” and began running around with Bob Dylan.

The last time I saw Phil was in Detroit in about 1965. I was a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, and Phil was appearing at a local club. After his act, we sat down for a few drinks. I recall him worrying about what he would do if he got drafted, since he strongly opposed the Vietnam War. He might have to go to Canada. I don’t know if he ever got a draft notice, but I do know he later wrote his great “Draft Dodger Rag.”

I wound up with the Journal in Washington D.C., where Phil became the troubadour of the anti-War demonstrations with his protest anthem “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.” I only saw him on TV by this time. Then, sadly, on a trip to Africa some robbers cut his throat, damaging his vocal cords. According to the biography of him, “There But For Fortune,” Phil also was manic depressive. The upshot was his tragic suicide in 1976.

One can only imagine what more contributions Phil would have made had he lived longer. At least on his 75th birthday later this year we can celebrate the music that he did leave. And when that happens, somewhere Phil will be grinning from ear to ear.

Ron Shafer in Williamsburg, Va.

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I was working for A&M Records in the Toronto office in the fall of 1970…Phil came to town to do some shows at local colleges and universities. I hooked up with him on the morning of the first day for a nooner at York University where he was well received in a common atrium area of the school. We also did an interview at the college station and then hung with some ardent student fans who took us to a club where they would be playing the next night and Phil promised to come see them perform. That evening, Phil and I went to the legendary Riverboat Club in the Yorkville area of Toronto, where he reconnected with Burnie Fiedler, the owner. We watched Murray McLauchlan perform a set and, then, Phil got up and did a three song guest set where he introduced a new version of Here’s to the State of Mississippi retitled and reworded to Here’s to the State of Richard Nixon. We then stepped out the back door for a break and, while discussing things of various nature with a record salesman who professed to be a big Ochs fan, Burnie stepped out to join us and to share the news that a Quebec politician named Pierre Laporte, who had been kidnapped by the radical FLQ element in Quebec a few weeks earlier had just been found dead in the trunk of a car, murdered by his captors, as it turns out. Phil, whose political leanings were well known to be on the far left, freaked out. He determined, then and there, that I was to drive him to his hotel, allow him to pick up his belongings, and then drive him to the airport so he could return to Los Angeles, convinced that, as a political activist, that he was at risk of being arrested in some sweep of all radicals which, of course, being Canada, did not and would not happen. He would not be convinced, however, so I followed his wishes and dropped him at the terminal curb. The next morning at the A&M offices I told my superiors what had gone down, and we reached out to the promoters of the other shows on the schedule to cancel the rest of his appearances. It was a form of paranoia that I had not witnessed before, and, being Canadian, could not imagine existed, but, as Phil was American and old enough to remember the McCarthy era first hand, I did understand the root of his feelings. And it gave me a story to tell that no one else ever could.

Greg Simpson

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i.

What a find, black vinyl pants for 88 cents!
Knee-high black boots and a sexy cropped shirt
Dare I wear my pea coat over it all?
Finally here at the Philly Folk Festival
Carrying my old childhood blanket
Following the crowds to the campsite
Despite the light of the sun
Campfires already lit
We find a place to sit
Joining friends from the Cage
Playing their guitars and banjos
Blowing on our kazoos
Singing in seventeen year old high soprano
Before cigarettes toughened the pure vocal sound

ii.

Finally dark, show starts, already met a hunk
Who hovers over me, leads me to the hill
Beside the stage, holding my shivering body
Next to his. This boy-man
Who quit college because he cannot afford it
Yet he waits, knowing the draft letter
Will summon him to Vietnam
A place where we don’t belong
I am halfway in love with him
And his destiny
The one I escape because of a collection of chromosomes
Because I am XX and he is XY
I will never have to face
The decision to go up the country and cross the border
Or do what my male cousins, friends and family are doing
The “right thing”
Defending our country
I am exempt
Because I will one day carry
The next crop of soldiers in my womb

iii.

What a weekend
All for ten dollars
Bob Dylan, Joan Baez
Tom Paxton, Buffy Ste. Marie
Flatt and Scruggs, Patrick Skye
Eric Andersen and, most of all
Phil Ochs
Also in a pea coat that matches mine
That opening riff
The one that raises the long hair lying on my neck
The guitar riff for
I Ain’t Marching Anymore
What a voice, a call to action
Perfection
I am in love for real
Song after song
He sings his hard-hitting words
No one escapes:
Mississippi, Santo Domingo
And what a mind
Not only does he protest
He shows us his humor
Draft Dodger Rag
Sarge, I’m only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen
And I always carry a purse…
And as a poet, as one who intends to be a best-selling poet,
I appreciate his rendition of Poe’s The Bells
Of Alfred Noyes’s The Highway Man
What a man Ochs is

iv.

Eileen and I
Tear ourselves away
From the boys soon to be men
And stand in line at the portables
We get a bit lost
And come face-to-face
With the man and his guitar
Phil Ochs
Heading for a distant tent
Alone
We don’t gush
That is too unhip
Instead, we tell him how much we love his work
He is completely serious
As we are
Thanks us
Stands politely, waiting for us to continue
I am hopeless in social situations
I am depending on Eileen to carry the conversation
But for once she is speechless
I finally put us out of our collective misery
Thank him for all he does
And we step aside to let him pass
The legend
The voice
The music
The words

v.

Phil, I cried when you died
Phil, if only you knew
Phil, I tried to continue
Caring about the world
Working for peace in my own way
Phil, I fell under the spell of negativity
Phil, I used your song to do that
As I aged, I refused to work for peace
Or human rights
Let the young do it now, I thought
I ain’t marching anymore
Phil, you would be happy to know
That my apathy didn’t last
Phil, you came into my life
At a critical time
And Phil, I will always care
About the world
Because of you…

© 2015 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

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In 1966 or 1967, I was at a folk festival in Buffalo NY at the University of Buffalo sitting with a couple of the performers up in the bleachers when Phil joined us after his set. We watched the rest of the show together and he signed an autograph for me that said “Good Left Wing Luck” Phil Ochs. I still have it!

Marc Davis

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March 31, 1968…Gerdes Folk City [ the second Gerdes site on 4th across across from the Blue Note]……Phil brought a TV set and we all sat around listening to Lyndon Johnson’s speech on Viet Nam. At the end of the speech Johnson said he would not seek re-election and the crowd went wild. Sadly, North Viet Nam had escalated fighting and a lot more lives were lost before we pulled out of the country.

My last night in NYC, before moving to Tucson AZ, spent the evening with Phil and Pat Sky discussing how “bad” things were in America. Always thought he’d get to Tucson for a visit. He didn’t. I often wonder what he’d be singing now cause things are far worse than even he would have imagined. Where is the protest, always thought Dylan would continue to be a force in protest. Not so. Way to silent out there.

Dasha Doran

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In 1969,  at age 19, I was a student at SUNY New Paltz and attended Phil’s concert there.  After the show, I was invited to an after-party for Phil… as the party was winding down, someone asked  if anyone was driving to Manhattan that night- Phil needed a ride home since he missed the last train out of Poughkeepsie.. Although I really wasn’t driving there , my friends and I offered to drive him home! We piled into the car, put his guitar in the trunk, and off we went with Phil!  He was tired and quiet during the one and a half hour drive and we were so awed by the fact we had this man, who we revered, in the car with us, that no one said a peep during the entire drive!

When we arrived at his apartment in the Village around 3 AM, we all got out, I gave him his guitar, and shook hands..He thanked us, gave us some money for coffee, and said goodbye…  and that was my personal experience with Phil Ochs!

Ronnie Field

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I met Phil twice in my life.

The first time was when he performed at Max’s Kansas City at the end of December 1973.     I was with a friend who knew Phil and we went backstage after the show.    There was a photo taken of us(Phil was in the gold lame suit) that is on the Phil Ochs page.

In July 1975, Phil opened a bar called Che in the Soho part of N.Y.C.    He was obviously in bad shape and overweight and soon after he committed suicide on April 9, 1976.

Teddy Lee

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The summer of 1975 I worked as a lab assistant at a video learning center in Soho. This happened to be across the street from Phil’s tavern of choice at the time called “Soho Darts”. His guitar was kept behind the bar until his tab was paid off. At his suggestion the bar was renamed “Che”.  A couple of times he tried to hit me up for beer money when I didn’t have any to spare.  That didn’t stop him from being friendly and engaging. I did tell him I knew his records since my brothers had them and gave him a tour of the video center.

Don Leich

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I saw Phil a few times at various folkie events in New York, I think at Hunter College and Town Hall (many moons, I was young and as they say, if you remember it, you weren’t there). My most vivid memory of him, though,  was at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968 at an ironic (needless to say) “UnBirthday Party” for Lyndon Johnson who had recently and thankfully announced he “would not seek and would not accept” the nomination of his party.
Chicago was a crazy scene – much too crazy to get into the details here – and the mood of the gathering was probably set by the two lightning rods Abbie Hoffman (Rest in peace, wild brother) and Richard Daley. But the UnBirthday Party had an unlikely grouping – in addition to Hayden, Jean Genet and Bill Burroughs were there, both covering it as “engaged” journalists, I believe.
Phil stood out from the crowd.  Took on some of the craziness, including that of the Yippies, and the more “reform”-minded pre-Yuppies working for Gene McCarthy, who was trying to take on the Bobby Kennedy mantel (never a good fit). Phil strummed his guitar a bit, talked about his disappointment with both sides, and needless to say, the police, who were kicking the shit out of people, then put the slogans in quotation marks. “If the streets belong to the people, we can take the streets. But we can take the streets with dignity.” Then he sang “The War Is Over,” as people burned draft cards of their equivalents. It was a moment. That was the singer, that was the man.

Paul WIlner

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It was in 1967 or 1968 when I was a student at the University of Delaware that I first heard of Phil Ochs. The campus debates led by SDS and the new wave of songs of the “folk revival” made historic sense and turned most of us against the war in Vietnam. Phil’s song were the most incisive and insightful of them all. I got a social work job in the Washington, DC schools by day, and I volunteered at the Mobilization Against the War and at WGTB, Georgetown University student radio at nights and on weekends. In the first weeks of May 1973 WGTB’s Skip Pizzi and Rich Lang told me that they needed someone to interview a folk singer named Phil Ochs, who was coming to DC to do a week long engagement at The Cellar Door. I jumped at that, saying, “I love that guy! know all of his work! I would love to have that honor.” I was 25 years old. I soon found myself meeting my hero in The Cellar Door kitchen in the back. Phil had just arrived in town and he said that he had not yet made arrangements for a place to stay. I offered him the option of staying in my apartment and saving his money for other things. He asked, “What did I do to deserve that?” I said, “Phil, you told the truth better than I have ever heard anyone tell it.” That way I got to spend time with Phil. In the short interview Phil Ochs talked about Nixon, Watergate, his TV appearance the day before, and his travels in South America.  I lost the reel-to-reel tape when I moved back to Delaware in 1974. I never found it again until I was sorting through things to move to Berkeley, California in 2008. I was excited! I took the reel to Steven Leech and David Mackenzie at WVUD, the University of Delaware student station where I had been a folk DJ for over the years. They digitilized the 28 minute interview, and preserved it for me. It was only a few days ago that I thought of trying to bring that old tape alive by putting visuals over the sound track as a tribute to Phil’s 75th birthday coming up on Dec 19th. You can now hear the interview on my Vic Sadot YouTube or Truth Troubadour YouTube Channels.  Sadly, I never saw Phil or talked with him again. Phil Ochs was the best anti-war and social commentary singer in the USA during his era. He fundamentally influenced my view of the world and my own efforts at being a topical songwriter to the point where I and my brother Joe Sadot (RIP 1978) submitted songs and got them published in the pages of “Broadside: The National Topical Song Magazine”. In 1977 I wrote a tribute song for Phil Ochs called “Broadside Balladeer”. Even later, I helped Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen put out issues of Broadside. In 1982 I was assigned to break the Freedom of Information Act story on the 400 plus pages of “Phil Ochs FBI File” that Gordon had been sent. Phil Ochs deserves all manner of respectful tributes and recognition today.  It’s wonderful to see that happening!

Vic Sadot

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Seeing Phil play in Copenhagen way back in the sixties, was preceded by a bunch of us lefties illegally putting up posters (also self made) in the middle of the night (don´t get caught by the man!) A wonderful musical experience the concert. I think that Phil played “the highwayman” at that concert. That tune and the lyrics have stuck with me ever since, as had “there but for fortune”. Phil was a greater writer of songs than Bob Dylan in my humble opinion, and a better guitar-picker too (and I am one myself!) Phils death was a great loss to the musical world, and to a part of the American conscience, and possibly the world.

Peter Hermansen

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Oh what a magic place Greenwich Village was for me in 1964.  I was 16, and the wonderful folks at The Gaslight would let me in!  Took showing some ID at first because I looked more like 12, but I soon became a regular that wonderful summer.

It would take a  two and half hour train ride from our new home in NW Connecticut, and then another one on the last train of the night to go back home, but how I treasure that immutable set of memories.

I remember that July 64 gig (thank you so for the Aide-mémoire), it made me buy some finger picks (not the metal kind) just like my hero. I certainly had memorized All The News (and probably worn out my WWII vet father’s patience with “I ain’t a-marching anymore” leaking through the walls…. ah well, sorry Pop!

There is something special about sitting front and center for the act of art in creation… I can close my eyes now and see the low ceiling and tiny stage.  Remember my joy at his redaction (a perfect one) of Noyes’ The Highwayman, something I had probably been tasked to read out loud at one point at my former elementary school, Grace Church School, which was just across Washington Square Park from Macdougal St.

I fell asleep last night trying to remember which “albums”  littered my room that year… There was Patrick Sky, Dave Van Ronk, Buffy St. Marie, Lightnin’ Hopkins and, of course Phil’s “All the News”.  And for each of them I managed to make the trip to Macdougal St.

Oh, I had the obligatory copy of Dylan (Freewheelin’ Bob, especially,  & Dear Joan’s warbling (Jeez, her vibrato was a bit over the top back then, wasn’t it?), but it was Phil’s literate and precise lyricism, and damn fine guitar chops that worked best for me that summer.  I still can’t get through playing “Changes” without choking up , so it hasn’t made it into any of my rare open mic performances, since  I’m a bit reluctant to do the weepy grampa bit in public… but at home? Well, that and  The Highwayman are still sources of solace and comfort.  And, and damn!  I Ain’t a-marchin’ etc rings even more true today!

But my favorite memory has to be of Phil and Michael Bloomfield escorting Lightnin’ Hopkins into The Gaslight. I remember Bloomfield carried Lightnin’s guitar case, reverentially, and Phil with equal reverence (and NOT A TOUCH OF IRONY) handing him his guitar pick.

Support live music today, folks, and you too will have a treasure chest of memories to dig through and share when you are old and gray!

David Minton

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It was March, 1970, and I was 17. I desperately wanted to get in touch with Phil. I looked at my ticket to the Carnegie Hall show, which said “Ron Delsener presents Phil Ochs”. I decided to write a letter to Phil, and bring it to Ron Delsener’s office, which at that time was along the FDR Drive in lower NYC.
While waiting to give the secretary my letter, I heard her say “Fifth Avenue Hotel ” into the phone. I gave her my letter, and raced to the hotel. Sure enough, he was registered there! Unfortunately, he was out, so I wrote a note, saying “Phil, call Carol”, and my number because I wanted him to think he knew me.
I left the hotel, turned right on Ninth Street, and ran right into him! I told him that I was the girl who frequently left flowers at his feet on stage. He was pleasant and charming.
Later that night I answered the phone to him saying, “Ochs here…”. I remember him saying that he was waiting to be picked up to go to a party, but didn’t want to go. I encouraged him to go. To this day, I regret not having the nerve to get on the train, and go meet him again, instead of telling him he probably would enjoy the party..

Carol Friedman Russell

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The last time I saw Phil in concert was at Max’s Kansas City in 1973.  There were maybe about 40-50 people there.  Phil was sitting in the center of his fans, and looked and sounded so broken.  He was wearing a tattered leather jacket, kept his head lowered…. not making much eye contact, and his voice was hauntingly sad.  I cried for Phil that night and prayed that he would be ok.

Kathy March

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I was a 3rd & Mc  brat, had acted with Phil over the years, ran into him near the Kettle e summer of ’68 & we went in for a beer, during which he invited me to a riot in Chicago, at the convention. Bruce Murdoch was a delegate, singing for Gene McCarthy, got busted on the street. Instead of the riot, I was in the woods near Boulder.

Art Altman

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I saw Phil in October of 1972 at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.  Phil was campaigning for George McGovern.  I was lucky to get a from row seat. Phil played all of his best songs and it was a wonderful and uplifting evening.

William Gist

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I met Phil in April 1968.  He had come to the campus of Washington University in St Louis, to do a free outdoor show in support of all the students who had gone on the road to campaign for Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 Democratic primaries.  I was one of those students, a New Yorker, and a big fan of Phil’s.  He put on a great show, and we went up to meet him.  He asked a few of us where he could get something cheap for dinner and though we lived off campus, we took him to the student cafeteria and sat and talked to him while we all ate.  During the meal, he asked us if there was anywhere he could crash for the night, and one of my friends said the couch in his apartment was available.  So we all moved over to the apartment and peppered Phil with questions.  We couldn’t believe somebody so famous was hanging around with us.  During the evening, a friend of mine arrived, having heard Phil was there.  My friend had just come back from campaigning in Indiana and had missed the show.  He told that to Phil, who then picked up his guitar, and as he sat in the big, old, fraying easy chair, and sang ‘Changes.’  It was amazing.  That was just over 47 years ago.  I am 68 now, but it is an evening I love to talk about and an evening I will never forget.

Joel Sanoff

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I saw him perform at Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh in the Autumn of 1970…he performed in his famous gold suit and while he was a little inebriated, he still put on a good show. I cherish that experience.

James Brown

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Saw Phil several times and met him three times. The first was at a McCarthy rally at Fenway Park in ’68, when he was interviewed by, I think, WBCN. I got his autograph which I still have hanging on a wall. The second time was at Symphony Hall, also in Boston, during his gold lame days. He was wearing the gold pants and a brown suede jacket in the side street behind the hall. It was April, rainy and chilly. Someone said “I think we’ve been betrayed!” I assured Phil, in reference to “50 Phil Ochs fans can’t be wrong” that he still had 49 left. Phil got a big kick out of that remark, and I was so proud! LOL! He was friendly, readily accessible, no showboat, and genuine. I think his girlfriend Karen was with him. The third and final time I met him was at Oliver’s, a small club in Kenmore Square, Boston, formally the Boston Tea Party, a great rock club from the ’60s. This was early May, ’73.
Amazingly, he was, I think, at his best in this 5-night stand. I stole his empty Heinekin bottle during one of his breaks. He remembered me, which still amazes me, and asked where I was living, Cambridge, Boston etc. He hit me up for a cigarette. Again, just so down-to-earth, a decent, funny, humane guy. Little did any of us suspect the tragedy coming in a short three years. I still miss that guy. He was a seminal influence on me and I wish I could thank him. RIP, my friend.

Jim Monahan

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Saw Phil at Westbury Music Hall on Long Island in 1970 and with Country Joe at Hunter College in NYC in 1971. I was 15 and 16. He was amazing. Beautiful. Courageous. Battling with poetic words of truth and justice. For me, life changing events.

Harris B. Taback

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He bit his fingernails, as I did back then. Phil couldn’t find his picks, and used mine at a concert somewhere in southwest New Jersey (Lambertsville?) around 1968 or so. I kept those finger picks around for a long time afterwards…

Michael W. Lurie

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It was March, 1974. I heard that my hero, Phil Ochs was  coming to Ottawa to Le Hibou Coffeehouse. I went to see him and was terribly moved by the damage done to his wonderful voice by his mugging in Africa. I saw all three shows and between two of them, I went upstairs to the loft where he was and introduced myself. He shook my hand and I said:
“I will never wash this hand again.” He laughed and I was so pleased that I had been able to make him laugh.

Pietro Maviglia

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Because I now had transport, still a sought after thing on the folk scene at the time, an opportunity was offered to me that I couldn’t possibly refuse. Ioan Allen told me that Phil Ochs was appearing in concert at, I think, Nottingham; that he had a couple of days free afterwards and that hotel and finance problems meant he had nowhere to stay. Would I like to drive over, pick him up and bring him back to my flat to stay?

Would I!

Seeing Phil on stage was a revelation. He had some new songs that instantly appealed to me and meeting him backstage after the gig was an unforgettable moment. That night, back at my bedsit, Phil and I talked into the early hours. We shared a love of Buddy Holly and played a few old singles. We discussed the folk scene and eventually got on to Bob Dylan who’s songs were all the rage on the politically active left. Phil mentioned that some people would happily kill Dylan and we talked about the repercussions of his assassination. I said it would be like the crucifixion of Christ to many and would give “the movement” a martyr, something all causes needed as a rallying point. Eventually he slept in my bed and I slept on the floor of my living room.

In the morning I got my tape recorder running and persuaded Phil to record three new songs for me,“Flower Lady”, “Cannons of Christianity”, and “Santo Domingo”.

“Two n’s or one?” he asked, before singing “Cannons of Christianity” and apologising for his voice; “It’s hard singing in the morning.”

After performing the songs he went through them again to give me the chords. Within a week the songs were added to my repertoire.

In the afternoon I took him to my mother’s where he was fed a huge plateful of meat and two veg, followed by a cannonball of fruit pudding covered in custard. He was very appreciative. Mother had no idea who he was, but admired his old fashioned manners and his courtesy towards her. Unfortunately he lost a contact lens in the front room, even though he had a towel spread over his lap as he cleaned it. He sat unmoving as mother and I carefully examined every inch of him, the settee he was sitting on, and the carpet on the floor, all without success. Eventually he got up and mother vacuumed the room and then dissected the contents of the bag. We never found the lens and it could be lying somewhere in 85 Kenilworth Road to this day. Phil, being Phil, had no replacement, and so had to wire to America for a replacement to be sent out to him.

It was in England, according to his biography by Michael Schumacher, that Phil began to write his epic “Crucifixion”. As he stayed with me on the 24th of November and, if the book is correct, began the song on the night of the 27th, I am convinced our conversation on the night of the 24th had a lot to do with his inspiration.

Before he left he signed my visitors book “Phil Ochs….Hanoi”

Harvey Andrews

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4 thoughts on “Phil and Me

  1. I am so grateful that I found the article about the benefit for the miners of hazard ky in Philadelphia. have been trying to find out for years when it occurred. it was a benefit concert. as I recall besides phil, tom Paxton and eric Anderson were part of the benefit. also, possibly buffy st marie. as it turned out it was December 4, 1963. I was a senior in a high school in Philadelphia. it has always been one of my all time great concerts. thank who ever found the article. it any one was at the concert please fill in the gaps of who was on the bill.

    Like

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