Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


OCHS, Phil

(b 19 Dec. '40, El Paso TX; d 9 April '76, NYC) Singer-songwriter, still one of the most fondly remembered of the '60s. He attended a military academy, studied journalism, moved to NYC '61 and plunged into folk-protest movement. All The News That's Fit To Sing '64 was a typical album of the era; I Ain't Marchin' Anymore '65 was an improvement, incl. caustic 'Here's To The State Of Mississippi'; title song became an anthem of the period. In Concert '66 remains one of the best live albums of the era, incl. his version of his best-known song, 'There But For Fortune', a world-wide hit for Joan Baez '65. Ochs was compared to Bob Dylan, but while Dylan found new audiences with innovative music, Ochs stuck to folk-protest, saying at one point that he wanted to be 'the first left-wing star'; Dylan (under tremendous pressure himself) treated Ochs cruelly, but Ochs leapt to Dylan's defence '64: 'It is as if the entire folk community was a huge biology class and Bob was a rare, prize frog ... hopping in all different directions while they're trying to dissect him ... To cater to an audience's taste is not to respect them, and if the audience doesn't understand that, they don't deserve respect.' Pleasures Of The Harbor '67 was Ochs's most assured LP to date, incl. beautiful 'Flower Lady', witty 'Outside Of A Small Circle Of Friends' and epic 'Crucifixion', about JFK murder. Tape From California '68 was seen as an unsuccessful attempt to emulate Dylan, though title track was outstanding and 'The War Is Over' an excellent anti- Vietnam song (he claimed that John Lennon stole its title for his Bed-Ins '69). Rehearsals For Retirement '69 was a bitter album after the riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago '68, incl. 'Doesn't Lenny Live Here Any More?' about Lenny Bruce. Phil Ochs' Greatest Hits '69 was ironically titled, mocking an Elvis Presley album with sleeve note '50 Phil Ochs fans can't be wrong!', incl. top session players Ry Cooder, James Burton, Tom Scott, members of the Byrds, songs such as 'Chords Of Fame', 'No More Songs', 'Jim Dean Of Indiana'. Live Gunfight At Carnegie Hall '71 was contentious, recorded complete with audience antipathy, cry of 'Phil Ochs is dead!' as he rocked out on hits of Presley, Buddy Holly, Merle Haggard's 'Okie From Muskogee'. Ochs quit the USA, wandered around Europe, wrote for London's Time Out magazine; he was mysteriously assaulted in Africa, narrowly escaping death, suffering severely damaged vocal cords. He appeared with Dylan at the Benefit for Chile concert '74, released single 'Here's To The State Of Richard Nixon' in the wake of Watergate; he suffered from manic depression, refused to answer to his name, rechristened himself 'John Butler Train'. He committed suicide at his sister's house. Chords Of Fame '76 was an excellent two- disc collection lovingly compiled by his brother Michael, the title also used for '84 TV documentary; A Toast To Those Who Are Gone '86 was a compilation of previously unreleased material. The Broadside Tapes on Smithsonian/Folkways are demos made for the magazine; In Concert 1965--66 and There And Now: Live In Vancouver '68 are on Rhino.