Bruce Duncan Phillips, 73, the itinerant folksinger, songwriter, storyteller and social activist who called himself U. Utah Phillips, "the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest," died May 23 at his home in Nevada City, Calif. The cause was congestive heart failure.
An instinctively independent guitar-slinger and self-described anarchist with an affinity for history and a trove of one-liners, Mr. Phillips was a regular on the folk circuit, including the Philadelphia area, from 1969 into the 21st century. "It is better to be likable than to be talented," he often said.
His sets were monologues that interspersed anecdotes, political jabs and wry observations with songs - some traditional, some from the labor movement and some he had written, like
"Green Rolling Hills," "All Used Up," "The Telling Takes Me Home," and
"Rocksalt and Nails." His songs were recorded by Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits, Joan Baez, Waylon Jennings and Ani DiFranco, who signed him to her label and produced two albums for him in the 1990s.
Mr. Phillips was born in Cleveland, the son of labor organizers who moved to Utah in 1947. He was an Army private in the Korean War, and said later that he was "angry and frightened by what I'd seen and done there," and starting hopping trains and drinking.
He ended up in Salt Lake City at Joe Hill House, a homeless shelter, and joined the Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies. He eventually began writing songs influenced by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and country singers like T. Texas Tyler (after which he modeled his U. Utah Phillips name).
He moved on to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and found his way on to the circuit of coffeehouses, clubs and festivals that would sustain him for the next 38 years - "learning how to make a living, not a killing," he said in 2007.
- New York Times