Utah Phillips – El Capitan

“Kids don’t have a little brother working in the coal mine, they don’t have a little sister coughing her lungs out in the looms of the big mill towns of the Northeast. Why? Because we organized; we broke the back of the sweatshops in this country; we have child labor laws. Those were not benevolent gifts from enlightened management. They were fought for, they were bled for, they were died for by working people, by people like us. Kids ought to know that. That’s why I sing these songs. That’s why I tell these stories, dammit. No root, no fruit!”

Perhaps no one understood better than Bruce “U.Utah” Phillips the phrase “Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” Moreover, he has followed the creed of labor songwriter Joe Hill, who wisely pointed out that “A pamphlet is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart ant repeated over and over.” For 40 years now, Utah Phillips has been telling stories and singing songs on the behalf of history’s underdogs: workers, hoboes, activists, rural folk, youth, the elderly, and a handful of eccentric characters he has met over the years.

He is a treasury of American history, with a seemingly bottomless supply of stories, songs, and jokes, each filled with circumstantial detail and a personal connection. He is all the more remarkable because he has never written any of this down. All his songs and all his stories are housed within the warehouse of his mind, as sharp as it is spacious. And, of course, thanks to his decades of touring (and hoboing), as well as his fantastic radio show Loafer’s Glory: The Hobo Jungle of the Mind, his songs and stories will live on in the lives of everyone he has touched.

As a song-maker, he is every bit the equal of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Willie Nelson, or pretty much any other chum you can think of who put topical words to traditional tunes. He can craft a turn of phrase that perfectly illuminates his subject, and feels so natural as to be ancient. And, though finely wrought, his music is never an end to itself. Rather, it is continually in service to the stories he tells, the history he keeps alive, and the great battle for the everyman that he wages day after day. He has inspired a generation of activists & musicians, from Kate Wolf to Ani Difranco.

El Capitan was his second album, and is unavailable on CD. It contains many of his classic songs, presented in a direct and unornamented fashion. And these songs are really timeless.

” These are songs about the new and old West. I mean my West, not just the narrow cowboy West. Many of these songs I collected along the way from working people who sang for their own pleasure. Others I made up as I moved through events that provoked songs — events that made me feel happy, sad, angry, puzzled, betrayed, bemused, and sometimes scared.”

Utah Phillips – El Capitan
Year: 1975
Label: Philo
the telling takes me home.
mr (from vinyl, cleaned, hairy on some tracks) | mp3 >192 kbps vbr | w/ covers, booklets | 84mb

Make sure to read the lyrics and liner notes

Much more info can be gleaned at A Short Jog Through a Long Memory, the Utah Phillips appreciation and information site.

Also, Utah has recently had a lot of health troubles, and he could really use your support. Most of his other albums are available on CD here, including the fantastic Starlight on the Rails: A Songbook 4-CD set. And, there are several benefit concerts coming up soon. More info on those can be found at the Utah Phillips blog, maintained by his son. Please, if you can, get one of his albums or go to a benefit concert. He’s one of the worthiest causes I know of.

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5 Responses to Utah Phillips – El Capitan

  1. cianfulli says:

    I’ve bought all his records along the years, but thanks the same.El capitan is, maybe, his best, pity Rounder doesn’t re-release it[img=http://media4.dropshots.com/photos/302827/20050823/144121.jpg]El capitan[/img]

  2. thanks cianfulli. some google searching beforehand would probably save me a lot of time scanning.actually, Utah did release an album called The Telling Takes Me Home, which combines half the tracks from El Capitan and half the tracks from All Used Up, his first album. But I agree, El Capitan is his best, excepting perhaps Starlight on the Rails.If you like this album, you’d probably love an album by Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin called Heart Songs – the Old Time Country Songs of Utah Phillips. They do some of these songs and some that he never recorded, and they do them better than he had ever imagined.

  3. jazzme says:

    Is there any chance one of you might have a copy of Utah Phillips lp Good Though this is a great lp by the way great music . jazzme

  4. W says:

    He is great. I’ve enjoyed his music over the years. I’m sorry to hear he’s sick; it would be great to attend one of the benefit shows.

  5. Don says:

    RIP Utah…thanks for this post.

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