Born in 1935
, Bruce "U. Utah" Phillips
is one of the greatest folk singers
, story tellers
, political activists
, and hobo advocates
in American history
Born in California, Utah moved to his state-namesake in early 1947, where his mother worked for the AFL/CIO, and his step-father ran a chain of movie theaters. Utah had the travel bug as a child--his mother took to wrapping his lunch in road maps, it is said.
Utah took up the ukelele as a child, and cut his musical teeth on that instrument. When he decided, as a teenager, to travel to Yellowstone to work on a road crew, his coworkers taught him to turn his ukelele strings into guitar-sounding strings, and he began to tell stories about the rich history of early American workers.
When America entered the Korean War, Utah enlisted in the Army, eventually beginning a band of soldiers called the Rice Paddy Ramblers. They played for groups of soldiers throughout the area; many of their songs were political critiques. Upon returning to the US, Utah became a pacifist, writing his first song--the Enola Gay--a troubling story about growing up just miles from where the plane had been constructed.
Utah's political future had begun to set.
Utah has spent the years since his return from Korea as an advocate for workers' and hobo rights, travelling around the country, often by freight train, and performing folk concerts at small venues nationwide. He has run for president in every election since 1969. In the 1990s, he teamed up with Ani DiFranco, and the two toured small venues--his stories set to her music. Those stories are available on the albums The Past Didn't Go Anywhere and Fellow Workers.
He has limited the number of shows he plays and, as of the 2000s, Utah plays approximately one show a month, mostly in the Northwestern United States. He hosts a weekly, one-hour, radio show, Loafer's Glory: The Hobo Jungle of the Mind, out of Berkeley, California over the Pacifica network. The show is available to any community radio station at no charge, by Utah's insistence.