Songs Of Innocence – Part Three – Broadside Ballads Volume One

Continued…

broad’side –  the side of a ship: all the guns on one side

of a ship of war: their simultaneous discharge: a critical attack.

Chambers 20th Century Dictionary

Perhaps Broadside’s success as a mouthpiece for the folk scene is best illustrated by the fact that though Phil’s first appearance didn’t arrive until issue 13, the first issue had only appeared seven months earlier, in February 1962.  The songs, from Phil and others, were arriving quicker than Sis and Gordon could type them up. Writing in his fine introduction to The Broadside Tapes Vol. 1 (which was issued as ‘The Broadside Ballads Vol. 14’ by Folkways in 1980, a fitting finale to the series of recordings instigated by Phil in 1963), Paul Kaplan wrote of Phil as; “the most prolific” Broadside contributor, arriving at the Broadside offices “hungry and with his pockets stuffed with scribblings. After eating he would sit down before the ancient Revere tape recorder and sing his new songs”. These were recorded (onto a tape recorder donated by the ever-helpful Pete Seeger) for Sis to transcribe for inclusion in the next issue.

Writing in Broadside #20 (an issue that includes Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’ and ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright’ as well as Malvina Reynolds ‘Little Boxes’, and Phil’s Hazard Kentucky. Heady days!) Josh Dunson gives an evocative description of life at West 104th Street, New York City, the home of Sis and Gordon as well as the home of Broadside;

Broadside’s home is a small little home that’s got chairs and a sofa with a tape recorder finishing off the bottom wall piece…Boy, this room was so jammed packed with people that there was real foot and banjo and guitar shifting necessary to get Phil Ochs close enough to the mike to record his three new songs. Phil Ochs. What a guy! Quiet, soft spoken, but there with his guitar he spun some of the most real verses that’s going to be written about the death of New York Youth Board worker Louis C. Marsh and the miners striking in Hazard, Kentucky. There was an immediateness about those two songs Phil did…”.

That last song, Hazard, Kentucky, also appeared in issue #20 and was sung that night by Pete Seeger at a Hazard Miners’ Benefit. The song about Louis C. Marsh, Lou Marsh (also known as The Ballad of Lou Marsh) made it onto All The News That’s Fit to Sing, as well as into Broadside #21, alongside A.M.A Song (another Cleveland era song) and Talking Cuban Crisis (which also made it onto All The News…).  It is this “immediateness” that demonstrates the importance of Broadside to Phil’s topical songs. While Lou Marsh would later appear on Phil’s debut album, All The News That’s Fit To Sing wasn’t released until April 1964, well over a year after Lou Marsh’s death. The same song appeared in Broadside #21, released barely a month after Lou Marsh died. Of course there is more to these songs than mere topicality…

The following issue (Broadside #22 released in March 1963) contained Phil’s first Broadside article, “The Need For Topical Music”, de-facto propaganda for the topical song movement, where he proclaimed that “one good song with a message can bring a point more deeply to more people than a thousand rallies”. By this issue Phil, and Bob Dylan’s influence at Broadside was such that they were beginning to be credited as contributing editors. Fittingly, Broadside #22 also features the first announcement of the impending release of Broadside Ballads Vol. 1.

*

According to Marc Eliot it was Phil who organised the recording of Broadside Ballads Vol. 1 sometime in 1963, as a kind-of thank you to Sis and Gordon for all their support. He got eager yes’s from all the performers, all except Bob Dylan, who eventually appeared, under the alias ‘Blind Boy Grunt’. Obviously irked by a loss of editorial control (never an issue with the print version of Broadside), Gordon Friesen wasn’t exactly bowled over with the finished LP, but recognised its significance in the continuation of this new ‘folk’ movement;

“It is not enough” he wrote “to merely put a song into print. It’s very hard to make it come alive. So, as you may know, we’ve issued an LP…We’re not too satisfied with it, but actually we’ve had very little to say regarding its final content (it’s published by Folkways)”.

In a manner of speaking, and in a decidedly low key way, Phil had made it. If there was an in-crowd, he was in it. It remained though a crowd dominated by Dylan, with Broadside Ballads Vol. 1 a case in point. Of the fifteen songs, a third are by Dylan, three recorded by Blind Boy Grunt (‘Jon Brown’, ‘Only A Hobo’ and a couple of verses of ‘Talkin’ Devil’) while The New World Singers’ (namely Gil Turner, Bob Cohen and Happy Traum) version of ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ opens the albums and Happy Traum’s version of ‘I Will Not Go Under The Ground’ closes side one. This was the first appearance on record of both The New World Singers as well as ‘Blowin’ In the Wind’ (though Dylan had recorded ‘Freewheelin’’ before Broadside Ballads, it would be released after).

Phil’s William Worthy (which as The Ballad of William Worthy, with a few very minor changes, also features on Phil’s debut LP All The News That’s Fit To Sing) is side one, track five, between Peter La Farge’s As Long As The Grass Shall Grow and Gil Turner’s Benny Kid Paret. Compared with the mannered approach of Dylan and the deep voiced La Farge, Phil sounds so young and earnest. He sounds almost sweet, keen to win our hearts as much as the argument. Songs of innocence indeed.

*

Newport 1963

Nineteen sixty-three had barely got started by the time Broadside Ballads Vol. 1 was recorded. Apart from seeing his first song cut into vinyl, nineteen sixty-three would be the year Phil got married (in May, to Alice). In September Phil’s daughter Meegan was born. In July he made his first appearance at The Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Isalnd, as part of “Topical Songs and New Singers” workshop that included fellow Broadsiders, Tom Paxton, Peter La Farge and Bob Dylan. Quite separate from the festival proper (which included Johnny Cash as a star attraction), which had grown in stature and popularity since its inception in 1959, and was now attracting audiences upwards of 13,000, the audiences for the workshops were more like 500-600, perhaps more for Dylan’s set. All the same, this was a big crowd for performers more used to the cosiness of the clubs and coffee houses of Greenwich Village. The festival, held in Fort Adams State Park, began as a little brother of festival founder George Wein’s other festival, the renowned Newport Jazz Festival. With the help of Wein’s fellow board members, and folk music heavyweights Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, Pete Seeger and Albert Grossman, Newport quickly established itself as a big deal for folk performers. Joan Baez’s performance in 1959 (as a guest of Bob Gibson as it happens) for example, played a large part in her rise to stardom. The 1963 festival offered a chance for the Broadside crowd to break out of their New York ghetto.

Phil at Newport 1963

In typical fashion, Phil’s appearance at Newport didn’t exactly go smoothly. He had been ill prior to the festival, so ill in fact that a doctor (and an equally worried Pete Seeger) had warned him not to travel, let alone perform. In just as typical fashion, Phil ignored them both. Seeger, acting as MC, stepped up to the mic;

“The next person I’m going to introduce, [when] somebody asks him “are you a folk singer?” “No, I’m a topical singer”. His name is Phil Ochs and he’s a most prolific young gentleman, come over here Phil…”

When he should have been resting, Phil was instead performing the most important concert of his life so far.

Phil’s risk to his health paid off, as Josh Dunson wrote in his piece “Workshops Key To Newport” published in Broadside #31;

“The city bred music of Phil Ochs drew the only standing ovation of the workshop, a real tribute to this talented young writer. He had been ill for several weeks with severe headaches and dizziness, and his first song “Medgar Evers”, though well received, lacked his usual power of delivery. However, every line of his second song, “Talking Birmingham Jam” came out strong. Phil’s humour struck deep. One by one and then in waves the crowd rose from the grass, first clapping, then yelling for more”.

“Medgar Evers” would later appear on All The News That’s Fit To Sing as Too Many Martyrs (co-credited to Bob Gibson), while Talking Birmingham Jam would make it onto I Ain’t Marching Anymore, Phil’s second LP, released in February 1965, a full eighteen months after its performance at Newport. Both songs would also make it onto Vanguard’s LP ‘Newport Broadside – Topical Songs at The Newport Folk Festival 1963’ released sometime in 1964, sandwiched between the old-school Ed McCurdy and hip young(ish) Peter La Farge on an album topped and tailed by Dylan, performing duets with Pete Seeger and Joan Baez.

The significance of Phil’s set at Newport was highlighted by the first issue of Broadside after the festival (Broadside #30) having Talking Birmingham Jam on its cover. The second Broadside Ballads LP, ‘Broadside Ballads Vol. 2 – Broadsides Sung by Pete Seeger’ also included a song of Phil’s, The Ballad Of Lou Marsh (included on All The News That’s Fit To Sing as simply Lou Marsh). It was plain to see that Phil was part of a scene that encouraged his creative talents. He was a player in a scene that was in danger of going global. Dylan may have been its shining light, but Phil wasn’t far behind. What Phil may have lacked in star quality, he more than made up for with energy and enthusiasm. Nineteen sixty-three had been a terrific, prolific year.

In late January 1964, Broadside #38 announced the imminent release of three LPs featuring Phil;  ‘New Folks Vol. 2’ on Vanguard, ‘Newport Broadside’, also on Vanguard and another LP named ‘All The New Songs Fit To Sing’. The next issue gave the correct title – All The News That’s Fit To Sing, Phil’s debut album.

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