Thursday, January 31, 2008

Phil Ochs: yes; Vampire Weekend: no.


There has been too much talk lately about Vampire Weekend and their soi-disant “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “Upper West Side Soweto”; there has been too little talk involving the phrases “piss off back to your Peter Gabriel albums, tossers” and “shut the fuck up, you pretentious cockfarmers”.

For African pop, we should turn our attentions to the mighty Phil Ochs, who in 1973 recorded two songs with The Pan-African Ngembo Rumba Band in Kenya. Released only in Africa by A&M, the Bwatue/Niko Mchumba Ngombe single was Ochs’s sole venture in this style.

After this recording, Ochs went to Tanzania where he was beaten and strangled so badly by three men that he lost his top register. For a singer who relied on his high notes, this was a disaster for Ochs.

Returning to the USA, he saw Frank Sinatra’s throat doctor who advised him to stop drinking and perform vocal exercises for three hours a day to give him a chance to recover his register. Ochs chose to carry on drinking.

My favourite chapter in Ochs’s rich and varied life involved him trying to sign with Elvis's manager Colonel Tom Parker in the mid-70s; when Parker ignored him, Ochs went instead to Colonel Tom Sanders. KFC representatives met Ochs but quickly left the meeting as Ochs was very drunk and incoherent.

Phil Ochs hung himself from his sister’s bathroom door on April 9, 1976. A toast to those who are gone.

4 comments:

ally. said...

well i never - all new to me (as usual) so thankyou. i do like phil but i only really know the folky protest stuff
x

FireEscape said...

Do you know his Greatest Hits (1970)? Not actually a Greatest Hits, but his seventh and last (studio) album which, to my mind, is by far and away his best work. Featuring Phil dressed in a gold lame suit - like Elvis - and songs that suggested he knew he really was great ("Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Me"), Van Dyke Parks' production lends the album a luxurious texture absent from his earlier, sparser work. Seriously, drop what you're doing and get that album!

ally. said...

i will. sister ray tomorrow.
x

ally. said...

i will. sister ray tomorrow.
x