Jump to content
Gibson Brands Forums

Phil Ochs on American Masters


j45nick

Recommended Posts

PBS kicks off its 2012 American Masters series tonight (10PM Eastern time) with the documentary "Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune". For those of you not very familiar with him, Ochs was a singer/songwriter who popularity peaked in the 60's with his stark, often sardonic and ironic songs of topical commentary. Any aspiring "folk singer" in the 60's (which was virtually anyone of college age with a guitar in those years) had a couple of Phil Ochs songs on his list.

 

Ochs played Gibsons quite a bit, so there might be some good guitar shots in the film.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I loved Phil Ochs and am lucky enough to have seen him a handful of times. I think the last time was in 1967 at one of those Murray the K Easter Shows in NYC. Strange bill - Cream, Wilson Pickett, Mitch Ryder and the Who were also on it. Everybody got to do like two songs.

 

It was a good documentary about a troubled, tortured, talented soul. The documentary showed a fair amount of footage of his guitars, which started out with a late 40s/early 50's J-45. Ironically, in the first clips when he was starting out in the early 60's, the guitar looked to be in very nice shape. Over the next couple of years, it got the usual hard strummer's pick wear both above and below the soundhole. Not Trigger level, but a fair amount of wear. Ochs was a songwriter/singer, not a guitarist of any note. The guitar was simply his tool.

 

The next guitar shown was a J-50, probably early/mid 60's model, The film wasn't clear enough to pin it down more than that, but it looked to me like an adjustable bridge with a rosewood saddle.

 

There were some other shots of guitars of his that looked like a 000 Martin, and maybe a big Guild: sort of OM shaped, but larger. I don't know much about the late-60's Guild models, so I can't offer any more input on that one. Great footage of Ochs with Dylan, van Ronk, Baez, and other stalwarts of the 60's folk scene.

 

Geezers here like me and Zombywoof were fortunate to see a lot of these people live, and I still marvel at the music of those times.

 

I guess that's just part of getting old.....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I saw the first hour (had to turn the channel at 10 p.m. to watch "The Daily Show") but I'll catch it when it is re-run.

 

From a gear standpoint, the thing that impressed me about his guitars (and it was Gibson City, baby...) was just how sturdy they had to be. If there was a gathering of people of any size, he would break out the guitar and play, indoors, outdoors, in all kinds of weather, etc. There are plenty of guitars I wouldn't subject to that kind of thing, but I guess Ochs felt Gibsons were up to it.

 

I'd be interested to know the details of that one J-50 it looked like he played quite a bit. It seemed to have something inlaid at the 20th fret or so. You could also see that as the years went by, the pick wear above the pickguard got worse and worse.

 

Watching it also made me realize how much we take playing in tune for granted these days, thanks to better strings and the ubiquitousness of electronic tuners.

 

From a songwriting standpoint, I'm amazed he could write so much so frequently and remember all the words.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'd be interested to know the details of that one J-50 it looked like he played quite a bit. It seemed to have something inlaid at the 20th fret or so. You could also see that as the years went by, the pick wear above the pickguard got worse and worse.

 

Watching it also made me realize how much we take playing in tune for granted these days, thanks to better strings and the ubiquitousness of electronic tuners.

 

From a songwriting standpoint, I'm amazed he could A) write so much so frequently and B) remember all the words.

 

Aside from the different pickguards, it was sometimes difficult to tell his J-45 from his J-50, as the B&W footage and the film quality made it difficult. I also saw the "inlay", or whatever it was, between the 19th and 20th fret on the J-50.

 

I noticed the same thing as you about the bad tuning. Back then, I had nothing but a pitch pipe and an A440 tuning fork (which I would whack on my head, touching the handle to the guitar top to use it as a resonator). If there was any noise around you, tuning was virtually impossible, so pitch was pretty arbitrary.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

From a gear standpoint, the thing that impressed me about his guitars (and it was Gibson City, baby...) was just how sturdy they had to be. If there was a gathering of people of any size, he would break out the guitar and play, indoors, outdoors, in all kinds of weather, etc. There are plenty of guitars I wouldn't subject to that kind of thing, but I guess Ochs felt Gibsons were up to it.

 

 

Remember, that old late 40's/early 50's J-45 was simply an "old guitar" in the mid-60's, when Ochs was using it. I'm pretty sure I bought my '48 J-45 in 1966 for $50, plus another $10-$15 for the chipboard case a couple of weeks later when I could finally afford it. I had to borrow the $50 from my older sister.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Saw Phil Ochs in 1974. I was living on the central Calif. coast. He played a local small bar/restaurant.

There might have been 20 people total in the audience. As he was introduced he stumbled, tripped and almost fell face first onto the stage.

I was in the front row no farther then 10 feet from him. He was drunk as a skunk !

He played and sang for about 20 minutes, then just suddenly stood up and said, F it !

Turned and stumbled off the stage. My buddy and I looked at each other and just shook our heads and were pissed

that he would do that. He sure was good for the short time he performed that night though.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Saw Phil Ochs in 1974. I was living on the central Calif. coast. He played a local small bar/restaurant.

There might have been 20 people total in the audience. As he was introduced he stumbled, tripped and almost fell face first onto the stage.

I was in the front row no farther then 10 feet from him. He was drunk as a skunk !

He played and sang for about 20 minutes, then just suddenly stood up and said, F it !

Turned and stumbled off the stage. My buddy and I looked at each other and just shook our heads and were pissed

that he would do that. He sure was good for the short time he performed that night though.

 

 

By the time you saw him, he was pretty much a shell of a man, undone by alcohol and mental illness. I try to remember him as he was in the mid 60's, when he was turning out great songs at a ferocious rate.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just found this board because of the Phil Ochs discussion. I saw him in 1965 in the gym at Northeastern University. I also saw the film in a theater last summer and again last night. After seeing it a second time and seeing his guitars again I think I know why I have this overwhelming need for a vintage J45!

 

Rich G

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...