Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the Twin Towers were struck. Those of a certain age recall exactly how they learned President Kennedy was killed.
A thousand or so Westporters will never forget hearing the news that Lyndon Johnson refused to run for a 2nd term. Phil Ochs told them. The witty, sardonic protest singer was performing in the Staples High School auditorium. Gleefully, he passed the news along. The audience roared its approval.
Last month marked the 36th anniversary of Phil Ochs’ suicide. Just 35, he’d grappled with demons so strong they overpowered his prodigious talents, and intense desire to expose hypocrisy and inanity wherever he found it.
That Phil Ochs concert was a marvelous moment. A songwriter who believed LBJ’s Vietnam policy was destroying an America he — Phil — loved informed a crowd of like-minded people that they had won. No one who was there has forgotten that moment.
Long forgotten is another Phil Ochs appearance here more than 3 years earlier.
Emily Roderick Oprea remembers it, though. Her younger sister Judy Roderick — a blues singer — recorded for Vanguard. Time Magazine called her “earthy and hard rocking.”
Judy sang at folk festivals, night clubs and coffee houses, from Newport and New York to San Francisco.
But she lived with her parents in Weston. Sometimes she played local gigs.
One was at the Bonanza Sirloin Pit. Founded by Dan Blocker — Hoss on the TV show “Bonanza,” who I actually saw make a (very large) personal appearance here — the Westport steakhouse was, according to Wikipedia, the original in a chain that grew to 600 restaurants by 1989.
Judy played there a few times. So, on February 26 and 27, 1965, did singer/songwriter Ed McCurdy (“Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”).
And Phil Ochs.
There was no follow-up story in the Westport News. It’s not listed on a website that chronicles all of Phil’s concerts, from January 1, 1962 through October 23, 1975.
According to the website, the next day — February 28, 1965 — Phil was in Baltimore. There was a benefit for Kentucky coal miners; he wouldn’t miss something like that.
But that Friday and Saturday, he was at a steakhouse in Westport. The Westport News called him a “singing journalist,” and said he’d “comment on the political and social climate of the sixties.”
He did that for as long as he lived. In death, he’s faded from memory — though a recent documentary, “There but for Fortune,” brings his wonderful music back to life.
And on at least 2 occasions he did it in this small suburban town that, back then, was a haven for the topical music Phil Ochs personified.