Tag Archives: Lyndon Johnson

Phil Ochs, LBJ, And A Westport Steakhouse

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.

Phil Ochs

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 Roderick

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.

The poster -- including Phil Ochs -- promises "Folk Music at Bonanza, every weekend from 9 p.m. until..."

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.

Hail To The Chiefs

America celebrated Presidents Day yesterday in the usual manner:  with special sales, no mail delivery, and absolutely no thought given to Zachary Taylor, Benjamin Harrison or Gerald Ford, let alone actual presidents like Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and (the big one) William Howard Taft.

Westport — a national leader in areas like hedge funds, education and nannies — would seem to be a natural for presidents too.

We’re not.

Besides passing through on the railroad or highway, our town has few connections with our commanders-in-chief.

George Washington, of course, slept here — he slept everywhere.  In 1780 he is said to have discussed war strategy with the Marquis de Lafayette and Comte de  Rochambeau at the Disbrow Tavern (where Christ & Holy Trinity Church is today).  He returned twice in 1789 as president, coming and going on an inspection tour of the Northeast.  He spent 1 night at the Marvin Tavern — located on the Post Road, opposite King’s Highway South — but did not have a bang-up time.  In his diary, he called it “not a good house.”

This may be the only time Millard Fillmore appears in my blog. Or any blog.

Millard Fillmore was a guest at Richard Winslow’s “Compo House” mansion on the North Compo/Post Road corner (it later became a sanitarium, then was torn down before tear-downs became fashionable).  But he was here 6 years after he left office.

Abraham Lincoln supposedly stayed at Hockanum, Morris Ketchum’s Cross Highway estate near Roseville Road, during his presidency.  Woody Klein‘s history of Westport says only that Salmon P. Chase — Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury — was a frequent guest.  Hockanum still stands; there is a “Lincoln bedroom” upstairs, and the deed states that no changes can be made to that room.

Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke on the steps of the YMCA’s Bedford Building during his re-election campaign of 1936.  He was the 1st sitting president to visit since George Washington.  In addition, FDR’s grandson David lived here for several years in the 1990s.  And FDR’s wife, Eleanor, often visited Lillian Wald’s South Compo “Pond House.”  I know, I’m stretching here…

Hey hey, LBJ...

Lyndon Johnson was friendly with Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas — so friendly that that helped scuttle Fortas’ nomination to be Chief Justice in 1968.  Fortas had a summer home on Minuteman Hill, and some beach residents say that Johnson was an occasional guest.

Bill Clinton trolled here for money, before and during his presidency.  As president he attended fundraisers at the Inn at National Hall, and a private home on Saugatuck Avenue.  Both were low-key affairs, if you don’t count the 25-car motorcades, sharpshooters on top of buildings and helicopters whirling overhead.

Westport has had better luck with presidential candidates.  Like Bill (and Hillary) Clinton, in recent years many have made their way here — more for fund-raising than actual vote-seeking.  Who knows?  Soon, Sarah Palin may come to town.

I’d prefer Millard Fillmore.