Utah Phillips Dies

Folk singer Bruce "U. Utah" Phillips, a freewheeling storyteller and Grammy-nominated musician known for his extensive touring over nearly 40 years and strong support of peace groups and labor unions in his works, has died. He was 73.

Phillips died of congestive heart failure late Friday night at his home in Nevada City, Calif., a small town in the Sierra Nevada mountains located about 60 miles north of Sacramento, family spokesman Jordan Fisher Smith told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Phillips leaves behind his wife, Joanna Robinson, and three children of his own and two stepsons.

Phillips had been suffering from chronic heart disease since 2004, Smith said. His health problems cut short the touring that had characterized much of Phillips’ career, though he kept in touch with fans over the last few years of his life through a series of podcasts and blog postings written by one of his sons, Duncan.

Phillips, the son of labor organizers, once ran for a seat on the U.S. Senate on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket and was known as a champion for the rights of working people and a comedian on stage.

One of Phillips’ best-known songs in folk circles is "Moose Turd Pie," a single from his first album that recounts Phillips’ tale of serving moose excrement to fellow laborers as a cook in a railroad track gang to dare them to complain about the food. Smith said strong radio support for the tune in the early 1970s helped  Phillips book steady shows in other cities and launch his career on the road.

That career spanned nearly four decades, and Phillips’ collaboration with Ani DiFranco on the labor-themed 1999 album "Fellow Workers" earned them a Grammy award nomination in 2000 for best contemporary folk album.

As Phillips’ health problems worsened in recent years, he stepped away from the touring life and focused on his health along with starting a folk music radio show and helping establish a homeless shelter.

A funeral date hasn’t been set yet, Smith said.

"He was a man who was amazingly funny," Smith said. "And what I saw in the last two years of his life was a human being even more beautiful than he was in performance."