Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Folk Singer for the FBI: The Phil Ochs FBI File

Phil Ochs (1940-1976) was one the greatest political and topical folk singers of the 1960s, whose protest songs included "I Ain't Marching Anymore," "Links on the Chain," and "Ringing of Revolution." Ochs was first investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) early on in his career, after writing a favorable article on Woody Guthrie in Mainstream magazine in 1963. That same magazine issue brought another name to the attention of the FBI: fellow Greenwich Village folk singer Bob Dylan. The FBI attended political rallies where Ochs played, and poured over media articles to build a profile on him. Ochs began noticing the attention, referring to the FBI in his lyrics and telling an audience in 1966: "As you know, I'm a folk singer for the FBI." The FBI's investigation intensified after the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago occurred in August 1968. The FBI attempted to build a case against Ochs and other members of the Youth International Party (Yippies), but the indictment against Ochs never materialized due to a lack of evidence. Ochs instead later testified at the Chicago Seven trial for the defense. Special agents now monitored his travels in person, and received updates from foreign authorities when, for example, he was arrested at a student political rally in South America. Despite the hundreds of pages in his FBI file, Ochs never committed a federal crime. He continued to be under investigation until his death by suicide in 1976.


"This is why I love Phil Ochs." - Ethan Smith

"[A] must read as we slip down the slope towards a fascist state." - Notlobmusic

"Hard to believe and who knows what they [FBI et al.] do these days." - WICN 90.5 FM

Excerpts from the FBI File

"Mainstream" [a folk magazine] August, 1963, contains a poem entitled "Glory Bound" by Phil Ochs, and an article "The Guthrie Legacy" also by Ochs. Both the poem and the article are eulogies on folk singer and guitarist Woodie [sic] Guthrie, described as "incurably ill." Ochs does not specifically describe himself in these writings, but their content shows that he has conversed with guitarists and folk singers. The reader is drawn to conclude that Ochs himself is a guitarist and folk singer. An article on page 40 of the same issue "Mainstream" entitled "off the record" by Josh Dunson, describes Philip Ochs as a "topical song writer." NYO [New York Office] indices reflect no information concerning Philip Ochs.

On October 15, 1965, Phil Ochs, a folk singer, who at that time was appearing at the Second Fret, a night club and coffee house in Philadelphia, was observed by SAS [Special Agents] of the FBI to entertain at a "speak-out" held at City Hall, Philadelphia, Pa., sponsored by the Philadelphia Area Committee to End the War in Vietnam.

"The Worker" of January 9, 1966, page four, contained an article disclosing "Phil Ochs sang about the war" at a teach-in sponsored by the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee and Students for Peace in Vietnam, an affiliate of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) held December 29, 1965, at Columbia University's McMillian Auditorium, New York City. The article stated, "The teach-in was aimed at high school students and was an attempt to organize and give expression to high school sentiment . . . on the war in Vietnam." ("The Worker" is an east coast Communist newspaper that ceased publication in July, 1968. . . .)

"The Worker" of April 11, 1967, page one, column four, indicated Phil Ochs was one of the artists scheduled to participate in the April 15, 1967, anti-Vietnam demonstration in New York City sponsored by the Spring Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam.

The October 16, 1967, issue of "Mobilization News," published by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (NMC) listed Phil Ochs as one of the entertainers who would appear at the October 21, 1967 anti-Vietnam demonstration at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

The October 27, 1967, issue of the "Kingsman," a Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, New York, newspaper, reflected that Phil Ochs was one the folk singers who performed at the October 21, 1967, anti-Vietnam demonstration at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.

The November 23, 1967, issue of "The Village Voice," a New York City newspaper, contained an article written by Phil Ochs captioned, "Have You Heard? The War is Over!" In this article the author calls for a rally in Washington Square Park, New York City, on November 25, 1967, to declare an end to the Vietnam War.

The November 26, 1967 issue of the "New York Times," a daily New York City newspaper, contained a report of an impromptu march of several thousand persons from an anti-Vietnam rally at Times Square Park, New York City, on November 25, 1967. The article indicated, "The original idea for the anti-war demonstration started with Phil Ochs, a composer and singer, who has been called 'a troubadour of the New Left.' " The article continued, "He had organized a similar march in Los Angeles last summer and subsequently wrote a satirical song on 'the war is over' concept."

The January 22, 1966 issue of the "Newark Evening News," a Newark, New Jersey, daily newspaper, page three, reflected that Phil Ochs was one of the performing artists at the Broadway for Peace 1968 presentation at Lincoln Center, New York City, January 21, 1968, sponsored by the Congressional Peace Campaign Committee.

The February 15, 1968 issue of "Win," a publication of the War Resisters League in cooperation with the New York Workshop for Nonviolence, carried on page fifteen, an article entitled, "The Birth of the Yippies." The piece reflects the Youth International Party (YIP) was founded in New York City on January 16, 1968, by some 25 artists, writers and revolutionaries, including Phil Ochs.

The February 27, 1968 issue of the "Long Island Press," a metropolitan New York City newspaper, contained an article reporting an interview with Keith Lampe, a founder of YIP, wherein Lampe said that among those involved in creating YIP was folk singer Phil Ochs.The March 21, 1968 issue of "The Village Voice," ... on March 7, 1968, page twenty-eight, contained an article reflecting Phil Ochs would be one of the entertainers at a benefit for the National Committee for Free Elections in Mississippi on that date at the Tavern-On-The-Green in New York City.

"The Worker," of April 23, 1968, page one, column two, disclosed that Phil Ochs was one of the folk singers scheduled to appear at the April 27, 1968 anti-Vietnam demonstration in Central Park, New York City, sponsored by the Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade Committee.

On August 23, 1968, a SA [Special Agent] of the FBI observed a demonstration at the Civic Center Plaza, Chicago, Illinois, and observed approximately 50 youths where a YIP press conference was scheduled for 10:15 a.m. on that date.

At 10:20 a.m. it was observed that a live pig was brought to the Plaza by the YIP contingent which they announced was the YIP "candidate" for President of the United States. When efforts were made by the Chicago Police to bring the pig under control, 7 Yippies attempted to intervene and were arrested by the police. One of those so arrested was Phil Ochs, a white male, born December 19, 1940.

On April 5, 1969, Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation observed the GI-Civilian Anti-War Parade and Rally, and reported that at approximately 4:45 PM, Phil Ochs was introduced to the Chairman and sang a song titled "On March 10 [sic], the Battle of New Orleans---" ["I Ain't Marching Anymore"]. This was followed by another song by Ochs called "All Quiet in [sic] the Western Front."

The "New York Times," a New York City daily newspaper, in the issue of April 6, 1969, on page one contained an article captioned "Thousands March Here to Demand Vietnam Pull Out." This article stated that thousands of anti-war demonstrators marched along the Avenue of the Americas on April 5, 1969, from Bryant Park to Central Park [about five miles straight up the main commercial and entertainment strip of Manhattan] for a rally in a downpour demanding United States withdrawal from Vietnam, chanting, "Free speech for GI's." The article noted that this parade began a weekend of anti-war demonstrations here (New York City) and in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle. Informants generally familiar with [subversive] activity and associated front group activity in the area where Ochs resides advised that they have no information concerning any membership or current [subversive] activity or front group activity on the part of Ochs.

The "Daily Trojan," a campus newspaper at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, October 16, 1969, carried a photograph of Phil Ochs who had ended a year-long retirement the previous day at the University of Southern California (USC), in a benefit performance for the Vietnam Moratorium Committee. He had also appeared at three other college campuses in the Los Angeles area during the day. This was described as his first activity since the Democratic convention in Chicago.

The Vietnam Moratorium Committee has been publicly described as a national group headquartering in Washington, D.C., formed for the purpose of calling a "moratorium on business as usual" in protest of the Vietnam War.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this info! Very interesting