Sunday, 11 January 2009

Gunfight at Carnegie Hall

Gunfight At Carnegie Hall was Phil Ochs' final album, comprising songs recorded at the infamous, gold-suited, bomb-threat shortened first set at Carnegie Hall in New York City on March 27, 1970, though it contains less than half of the actual concert. The shows recorded that day served to surprise Ochs' fans, from his gold lamé Nudie suit modeled after Elvis Presley's to his covers of Presley, Conway Twitty, Buddy Holly and Merle Haggard songs, to his own re-arranged songs. Some attendees at the show were unhappy with the music he was playing, wanting only to hear "old" Ochs, but before he had a chance to convince them, the concert was cut short by a telephone bomb threat. Some angry fans — who had paid for a full concert — confronted Phil at a between-show dinner, and he took their names, promising to get them into the second show for free. But the box office was locked — Ochs smashed the glass, severely cutting his thumb. Breaking into the lockbox was the last straw. While they let Ochs perform the second show, he was immediately afterwards banned from performing at the venue permanently. He appeared onstage at the second show with a bandaged hand, telling the audience the story.

On the Gunfight album, before performing a medley of Buddy Holly songs, Ochs gives an introduction where he describes Holly's influence on the songs he would become famous for, like "I Ain't Marching Anymore." Ochs says that these songs were "just as much Phil Ochs as anything else." When some of the audience shout and boo after this set, Ochs admonishes them to "not be like Spiro Agnew," saying that their prejudice against certain forms of music was bigotry: "You can be a bigot from all sides. You can be a bigot against Blacks; you can be a bigot against music." Many in the audience cheer this sentiment.

The second show, starting at midnight, went on for over three hours - when Carnegie Hall cut the power to the mics while Ochs was performing a medley of Elvis songs, Ochs shouted out and the remaining audience started chanting "We want power!" until the mics were turned back on. (Though the Gunfight album is comprised of performances from the first show, the chant from the second show is included.) Many loyal fans remained to the very end of the concert, cheering and dancing, enjoying this chance to share what was felt to be an historic moment with Ochs.

Ochs begged his then-label, A&M to release an album of his gold-suited Carnegie Hall concerts in late 1970. They refused, and it languished for four years in the vaults until the label relented, releasing fifty minutes of material, mostly the covers (four of sixteen originals performed were released, compared to five of seven covers). The album's release, however, came with a catch. It was only released in Canada, and Americans had to wait twenty-plus years to see an American release. It appeared on compact disc in 2000, strangely packaged with Rehearsals For Retirement in a two-disc set. There is no talk of a release of either show, though an additional cover, Chuck Berry's "School Days" appeared on the 1997 British anthology, American Troubadour and an acoustic version of "Crucifixion" was released on the 1976 compilation Chords Of Fame and later on the 1997 box set Farewells & Fantasies. Bootleg copies, however, of the entire second show have been known to be traded among fans. Ochs had been drinking between sets, and his voice was not in as good shape as it had been for the first show, though the between-song patter gives many insights into his frame of mind and the motives behind Greatest Hits and the subsequent gold-suited shows.

Track listing

1. "Mona Lisa" (Ray Evans, Jay Livingston) – 3:49
2. "I Ain't Marching Anymore" (Phil Ochs) – 4:23
3. "Okie From Muskogee" (Roy Burris, Merle Haggard) – 2:49
4. "Chords of Fame" (Ochs) – 4:49
5. "Buddy Holly Medley : Not Fade Away / I'm Gonna Love You Too / Think It Over / Oh, Boy! / Everyday / It's So Easy / Not Fade Away" (Charles Hardin, Norman Petty, Joe B. Maudlin, N. Sullivan, Sonny West, Bill Tilghman, Jerry Allison) – 7:18
6. "Pleasures Of The Harbor" (Ochs) – 5:59
7. "Tape From California" (Ochs) – 5:09
8. "Elvis Medley : My Baby Left Me / Ready Teddy / Heartbreak Hotel / All Shook Up / Are You Lonesome Tonight? / My Baby Left Me" (Arthur Crudup, R. Maralasco, Robert Blackwell, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Otis Blackwell, Roy Turk, Lou Handman, – 10:12
9. "A Fool Such As I" (B. Trader) – 2:00

Group Members

* Phil Ochs - guitar, vocals
* Bob Rafkin - guitar, backing vocals
* Lincoln Mayorga - piano
* Kenny Kaufman - bass, backing vocals
* Kevin Kelley - drums

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