Thursday, 24 June 2010

Q&A: Phil Ochs' Voice After 1973

Question: I was wondering, how slowly Phil's voice faded useless (if we say that word) after Africa trip?

As recorded in Phil Ochs' biographies, in 1973 he was attacked and strangled by robbers in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which damaged his vocal cords. The effect on his voice was immediate, but he still continued to perform concerns while in Africa, trying to soothe his throat with beer while on stage (which in actuality only made his voice worse). He was unsure whether his voice would ever fully recover, and in fact, it never did. The main effect the attack had was to eliminate the upper range of his voice, which is audible on his later recordings. His 1974 version of "Power and the Glory," for instance, showcased a deeper sounding voice than was typical, and his vocal performances tended to sound as if he had a permanent cold. Some of his recorded concerns from 1974 particularly highlight the damage, where in some songs, like "There But for Fortune" he was forced to speak, rather than sing, part of a line in the chorus. This is not to say that he could not still turn in a good vocal performance, however; "Here's to the State of Richard Nixon" (the flip side to the "Power and the Glory" single), recorded live, is a worthy companion to the original "Mississippi" track. His voice did seem in somewhat better shape for the War Is Over rally in 1975, which necessitated a performance of "The War Is Over." In advance of performing the song, he apologized for his damaged voice, but he managed to sing it quite well, missing only the high note contained in the line "I declare the war is over" (a high G, for those who are interested), which he mostly speaks instead. As can be heard in the clip below from Midnight Special in 1974, his voice may have lost its range, but it was far from gone: