Phillips’ musical tradition springs from ‘steel thread’ |

Phillips’ musical tradition springs from ‘steel thread’

Underlying the music of Bruce “Utah” Phillips is a long tradition of rustic creativity and romance surrounding America’s railways.

In a tribute to Phillips and his tradition of railroad music, The Rose Tattoo, a loose-knit band he helped form, will play Saturday in a program produced by Nevada City Musical Events.

For more information about the “Trains, Tramps and Traditions ’08,” see today’s Prospector.

“The railroad is a long, steel thread that stitches together much of the American experience,” said Phillips, considered the grand master of The Rose Tattoo.

The Rose Tattoo brings together a widely dispersed band of nomads, 20 in all, who hold in common their experience of travel by freight train, an ability to carry a tune and the tattoo of a rose somewhere on their persons.

Their motto is “mors ante servitium,” which means “death before employment.”

Phillips, whose hobo moniker was “Bow Tie,” had planned to hook up with his fellow “Knights of the Road” for their annual reunion. He died at age 73 on May 23 in Nevada City of congestive heart failure.

The rare concert series to follow was planned to feature six “tattoos,” of which Phillips was the first. The performances offer a window on a vanishing way of life where a busker (tramp entertainer) could sing his way from coast to coast with only a guitar, a bundle, and an overpowering desire to be somewhere else.

Rose Tattoo members include: Kuddie, “The Feather River Kid;” Mark “Smokestack” Ross; Bruce “Haywire Brack” Brackney; Bob and Diana Suckiel, known as “Boomer Bob and Mama Pipes;” Larry “Cream City Slim” Penn and other special guests to be announced.

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