Fast Rattler

Fast Rattler

 Portland, Oregon, USA

Vagabond troubadours, songwriters and collectors of old songs. 4-part harmonies carried by banjo, guitars, fiddle and a rock and roll rythmn section. Genre-bending, quicksilver, musical gymnasts who can bring you to your feet to dance or melt your heart with songs of long lost love and struggle.


Portland, OR’s Fast Rattler made its debut on the 2009 Grammy-nominated album “Singing Through the Hard Times: A Tribute to Utah Phillips,” which included artists like Emmylou Harris, Ani DiFranco, Pete Seeger and Tom Paxton paying their respects at the passing of one of Folk music’s activist heroes.

Fronted by Utah’s son Brendan, Fast Rattler dug deep into Utah’s extensive catalogue, crafting their own versions of his songs and setting his poems to music. Fast Rattler’s full-length debut “Linger On: Celebrating the Songs of Utah Phillips,” was released in 2011 to wide acclaim, as they toured throughout the US and Canada, earning slots at major folk festivals including the Kate Wolf Memorial Folk Festival.

The band’s follow-up EP, "Hands on the Plow,” focuses on original material and new arrangements of traditional folk songs. While Utah's music will always be a part of Fast Rattler’s repertoire, the band has won audiences over with their own original material and renditions of cherished classics. Most significantly, Fast Rattler has been invited to contribute an original track to the upcoming “Occupy This Album,” a compilation of songs inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, featuring artists from Willie Nelson and Steve Earle to Third Eye Blind and Thievery Corporation.

The members of Fast Rattler are songwriting vagabond troubadours, virtuosic instrumentalists and collectors of old songs. Distinguished by versatility and a reverence for Utah’s legacy – the ensemble easily shape shifts in order to bring the music to as many listening situations as possible.

• As a six-piece ensemble…Fast Rattler weaves vocal harmonies with banjo, fiddle, guitars, and pedal steel, anchored by a rock ‘n’ roll rhythm section. They weave a musical tapestry that brings audiences to their feet and melts their hearts with stories of disaster, struggle and love lost. Blending traditional American folk, bluegrass, Irish and Gypsy music with elements of jazz, swing, and rock, their performance evidences a genre-bending, quicksilver grace that nods to forebears ranging from Pete Seeger and Dave Van Ronk to Tom Waits and Wilco.

• As a 5-piece string band…Fast Rattler drops the drums and swaps the electric bass for an upright and goes acoustic. The energy and dynamism remains – whether performing with or without a PA – which allows them to play anywhere from more intimate venues to barn dances to street corners.

• Brendan can perform solo or add members to accompany him (duo, trio)…here the performance focuses on the stories behind Utah’s songs. Brendan also shares original material and draws from the treasure trove of American folk classics.

In their nimble approach, Fast Rattler embodies Utah’s vision - that folk music is a river in constant flux, to be added to and taken from, but always poured back – so it can flow downstream to the next generation.

"While Fast Rattler mines the past for its explosive sound, its music is anything but a direct tribute. Phillips began playing music influenced by Nirvana, Pavement and indie punk rock and created a sound all his own. This includes everything from traditional folk and bluegrass to pangs of modern rock thrown into a sonic stew that is at once grounded in traditional folk and streamlined into intricate arrangements that appeal to fans of both traditional and current music."- A.P. Kryza, Forest Grove News-Times

In 2006, Fast Rattler played to a capacity audience at Portland’s Aladdin Theater for the annual Winterfolk Festival. In 2007, they joined Utah at the Vancouver Folk Festival, playing the songs while Utah told the stories. After Utah passed away, Fast Rattler returned to the Vancouver Festival to perform as part of a Utah Phillips memorial.

"I had never heard Brendan sing at all. He was playing my 1935 Gibson that I had loaned him, and there he was with a full band, doing these songs I had practically forgotten...I wasn't just a little impressed, I was knocked down at the time and attention he put into putting these songs together." -Utah Phillips.

In 2011, Fast Rattler played at the annual Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival along side acts like Mavis Staples, Great American Taxi, and Los Lobos. Since the release of their debut, Fast Rattler has played on stages large and small all over Oregon, Washington and California.

Fast Rattler recognizes song and music as a way to build a better a world. Simple stories with simple melodies have the power to make people think and remember. As Utah said, “The long memory is the most radical idea in America.” The power of his songs and the human concerns of his songs and stories, teach us to see where we have come from and envision a world of possibilities.

The members of Fast Rattler hold this belief and are dedicated to sharing, collecting, and writing music in an effort to help build a better world.

• Brendan Phillips – G


Wolverine Talking Blues

Written By: U. Utah Phillips

Give me a train with an all night bar
Wherever I go it wouldn't be to far
Rock me to sleep on a pullman car
And I'll ride those trains again.

Uncle Sam he's got a brand new set of Trains
But a subsidy aint no substitute for brains
If you really want to see those trains role through
You got to use a little heart, use a little soul
Take out the diesel and bring back the coal
I'll ride those trains again.

The black smoke comin' from the stack
Pull the switch and clear the track
Throw my guitar up on the rack
And I'll ride those trains again

I remember the time I rode the old Portland Rose
How I survived the good lord only knows
The Luxuries were so damn few
And the springs on the seat were pokin' through
They took out the diner and the club car too
I damn near died of thirst.


The Passenger train was a red ball on the line
You wouldn't see it getting side tracked all the time
Now all you do is hurry up and wait
And we're all stacked up for some damn freight
And I think their tryin' to make me late
And that's one hell of a way to run a railroad


Remember the kids all running up and down the isles
How we laughed and joked and sang away the miles
The Porter he was playin' on those dinner chimes
Folks, those were the good ol' times
Looks like I gone and run out of rhymes
But at least I aint bankrupt.

Rock Salt and Nails

Written By: U. Utah Phillips

By the banks of the river
Where the willows hang down
And the wild birds all warble
With a low moaning sound
Down in the holler
Where the river runs cold
It was there I first listened
To the lies that you told

Now I lay in my bed
And I see your sweet face
The past I remember
Time cannot erase
The letters you wrote me
Were written in shame
And I know that your conscience
Still echos my name

Now the nights are so long
And the sorrow runs deep
Nothing is worse than
A night without sleep
I walk out alone
Under the sky
To empty to sing
To Lonesome to cry

If the ladies were blackbirds
If the ladies were thrushes
I'd lay there for hours
In the cold rainy marshes
If the ladies were squirrels
With high bushy tails
I'd fill up my shot gun
With rock salt and nails

Queen of the Rails

Written By: U. Utah Phillips

I guess his name was Boomer Bill
If that wont due another will
A hobo doesn't need a name
Because he never gets no mail.
The only friend old Boomer had
to ride with him through good and bad
was shaggy little mongrel
He called Queen of the Rails

Black smoke choo choo's gone away
Bummin its just not the same
Dreams are few and far between
But memories never fail
Waiting down there by the tracks
For her master to come back
You can count on seein' that old dog called
Queen of the Rails

Boomer bummed the Rio Grande
The Santa Fe and never planned
On where he'd be from day to day
The Jungle of the Jail
But when the snow was fallin' down
He'd catch a California bound
With that old dog called
Queen of the Rails


One day he went to get a bone
And left his little pal alone
Crossed the cuppling joints
Of a train that blocked the yard
They switched a refer off the main
And humped it into Boomers train
He fell and died 'neath the iron rails
So cold and hard


Linger On

Written By: Brendan Phillips

What are souls made of?
And who decides its over?
Just a few questions I had that night.

Coming in off of red-eye
Pulling in after mid-night
I just wanted to hold you and tell you
It would be alright

As light as a feather
We walked up the stairs together
Didn't want to let go
Had to say goodbye

Oh mother Oh mother!
Oh Sisters Oh Brother!
Looks like he's dreaming
Said he didn't want to linger

Linger On
In stories and in songs
We'll all keep singin'
For years to come

Midnight and you slip away
Up the hill past the gardens gate
There's a fire, in the flickering light
familiar faces pass the time

In the distance a whistle blows
You rise up and scatter the coals
There's time for one last ride
Railroading on the great divide

Railroading on the great divide
Nothing around you but the Rockies and the sky
It's there you'll find me as the years go by
Railroading on the great divide


My heart is a part of greater revolution
My body is a ballot and I cast it everyday
We all have a song in the long memory
And the sharing of a tale is how we prey.


"Singing through the hard times: A tribute to Utah Phillips"
"Linger On: Celebrating the Songs of Utah Phillips"
"Take It To The Streets"

Streaming our website at:

Cuts and on air performances from "Linger On" can be heard at: KVMR, Nevada City, KLCC, Eugene, KRVM, Eugene, KPIG, Santa Cruz, KBOO, Portland, KZME, Portland, KXJZ, Sacramento.