Utah Phillips' given name is Bruce Phillips. A fan of T. Texas Tyler, Phillips adopted the stage name U. Utah Phillips.
Phillips served the United States Army for three years beginning in 1956 in the Korean War before returning to Salt Lake City, Utah and joining Ammon Hennacy from the Catholic Worker Movement in establishing a mission house of hospitality named after the activist Joe Hill. Phillips worked at the Joe Hill House for the next eight years, then ran for the U.S. Senate as a candidate of Utah's Peace and Freedom Party in 1968.
Phillips was a mentor to Kate Wolff. He has recorded songs and stories with Rosalie Sorrels on a CD called The Long Memory, originally a college project from Montana. Ani DiFranco has recorded a CD with him.