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Around the Sun and Back Again

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the progressive rock band Phaedra found its voice at Swarthmore. Whether playing on campus or in Philadelphia, they were immersed in making their own music. Highlights included opening for the Velvet Underground and B.B. King. But by 1972, other muses called, and they separated to pursue new goals. 

The Bulletin talked with two band members—Patty O’Connor ’72 and David Hicks ’71—about making their music during a politically charged era and the paths they chose in place of life on the road. 

What’s the most important message you want your audience to receive via your music?

PATTY O’CONNOR: In performance, my goal is to invest myself in the song, and to impart that to my audience so that they feel at least a part of what I’m feeling. Each song has its own gestalt—the music, the melody, the lyrics all together create a universe that I am inside of as I perform. I hope to bring a sense of that to the listeners. Probably my favorite Phaedra song is “Around the Sun.” It takes me—and the listener—through a series of moods and intensities, and leaves me soothed but stimulated.


Phaedra almost hit “the big time.” How did the band get started? What influenced you?

DAVID HICKS: Our music reflected our desire to live in a different kind of world. In general, we wanted people, our audience, to feel free to explore their own possibilities of expression as we felt we were doing. It was a time of idealism among the younger generation, and while we never shaped the world in the image we had hoped, we created music that pushed the boundaries of pop. And when asked to play for free at events where people were protesting the war, we were happy to oblige. On May 8, 1970, there were marches in and around Philadelphia in protest of the Vietnam War that culminated in a gathering of nearly 15,000 people at Independence Mall in Philadelphia, where we performed along with several other local bands. 

The time period in question was highly political. There was a war going on that many students considered illegitimate, just plain wrong, and we, along with much of the Swarthmore community, protested it. Musically, it was a time of great experimentation. Rock music at that point could be adventurous, daring, and bold—and we were part of the progressive rock wave.

Phaedra lived communally for a couple of years. We did almost everything together. We had a lot of fun writing and playing our own music. The town of Swarthmore in 1970 didn’t allow cohabitation between unmarried men and women, and Phaedra had one woman and four men in its lineup. So we were unable to find a house to rent in the Ville. We joined with other students who wanted to live off campus in a large building on Baltimore Pike in Springfield.

The building had formerly been a nursing home, so it was huge! And 17 of us lived together in it, the band making music and (almost) all of us attending classes.

One very early morning, police and FBI agents burst into all of our bedrooms. There was a lot of commotion in the house. We had no idea what was happening. We went downstairs and the living room was crawling with police. The police (there were 44 police and FBI agents total in and around the house) told us little, but fortunately for us one of the people living in the house was a lawyer (Bob Hodge) and he got enough information from the police to tell us that they were searching for a couple of fugitives from the law. Completely unknown and unrelated to us, these people had participated in a bank robbery in Boston. The police had decided that the fugitives had taken up refuge in our building. Of course this wasn’t true and they found no evidence to back up their warrant-free break-in of our house.

But soon thereafter the building was deemed a fire hazard and we were all forced to leave. Phaedra found a house in Philadelphia just for the band, and that’s where we lived for the next year. This story gives you an idea of what the political climate was like in those days of the Nixon administration. Harassment wasn’t uncommon for us. We all had long hair, which immediately said to the powers that be, “We’re not like you.”


Who was the first person to really push you and your fellow bandmates to continue doing what you were doing?

DAVID HICKS: In the summer of 1969, we met a guy who was interested in managing us. He bought us some equipment and a van, and got us some gigs. Also, he set us up with a recording session to make a demo. Many of the band’s members were, of all things, music majors. Some of us continued in music for our lifetime. Some of us didn’t finish our degrees at Swarthmore, some did. One of our members, Hunt Hobbs ’72, is doing big things in the social/political arena in Mexico: He’s responsible for helping feed a lot of people in his country, through agricultural outreach.

Phaedra had some talent. We wrote some decent songs, some of them highly experimental, some of them almost catchy. We were not “commercial” in any sense. By the time we got an audition for Columbia Records, we had been through a lot, and we weren’t sure if we wanted to commit to each other for much longer. When Columbia offered us a standard contract, requiring us to open concerts for other bands for a year, and produce an album and three singles, we were wary and weary. Record companies were “The Man.” Or were they? Well, some of us thought so, so we declined, and in early 1972 Phaedra disbanded.


What was your major at Swarthmore, and how did music align with it? 

PATTY O’CONNOR: I was a math major at first, then a psychology major. I didn’t graduate from Swarthmore—I left to move to Michigan, where I graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a B.S. in education. For me, my studies didn’t really impact my music, other than one delightful course in Indian music. I would suspect, though, that my interest in those subjects has something to do with why I am drawn to music and performance. 


How did the name “Phaedra” come to be? 

DAVID HICKS: It came from me. I don’t remember how or why, but it was a whole lot better than the name it replaced.

PATTY O’CONNOR: The first name for the band was Dick Daly and the Chicago Pigs: Our bass player’s name was Dick Daly ’72, and this was around the time of the Chicago Democratic convention and riots, when Richard Daly was the mayor. My father was a New York police officer, and was very offended by this name when he saw an article about our first performance in The Phoenix. I didn’t know my parents were getting that publication, so I was in deep trouble with them about that name. The band went through torturous name-changing meetings, and finally someone suggested Phaedra. Partly because we were worn down trying to find a name, and partly because no one could find anything really objectionable about it, we ended up with Phaedra.


How do you incorporate your love of music into your daily life today? 

PATTY O’CONNOR: Most of my life is in music. After Swarthmore—in Ann Arbor, Mich.—Bill Barton ’70 (Phaedra guitarist) and I started a band called Footloose. We played acoustic music—folk, country, bluegrass, swing, and more—with one another, than we convinced John “Angus” Foster ’72 to come to Ann Arbor and join us on bass. We played all around Michigan and neighboring areas in festivals and other concert venues for close to 10 years. After that, I started singing with jazz groups and big bands in the area. I have been working with a rock band named The Cellar Cats in Ann Arbor for the last two years. I also have been teaching piano for 40 years. Along the way I picked up the flute, and now play flute as well as sing in The Cellar Cats. I had other jobs along the way for financial reasons, but music has always been my primary focus.