Sign up for our mailing list Real artists creating records on their own terms

Sign up for our mailing list


Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

San Diego Tribune cover Ramblin' Jack Elliott

Ramblin' Jack Elliott, the legendary folk singer who passed Woody Guthrie's legacy on to Bob Dylan, turned 75 Monday. And after decades of watching more driven performers enjoy the success he's never experienced, now he's ready to get serious about his career.

“I've never had that (drive), but I'm starting to get it now, belatedly. I figure, what the hell? I've been asleep at the wheel all this time,” Elliott said. “I'd like to get another motor home so I can travel in comfort, because that was the only time I did enjoy traveling around playing gigs. My motor home burned to the ground two weeks after my wife passed away here (Point Reyes, where he's lived for 15 years).”

Careerwise, he was steadied by a Grammy for the 1996 album “Southcoast” and a 1999 National Medal of Arts, and his current musical home is Anti-Records, known for harboring punk bands and, at times, country icon Merle Haggard. His new album, the impressive “I Stand Alone,” finds Elliott going solo when he's delivering such vintage tunes as Hoagie Carmichael's “Hong Kong Blues” and the Carter Family's “Engine 143.”

On several songs Elliott is joined by bassist Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), drummer DJ Bonebrake (X), accordionist David Hidalgo (Los Lobos) and dobro player Nels Cline, as well as vocalists Lucinda Williams and Corin Tucker (of the soon-to-be-missed Sleater-Kinney). Actually, Elliott was literally alone on those songs, as well.

“I've never met those people. They were added on in L.A. in the studio. I've heard of them, but I've never met them face-to-face,” Elliott said. “The recording business is done in studios and they use mirrors. It's not a real thing. It's like movies.”

In contrast, “The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack,” the 2000 movie documentary shot by Elliott's daughter, Aiyana, is very much the real thing. It depicts the cowboy-intrigued Ramblin' Jack, born Elliott Adnopoz and the son of a Jewish Brooklyn doctor, as he first ran away (at age 14) to join the rodeo, and then, a half-century ago, to London and on to Europe.

Having absorbed the American folk music of Guthrie and Leadbelly, and brandishing an oversized cowboy image, Elliott became an immediate sensation in Britain. Intriguingly, he mirrored that success there earlier this year when he performed at the ultra-hip happening All Tomorrow's Parties. “It was amazing. It seems like they've been laying in wait for me,” Elliott said. “They're all new young people.”

After three years of hard traveling in the late 1950s, Elliott returned to New York City. Guthrie was in the hospital, fighting a long battle with the degenerative disease Huntington's chorea, and Elliot went to visit. “And there was Bob Dylan. I didn't know who he was, had never heard of him. And he'd been hanging out and visiting Woody in the hospital for several months by this time – this was November of '61.”

Elliott, whose nickname probably derives less from his travels than his detail-rich, tangent-prone stories, was impressed by the young Dylan.

“I was amazed by that kid. And he was, of course, always asking me a lot of questions about different things and, “How do you play that, anyway?' ” Elliott said. “I'd show it to him, I didn't mind. He was a pleasant person to hang out with. A little strange, a little shy.”

ByMikel Toombs

Facebook | Twitter | Google Plus

Browse by Artist

1514All Artists 95Tom Waits 61Mavis Staples 52Neko Case 51Lost In The Trees 50Sean Rowe 48Dr. Dog 41Jolie Holland
40Bettye LaVette 38The Milk Carton Kids 37Man Man 33Tim Fite 33DeVotchKa 31Islands 31Grinderman 30Tinariwen 27Galactic 27Wilco 27Son Little 24Michael Franti and Spe... 22Bob Mould 22William Elliott Whitmo... 22Saintseneca 21Nick Cave & The Bad Se... 21The Frames 20Joe Henry 19Booker T. Jones 19Sage Francis 18Doe Paoro 17John K. Samson 17Yann Tiersen 16Ramblin Jack Elliott 16Jason Lytle 15Christopher Paul Stell... 14Glen Hansard 13Daniel Lanois 13Billy Bragg 13Andy Shauf 12Xavier Rudd 12Xenia Rubinos 12Peter Silberman 11The Weakerthans 11Lyrics Born 11Rain Machine 11Mose Allison 11Roky Erickson 11The Antlers 11Calexico 11Prism Tats 10The Swell Season 10The Melodic 10Delicate Steve 9Marianne Faithfull 9N.A.S.A. 9Deafheaven 9So Much Light 9Cameron Avery 8Solillaquists of Sound 8Greg Graffin 8Cadence Weapon 8The Coup 7Elliott Smith 7Eddie Izzard 7Dead Man's Bones 7Alec Ounsworth 7Beth Orton 7Kelly Hogan 7Title Fight 7Jade Jackson 7Los Angeles Police Dep... 6A Girl Called Eddy 6Busdriver 6Os Mutantes 6Kate Bush 6Broken Twin 6The Drums 5One Day As A Lion 5The Field 5Keaton Henson 5Beat Connection 5Japandroids 5The Dream Syndicate 4Ersi Arvizu 4Marketa Irglova 4Pops Staples 3Danny Cohen 3Sierra Leones Refugee... 3Petra Haden 3Cass McCombs 3Girlpool 3Curtis Harding 3Ben Harper and Charlie... 2Various Artists: RANGO 2Jeff Tweedy 1Tricky 1Joe Strummer And The M... 1Youth Group 1Blackalicious 1Antibalas 1Porter Wagoner 1Various Artists: ROGUE... 1The Locust 1Rogue's Gallery 1Kronos Quartet with Br... 1Simian Mobile Disco 1case/lang/veirs 1Merle Haggard 1Un Blonde 1Rafiq Bhatia
See Full List+