Music » Livewire

Ramblin' Jack Elliott

With Jug Free America. Tuesday, September 9, at the Beachland Ballroom.


When Ramblin' Jack Elliott met Woody Guthrie in 1951, he was ready for a mentor -- and apparently the legendary Depression-era troubadour and drifter was ready for a student. Already possessed of a romantic runaway's résumé that included work as a rodeo hand, roughneck, and truck driver, the Brooklyn-born Elliott absorbed Guthrie's songs, mannerisms, and penchant for storytelling. Elliott would later take his turn both as legend (becoming a universally celebrated figure in the burgeoning '60s folk scene) and as mentor -- to that scene's reigning crown prince, Bob Dylan.

While Elliott's influence upon Dylan's early work is undeniable, there's probably not a single modern-era male American folksinger whose style or persona has not been affected, consciously or otherwise, by the man. Those artists who willingly proclaim it include Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, and Bruce Springsteen.

Elliott is known primarily as an interpreter rather than a songwriter, and his classic early '60s catalog includes collections of Guthrie songs for the U.K. label Topic and albums for Vanguard. His "rediscovery" in recent years was kicked off with the Grammy-winning South Coast in 1995 and highlighted by the 1997 documentary feature The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack, produced by his daughter Alyana. Reissues have been plentiful since, his most current offering being 1999's Grammy-nominated The Long Ride. Be prepared for some amusing stories between the songs -- they don't call him Ramblin' Jack for nothing.

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