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All Music Guide:
Ramblin' Jack Elliott is one of folk music's most enduring characters. Since he first came on the scene in the late '50s, Elliott influenced everyone from Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger to the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead. The son of a New York doctor and a onetime traveling companion of Woody Guthrie, Elliott used his self-made cowboy image to bring his love of folk music to one generation after another. Despite the countless miles that Elliott traveled, his nickname is derived from his unique verbiage: an innocent question often led to a mosaic of stories before he got to the answer. According to folk songstress Odetta, it was her mother who gave Elliott the name when she remarked, "Oh, that Jack Elliott, he sure can ramble."
Pressured by his parents to follow in his father's footsteps and become a doctor, Elliott resisted their urging. Instead, inspired by the rodeos he attended at Madison Square Garden, he became fascinated with the image of the American cowboy. After reading the books of cowboy novelist Will James, he ran away from home at the age of 15 and joined the J.E. Ranch Rodeo. Although he was only with the rodeo for three months (before his parents tracked him down and he was sent home), Elliott was exposed to his first singing cowboy, a rodeo clown who played guitar and banjo and sang songs. Returning home, Elliott taught himself to play guitar.
Elliott's recording debut came in the mid-'50s when he recorded three songs for a multi-artist compilation, Bad Men, Heroes and Pirates, released by Elektra. Elliott was so influenced by Guthrie (whom he had met during a Greenwich Village picking session in 1950) that he began his musical career by mimicking the legendary folksinger. When Guthrie traveled to Florida in 1952, he sent for Elliott to join him. By the time Elliott arrived, however, Guthrie had already left for Mexico, where he was turned back at the border and forced to return to New York. Elliott reunited with Guthrie a few months later. In the winter of 1954, they traveled together back to Florida; in the spring of 1954, they continued on to California's Topanga Canyon. The trip marked the last time that Elliott saw a healthy Guthrie. When he went to Europe in 1955, Elliott sang Guthrie's songs and told stories about him. England provided the setting for Elliott's early success; his first album on his own, Woody Guthrie's Blues, was recorded in England for the Topic label. In addition to recording four more albums for Topic, he attracted attention with his performances with Derroll Adams, a banjo player he had met in California. The duo barnstormed throughout Europe and had a profound influence on the British music scene.
After living in Europe for six years, Elliott returned to the United States in 1961. The day after he returned, he visited Guthrie in the hospital and was introduced to Bob Dylan. (In the mid-'70s, Elliott joined Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue and was featured in Dylan's film Renaldo and Clara.) Before long, he renewed his friendship with Guthrie, and ended up staying with him, his wife Marjorie Guthrie, and their children for a year. Elliott was an influence on folksinger Pete Seeger. During an early-'60s tour of England and Scotland with Seeger and the Weavers, he inspired Seeger with his tales of sailing ships. Among the many other musicians Elliott befriended was Jerry Garcia. Elliott often performed opening sets for Garcia's bands and occasionally sat in with the Grateful Dead.
In 1990, Red House released Legends of Folk, a live recording of a concert that Elliott had performed with Bruce "U. Utah" Phillips and Spider John Koerner at the World Theater in Minnesota. Bob Feldman, owner of Red House, later persuaded Elliott to record his first studio album in more than two decades, South Coast. Recorded at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, MN, the album's 25 tracks were recorded during three four-hour recording sessions. The album received a Grammy Award as Best Traditional Folk Album of 1995. Elliott returned to the recording studio to record Friends of Mine. Released in 1997, the album featured duets with Joe Ely, Tom Waits, Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Nanci Griffith, John Prine, and Bob Weir. The Long Ride followed in 1999. A documentary about Elliott, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack, and its soundtrack appeared in 2002, while Anti released the album I Stand Alone in 2006. A second album from Anti, the Joe Henry-produced A Stranger Here, followed in 2009.
Ramblin' Jack Elliott (born Elliot Charles Adnopoz, August 1, 1931) is an American folk singer and performer.
Life and career 
Elliot Charles Adnopoz was born in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish parents in 1931. Elliott grew up inspired by the rodeos at Madison Square Garden, and wanted to be a cowboy. Though encouraged to follow his father's example and become a surgeon, Elliott rebelled, running away from home at the age of 15 to join Col. Jim Eskew's Rodeo, the only rodeo east of the Mississippi. They traveled throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and New England. He was only with them for three months before his parents tracked him down and had him sent home, but Elliott was exposed to his first singing cowboy, Brahmer Rogers, a rodeo clown who played guitar and five-string banjo, sang songs, and recited poetry. Back home, Elliott taught himself guitar and started busking for a living. Eventually he got together with Woody Guthrie and stayed with him as an admirer and student.
"Nobody I know—and I mean nobody—has covered more ground and made more friends and sung more songs than the fellow you're about to meet right now. He's got a song and a friend for every mile behind him. Say hello to my good buddy, Ramblin' Jack Elliott." (Johnny Cash, The Johnny Cash Television Show, 1969.)
With banjo player Derroll Adams, he toured the United Kingdom and Europe. By 1960, he had recorded three folk albums for the UK record label Topic Records. In London, he played small clubs and pubs by day and West End cabaret nightclubs at night. When he returned to the States, Elliott found he had become renowned in American folk music circles.
Woody Guthrie had the greatest influence on Elliott. Woody's son, Arlo, said that because of Woody's illness and early death, Arlo never really got to know him, but learned his father's songs and performing style from Elliott. Elliott's guitar and his mastery of Guthrie's material had a big impact on Bob Dylan when he lived in Minneapolis. When he reached New York, Dylan was sometimes referred to as the 'son' of Jack Elliott, because Elliott had a way of introducing Dylan's songs with the words: "Here's a song from my son, Bob Dylan." Dylan rose to prominence as a songwriter; Elliott continued as an interpretative troubadour, bringing old songs to new audiences in his idiosyncratic manner. Elliott also influenced Phil Ochs, and played guitar and sang harmony on Ochs' song "Joe Hill" from the Tape from California album. Elliott also discovered Singer-Songwriter Guthrie Thomas, in a bar in Northern California in 1974, bringing Thomas to Hollywood where Thomas' music career began.
Elliott appeared in Dylan's "Rolling Thunder Revue" concert tour and played "Longheno de Castro" in Dylan's movie Renaldo and Clara. In the movie, he sings the song "South Coast" by Lillian Bos Ross and Sam Eskin, from whose lyric the character's name is derived."My name is Longheno de CastroMy father was a Spanish grandee'But I won my wife in a card gameTo Hell with those lords o'er the sea"
Elliott plays guitar in a traditional fingerpicking style, which he matches with his laconic, humorous storytelling, often accompanying himself on harmonica. His singing has a strained, nasal quality which the young Bob Dylan emulated. His repertoire includes American traditional music from various genres, including country, blues, bluegrass and folk.
Elliott's nickname comes not from his traveling habits, but rather the countless stories he relates before answering the simplest of questions. Folk singer Odetta claimed that it was her mother who gave him the name, remarking, "Oh, Jack Elliott, yeah, he can sure ramble on!"
His authenticity as a folksy, down-to-earth country boy, despite being a doctor's son from Brooklyn, and his disdain for other folk singers, were parodied by the Folksmen (Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer) in the satirical documentary A Mighty Wind in the name of their "hit" album Ramblin'. A Mighty Wind also referred to a former member of the New Main Street Singers, Ramblin' Sandy Pitnick, a somewhat geeky-looking white man in a cowboy hat, apparently in parody of Elliott.
Elliott's first recording in many years, South Coast, earned him his first Grammy Award in 1995. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1998.
His long career and strained relationship with his daughter Aiyana were chronicled in her 2000 film documentary, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack.
At the age of 75, he changed labels and released I Stand Alone on the ANTI- label, with an assortment of guest backup players including members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, another curious collection of little-known music delivered with humor and intensity. He said his intention was to title the album 'Not for the Tourists', because it was recorded in response to his daughter's request for songs he loved but never played in concert. When asked why he did not, he told her, "These songs are not for the tourists".