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Born in Brooklyn, New York, Elliott grew up Jewish and inspired by the rodeos at Madison Square Garden, 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.
With banjo player Derroll Adams, he toured England and Europe and made a lasting impact on the music scene there. By 1960, he had recorded three folk albums for the British label, Topic. In London, he played small clubs and pubs by day and the smart, West End cabaret night clubs 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 Jack. Woody's son, Arlo, said that because of his father's illness and early death, he never really got to know him, but learned Woody'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 song writer; 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 appeared on Dylan's "Rolling Thunder Revue" concert tour and played "Longheno de Castro" in Dylan's movie Renaldo and Clara. In the movie, he even sings a song about his character.
- "My name is Longheno de Castro
- My father was a Spanish grandee'
- But I won my wife in a card game
- To Hell with those lords o'er the sea"
Elliott plays guitar in a traditional flatpicking 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!"
Jack did ramble to Talkeetna, Alaska, several times in the early 1990's to play at the Latitude 62 Lodge as the guest of his friend Doug Geeting, a local musician. Jack would spend several weeks there after his concerts enjoying the small-town Alaskan lifestyle. On one of his earlier visits, he purchased an Alaskan Husky puppy. He and his puppy flew to Anchorage with Dennis Freeman returning home. Jack sang through the entire one-hour flight to calm the nervous puppy.
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 refers to a former member of the New Main Street Singers named "Ramblin' Sandy Pitnick", a somewhat geeky-looking white man in a cowboy hat, apparently in parody of Elliott.
Jack Elliott's first recording in many years, South Coast, earned him his first Grammy in 1995. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1998.
Ramblin' Jack's long career and strained relationship with his daughter Aiyana were chronicled in her 2000 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 didn't, he told her, "These songs are not for the tourists".
- 1955: Woody Guthrie's Blues
- 1958: Jack Takes the Floor
- 1958: Ramblin' Jack Elliott in London EMI Records 33 SX 1166 recorded 5th/7th November 1958
- 1960: Ramblin' Jack Elliott Sings Songs by Woody Guthrie and Jimmie Rodgers
- 1960: Jack Elliott Sings the Songs of Woody Guthrie
- 1961: Songs to Grow On by Woody Guthrie, Sung by Jack Elliott (Folkways Records)
- 1961: Ramblin' Jack Elliott (Prestige/Folklore)
- 1962: Country Style (Prestige/Folklore)
- 1964: Jack Elliott (Vanguard)
- 1968: Young Brigham (Reprise)
- 1970: Bull Durham Sacks & Railroad Tracks (Reprise)
- 1981: Kerouac's Last Dream (Folk Freak/re-release by Conträr Musik, Germany)
- 1995: South Coast (Red House)
- 1998: Friends of Mine (HighTone)
- 1999: The Long Ride (HighTone)
- 2006: I Stand Alone (ANTI-)
- 2009: A Stranger Here (ANTI-)
- 1962: Jack Elliott at the Second Fret
With Derroll Adams
- 1957: The Rambling Boys
- 1963: Roll On Buddy
- 1969: Folkland Songs
- 1969: Riding in Folkland
- 1975: America
- 1963: Talking Woody Guthrie (Topic)
- 1964: Muleskinner (Topic)
- 1976: The Essential Ramblin' Jack Elliott (Vanguard)
- 1989: Hard Travelin' (reissue of Jack Elliott Sings the Songs of Woody Guthrie and Ramblin' Jack Elliott)
- 1989: Talking Dust Bowl: The Best of Ramblin' Jack Elliott
- 1990: Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Spider John Koerner, U. Utah Phillips: Legends of Folk (Red House)
- 1990: Jack Elliott Plus / Jack Elliott
- 1995: Me and Bobby McGee (reissue of Young Brigham and Bull Durham Sacks & Railroad Tracks)
- 1995: Jack Elliott: Ramblin' Jack, The Legendary Topic Masters
- 1999: Ramblin' Jack Elliott: Early Sessions
- 2000: Best of the Vanguard Years
- 2004: The Lost Topic Tapes: Cowes Harbour 1957
- 2004: The Lost Topic Tapes: Isle of Wight 1957
- 2007: Vanguard Visionaries
|This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Ramblin' Jack Elliott. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.|