He is a highly respected artist who has been on a musical odyssey for about, believe it or not, 60 years. He has appeared with such musical legends as Woody Guthrie, the Everly Brothers, Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, among others.
He has recorded approximately 50 albums and won two Grammy awards. He has toured Europe five times — during his initial tour (1955-1961) he greatly influenced members of emerging rock bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones — and all 50 U.S. states. And he seems to get better with age, winning his first Grammy in 1995, about 40 years after first becoming a singer/guitar player.
His name is “Ramblin” Jack Elliott, and he is making a highly anticipated appearance at Steel City Coffee House in Phoenixville on Feb. 8.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Elliott ran away from home at the age of 15 to join a rodeo, disappointing and frustrating his Jewish parents, who desperately wanted him to be a doctor like his father. Elliott’s course became firmly established when, during that brief rodeo stay, he saw a singing cowboy/rodeo clown named Brahmer Rogers.
When he returned home the determined and newly motivated Elliott taught himself to play guitar, which led to a meteoric ascent to the top of the heap for the young guitarist, highlighted by his getting together with folk legend Woody Guthrie when he was just 19 years old.
About five years later, Elliott embarked on his initial tour of Europe and the U.K., with renowned banjo player Derroll Adams. While in London, Elliott recorded three popular folk albums, which further enhanced his reputation. In fact, when he returned to the U.S., Elliott discovered that he was a big hit in American folk music circles.
Elliott started his career by effectively imitating the style of Guthrie. That aforementioned trip to the U.K., which Elliott said in a recent interview was the first by an American folksinger, changed things dramatically.
“I started to get away from doing Woody, and began developing my own singing style,” which Elliott described as a mix of Guthrie, Ernest Tubbs and a blues singer. That singing style, known for its strained nasal quality, has been emulated by Bob Dylan, who sometimes in the past was jokingly referred to as Jack Elliott’s son.
“I imitated Woody and Dylan imitated me,” Elliott reported.
Considering his many years as a musical artist, Elliott naturally has many stories to tell. And he loves telling them. For instance, besides his many anecdotes about his times with people like Guthrie and Dylan, he loves talking about the time when he appeared onstage with guitar legend Les Paul.
“I was in the audience and he had me come up and do a song with him,” said Elliott. “We did ‘Back in the Saddle Again.’ That was two years ago, when he was 95 years old. It was an incredible experience.”
Elliott, who said he was early on influenced by people like Roy Acuff, Casey Tibbs and Paul Lindeman, is also acclaimed for his live shows, where he sings, plays guitar and harmonica, and, not surprisingly, tells a lot of stories.
In fact, Elliott had the moniker “Ramblin” added to his name not because of his musical ability, but rather due to his propensity for talking, with most of his stories being the humorous, folksy, down-to-earth kind that reveal the motivation, thought process and heart of a true country boy — despite the fact Elliott was a Jewish kid from New York City.
“Sometimes,” Elliott said, “I get talking and sort of lose myself and you’ll only hear four songs in an hour. But people seem to enjoy it.”
The affable, humble Elliott, now 81 years young, said he doesn’t like the traveling anymore and therefore only does 45 to 50 shows a year, down from 75 to 80 a few years ago. In any case, the shows haven’t changed in all these years.
“As always, I’m unpredictable,” Elliott said. “Every show is different. I have no set list. I work the room, play my music and do my storytelling; inspired by who is there and how they’re feeling.”
Elliott obviously has a vast repertoire of songs, which include traditional music from the country, blues, bluegrass and folk genres; and he rejoices in continuing to bring those old, proverbial, simple songs of the past to new audiences, all done in entertainingly by a man who can truly be called an American music legend.
If You Go:
Ramblin Jack Elliot
will be performing
at Steel City Coffeehouse,
203 Bridge St.,
Phoenixville, PA 19460
Saturday, Feb. 8, 7 p.m.
Tickets: General Admission, $35,
$38, day of show.