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Happy Birthday, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott

Elliot Charles Adnopoz — Ramblin’ Jack Elliott — turns 86 years old today. One may expect somebody with that name and act to have been born in Cheyanne, Tulsa or some spot in between. Not in this case: Elliott was born in Brooklyn, New York.

Like many young boys, Elliott was taken to a rodeo – at one of the old Madison Square Gardens — and left wanting to be a cowboy. Unlike most, he fulfilled that dream by joining Col. Jim Eskew’s Rodeo, which the Wikipedia entry says was the only one east of the Mississippi River.

ramblin'_jack_Elliott
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott

Elliott’s parents found him after three months and had the 15 year old sent home. Presumably, Elliott would get back on the straight and narrow and resume the slog to medical school, where his surgeon dad wanted him to end up. During his time with the rodeo, however, Elliott was exposed to Brahmer Rogers, a rodeo clown who played guitar and banjo and recited poetry. He was hooked and eventually created a relationship with Woody Guthrie. No med school for Elliott.

Elliott began his music career and had some success. He toured Europe with banjo player Derroll Adams and, by 1960 he had recorded three albums.

The profile describes a man who is much loved. Here is a 1969 quote from Johnny Cash:

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.[1]

At the same time, it says that he has a strained relationship with his daughter. The bio at Ramblin’ Jack Elliot’s site says that Aiyana Elliott produced and directed “The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, which describes his life and their “fragile relationship.” The film won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2000.

Above is “Pretty Boy Floyd,” which is a Woody Guthrie song. It’s an update of Robin Hood. The slide show about the criminal that plays behind the audio is great. Below is “San Francisco Bay Blues.”

Check out Woodie Guthrie’s “Hard Travelin’,” a song that Elliott has performed. The photo montage, which is comprised of shots taken by John Vachon for the Farm Services Administration, also is great.

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Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.