One of the last authentic links to the great folk traditions of this country, with over 40 albums under his belt, two-time GRAMMY-winner Ramblin’ Jack Elliott is considered one of the country’s legendary foundations of folk music. Long before every kid in America wanted to play guitar — before Elvis, Dylan, the Beatles, or Led Zeppelin — Ramblin’ Jack had picked it up and was passing it along. From Johnny Cash to Tom Waits, Beck to Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder to Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead to The Rolling Stones, all pay homage to Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.
In the tradition of roving troubadours, Jack has carried the seeds and pollens of story and song for decades from one place to another, from one generation to the next. They are timeless songs that outlast whatever current musical fashion strikes today’s fancy. His tone of voice is sharp, focused, and piercing; he plays the guitar effortlessly in a fluid, flat-picking, perfected style. A brilliant entertainer among fellow folk musicians waiting for you to come to them, Jack came out and grabbed you. Bob Dylan called him, “The King of the Folksingers”.
There are no degrees of separation between Jack and the real thing. He is the guy who ran away from his Brooklyn home at age 14 to join the rodeo and learned his guitar from a cowboy. In 1950, he met Woody Guthrie, moved in with the Guthrie family, traveling with Woody to California and Florida. Jack became so enthralled with the life and composer of This Land Is Your Land, The Dust Bowl Ballads, and the wealth of children’s songs that he completely absorbed the inflections and mannerisms, leading Guthrie to remark, “Jack sounds more like me than I do.”
Among four GRAMMY nominations, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott won his first GRAMMY Award in 1996 for South Coast in the Best Traditional Folk Album category. In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Jack the National Medal of the Arts, proclaiming, “In giving new life to our most valuable musical traditions, Ramblin’ Jack has himself become an American treasure. In 2000, Jack’s daughter, filmmaker Aiyana Elliott produced and directed The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack, her take on Jack’s life and their fragile relationship, winning a Special Jury Prize from the Sundance Film Festival.
2010 to present has been a prolific period for the original troubadour’s career, including his second GRAMMY Award, winning with A Stranger Here in the Best Traditional Blues Album category. Appearances included opening tour performances for beloved artist and friend John Prine, and select dates on the road as a featured guest of Todd Snider. Nora Guthrie honored Ramblin’ Jack in 2015 with a permanent enshrined seat at the Guthrie Museum, and in 2016 he performed at The Ryman in Nashville alongside American musical icons Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, and others in a memorial tribute to honor the life and songs of Guy Clark.
Though widely esteemed and recognized by many as a great American celebrity figure of Folk music, Jack resists becoming a commercial commodity. Ramblin’ Jack’s life of travels, performances, and recordings is a testament to the America of lore, a giant land of struggle, hard luck, and sometimes even of good fortune. The man Bob Weir calls a “hand-built, self-architectured American icon” takes us to places that spur the romance and passion of life in the tunes and voices of real people.
Having turned 90 years young in 2021, Ramblin’ Jack’s ever-curious spirit finds him frequenting the road, seeking people, places, songs, and hand-crafted stories, wreaking of wood and canvas, cowhide, and forged metal. You’ll find him in the sleek lines of long-haul semi-truck, in the rigging of an old sailing ship, in the smell of a fine leather saddle, and performing LIVE into the seventh decade of his career.