Phyllis Dunham, Contributing Editor Music, has been working hard in cooperation with the Luz de Estrella Winery to bring some legendary acts to West Texas. Phyllis reports below:
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s life is as legendary as his music. Who else has played for Princess Margaret in London, James Dean in an LA parking lot, and had Jack Kerouac read On the Road to him before it was published? All true as far as we know, but as Jack tells it, “I’ve heard a lot of wonderful stories about myself, enviable – I wish I could have done it.”
Part man, part myth, National Medal of the Arts winner, and an undisputed national treasure, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott will soon play and sing under the west Texas skies for the first time in a while. Music fans are about to receive a rare gift as Luz de Estrella Winery hosts the West Texas Wine and Music Festival the evening of June 6th featuring Ramblin’ Jack and noted Texas folk singer Bill Ward.
Jack was born Elliott Adnopoz, a Jewish doctor’s son, in Brooklyn, New York, but he longed to be a cowboy from the time he was a small boy watching the rodeo at Madison Square Garden. At 15 he ran away from home and joined the JE Ranch Rodeo as a groomer for two dollars a week. His worried parents, who had plans for him to become a doctor like his father, put out posters with a reward hoping that someone would return him home. When he eventually came back to finish high school, he was forever changed – a real cowboy. He had also learned a little guitar and some cowboy songs from a rodeo clown, and soon he was performing in Washington Square in Greenwich Village.
An integral link in the chain from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan and beyond, a young Ramblin’ Jack was so struck by Woody Guthrie’s music the first time he heard a recording of it that he boldly called him on the phone. Woody invited Jack to a party that night, and the rest is American music history. Never one to go halfway, Jack soon moved in with the Guthrie family and traveled for a while with Woody absorbing the master’s songs, licks and style.
Well-known for later mentoring the young Bob Dylan, whom he met in Woody’s hospital room in New York, Jack influenced a generation of musicians from Eric Clapton to the Grateful Dead (he and Jerry Garcia were pals) to Pete Seeger and the Rolling Stones. Just as Jack had soaked up everything Woody had to offer, Dylan began to mimic Jack’s style. So closely had Dylan copied Jack that he was once billed as “Son of Jack Elliott” at Gertie’s Folk City in the Village.
British musician Wizz Jones, who first heard Jack in London in the early sixties was initially astonished to learn that the cowboy troubadour who played authentic American folk music with such authority was actually a Jewish kid from Brooklyn. But, as Wizz later said, I learned from Jack that “you can be what you wanna be.” No doubt Bobby Zimmerman (Dylan) took that same lesson to heart.
Jack has known and inspired many along the road, and as Johnny Cash said of him, “He has a song and a friend for every mile he’s traveled.” Quite a number of those friends are right here in west Texas. Alpine’s Marie Damron, Jack’s long time friend and some time road manager tells about him driving her through the Berkshires in the middle of the night lost and looking for Rick Robbins’ house. After circling through the mountains for hours, Jack pulled up in front of a closed pub and asked her if by chance there was a fox etched into the window over the door of the place. When a much-relieved Marie replied there was, Jack said, “I thought so. I’ve been lost here before.”
Inveterate traveler though he is, the “ramblin’” moniker has less to with Jack’s peripatetic roaming than with his breezy manner of telling a good story. To say that Ramblin’ Jack has a way with words is understatement, indeed. As Kris Kristofferson once said of him, “I’ve never heard anybody who was so enchanting on subjects I didn’t even give a damn about.”
Poet, raconteur, Grammy winner, trickster, charmer, flat picker, song collector, and busker are all there for the listening. He tells a heck of a tale in either word or song and has a knack for making others’ songs his own to the point that he rediscovers their very essence. Once he wraps his elegant straightforward style around a song, everybody wants to perform it Jack’s way from then on. Listen once to his cheeky version of Joe Ely’s “Me and Billy the Kid” (which he performs with Peter Rowan on 1998’s Friends of Mine), and you’re a believer, instantly hooked by the wit and grace of his phrasing.
Critics agree that Ramblin’ Jack’s music keeps getting better with time. The melodies and cadence are more honed, distilled to exactly what needs to be there, and the voice itself is now as raspy, seductive and tinged with the road as he probably always intended it to be. His newest release, A Stranger Here, is a collection of rare and classic blues music from the 1930’s, and he’ll play selections from it as well as songs from his expansive repertoire of American music at the Texas Wine and Music Festival.
Chances are it’s your first opportunity to hear this genuine American music icon in person. But even if it’s not, treasure the moment, take your friends and family, sample some west Texas Wine, and for goodness’ sake, don’t spend the evening of June 6th on the sofa watching reruns of American Idol.
Who: Ramblin’ Jack Elliott nad Texas folk singer/songwriter Bill Ward
What: West Texas Wine and Music Festival
Where: Luz de Estrella Winery, 3.8 miles east of Marfa on Highway 90
When: Saturday, June 6th, gates open at 5:00 pm, music begins at 7:00 pm
Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 at the gate
Advance tickets available by phone at (432) 729-3434, online here
at Luz de Estrella Winery (3.8 miles east of Marfa on Highway 90) or at Curva Grande Trading Co. in Alpine (201 W. Holland in the same block as the historic Holland Hotel)