One Of The Greats

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Ramblin' Jack Elliott celebrates his 71st birthday Thursday and he's inviting you to join him at his birthday party concert Saturday afternoon in Big Sur.

Elliott will be coming home to Big Sur to sing Ballad Of The South Coast the epic western tale of isolation and lost love and the title track of his 1995 Grammy-winning album.

Saturday's concert will be at the Henry Miller Library which is doubly appropriate as the song was written by Lillian Bos Ross, who was Miller’s next-door neighbor when he lived on Partington Ridge in Big Sur.

Elliott is a man surrounded by much mythology An accomplished cowboy, trucker, sailor and pilot, there is little he has not done in the course of his life. Nevertheless, he says of himself:

“I’ve heard a lot of wonderful stories about myself, enviable - I wish I could’ve done it.”

Born Elliott Charles Adnopoz in Brooklyn, NX, Elliott grew up a city boy until at 14 he hitched a ride to Washington and joined Colonel Iim Eskew’s Rodeo as a groom, earning $2 a day At night he would listen to a rodeo clown named Brahmer Rogers playing banjo and reciting poetry and dream of a day when he, too, would be an entertainer.

His parents, however, had other ideas about their son’s career and began looking for him, placing ads on radio stations and with various rodeos, offering a $500 reward for his return. He eventually did return home and finished high school, though the wanderlust was still strong. Pretty soon he was off again, this time to Greenwich Village, where the next turning point in his life occurred.

In 1951, Elliott, then age 20, met folk singer Woody Guthrie. he ended up spending several years traveling and playing with Guthrie, meeting in the process many of the influential figures of hte time.

By the 1960s, with the emergence of a new breed of folk singers including Bob Dylan, Elliott’s place in musical history was assured. He and Guthrie were cited again and again as influences. Interest in Elliott’s music boomed, and throughout the ’60s he produced several albums a year. During the 1970s, he appeared as part of Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue.

After his tour with Dylan, Elliott drifted in and out of the music business, but always continued his travels. It was nt until 1995, however, that he was coaxed back intothe studio to record "South Coast", his first album in nearly 30 years. Winning the Grammy award for Best Traditional Folk Recording made him a superstar all over again, and in 1998, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton.

Looking back on his life, Elliott says: “I was going to be a truck driver. In fact I could’ve had a good, steady job driving a garbage truck, but guitar has always been my ruin.”

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, August 1, 2002

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