Elliot Charles Adnopoz was born in Brooklyn, New York on August 1, 1931. Although his birth name and location are not generally associated with cowboys, the boy became fascinated with cowboys and at the age of 15 ran away from home to join a rodeo. Eventually, he would achieve a more cowboy-like handle, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.
The folksinger reportedly got his nickname from Odetta’s mother commenting on how Ramblin’ Jack tells rambling stories. But it is as an interpreter of folk songs that we recognize the man, who was largely influenced by his connections with Woody Guthrie.
Elliott’s daughter made an excellent documentary about Ramblin’ Jack’s career and their relationship. It is worth tracking down the 2000 film, The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack.
“Don’t Think Twice”
When thinking about Ramblin’ Jack’s songs, it is difficult to pick a favorite. But it is hard to top his interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice.”
Elliott tells a story about being snowbound, stuck in a cabin for three days after his wife ran off with another man. In the cabin, he had firewood, a bottle of whiskey, and a Bob Dylan record. So, in his pain, he listened to “Don’t Think Twice” for three days.
Finally, the snow melted and Elliott drove to New York City and went to the Gaslight, where it was open mic night. There, Elliott began playing the Dylan song he had learned in the cabin. Suddenly, in the dark audience, a man stood up. It was Dylan, who yelled, “I relinquish it to you, Jack!” Elliott finished the song, and he has played it ever since.
Elliott provides a weariness to “Don’t Think Twice.” Instead of interpreting it as an angry breakup song, he gives voice to an older man looking back through some years with regret. “Don’t Think Twice” is a great song when Dylan sings it; but it is a different great song with Elliott’s voice.
Below, Elliott plays “Don’t Think Twice” in 2008. Check it out.
Ramblin’ Jack remains an American treasure. Earlier this year, Folk Alliance honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
What is your favorite Ramblin’ Jack Elliott song? Leave your two cents in the comments.
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