Last Thursday night, I had the pleasure of seeing Ramblin’ Jack Elliott at the Blue Door in Oklahoma City. Anyone that knows me, knows how much I love the Blue Door. It’s a great room to see a show, but as a performer, it has a great spirit as a room, as well. I always have a great time seeing the owner Greg Johnson and the crowd is generally there for the music, which is always a plus.
Now, back to Jack. Anytime you get to see history, you should take that chance. And, seeing Ramblin’ Jack live is like seeing history right in front of you. This was the guy that traveled with Woody Guthrie. He toured Europe with Derroll Adams and was friends with Pete Seeger. He met a scraggly-haired young guy that was hanging around when Woody was in his last stages of Huntington’s. That young guy said his name was “Bob Dylan.” Jack always has stories to tell, and they’re never canned or the same. I’ve heard him spin yarns on his now-deceased dog Caesar, on getting awakened by Arlo Guthrie via toys being thrown at his head, and on the joys of Cutty Sark whisky.
Thursday was no different. Jack was feeling good. After an opening set from Michael Fracasso, Jack ambled to the stage and even jumped up on it (almost falling). We were sitting towards the back, and I had seen him swing at the bathroom door. As always, a tour manager is there to announce “no photos while Jack is performing” not because of vanity, but because the flashes and sounds tend to distract Jack. I’ve seen his wrath when people don’t listen to this because it really does fluster him. Also, funnily, the tour manager asked that no drinks be sent to the stage per the last time Jack played and complaints by the local authorities. (NOTE: I was there, and I don’t think anyone passed any drinks to Jack or that the authorities even knew he was in town. In fact, he was drinking from a mug from my old band The Davis Brothers.)
Songs, “Cuckoo,” and “San Francisco Bay Blues” were highlights for me. I always get a little melancholy when I see some of my heroes, especially when I know it may be getting near the end. Jack is 87 now, and his songs and stories still move me. He makes me want to go all in on my art and not worry about what anybody thinks. The fact that he’s still touring and not playing big venues shows that he does it because he loves it. That love is what I see every time I see Jack. Whether it’s his stories or the way he talks about not being able to find good coffee, you can tell that everything he does is because he loves it.
On the way out, after the show, artists at the Blue Door walk down the center aisle and greet folks (though, some keep moving). Jack was moving through and spotted my wife and I. We’ve met him several times, and he is always glad to see my wife. He’s told me multiple times that I “done good” by “marrying up.” He’s not the only hero that’s told me that (I’ll tell the Levon Helm story some time). He stopped and told my wife how pretty she is and that he was glad to see her and shook my hand.
I don’t know if I’ll see Jack again. I hope I do. But, if I don’t, I know his music and spirit will live on. I also don’t know if Jack knows how influential he is. If you get the chance to see Ramblin’ Jack on tour, don’t miss the chance. Go see him. You’ll be glad you did. As long as he’s out there ramblin’, I’ll keep looking for him.
For more information on Ramblin’ Jack, visit his official Facebook page.