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.

I met Guy Clark once. He was super gracious to me, especially since I was a fan and acted accordingly, gushing all over him about how much his music meant to me. He probably just wanted another cigarette in the alley behind the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, but I was there to bug him. Even though he’s been gone for over two years, Guy’s music still inspires me to this day.

Tamara Saviano wrote a great official biography of Guy, and I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of it. 

Earlier this afternoon, my wife and I were driving home from an afternoon of errands and minutiae when “Dublin Blues” came on the old satellite radio. “Well, I wish I was in Austin….”

I turned it up, like I’m known to do when it’s a song that I love and sang to my heart’s content. I really did wish I was in Austin. I really was hoping my wife would forgive me for my anger and my faults. That’s how Guy’s music works. Too many people don’t know enough about Guy Clark.

The song also reminded me of a photo I carry in my wallet. It’s a snap that we had some random stranger take of my wife and I on our honeymoon in Rome. We’re sitting on the Spanish Steps, and the picture shows how happy we were. Well, we’re still happy and loving life. (I’ll not try to be the tortured artist – my wife is my best friend and biggest encourager.) But, every time I hear “Dublin Blues,” it takes me back to that moment in 2007, when we were in Rome…”I loved you on the Spanish Steps, the day you said goodbye.” It still almost makes me tear up.

So, I carry that picture with me every day. And, knowing that it’s there, is a comfort for me. Kind of like how I used to have comfort by knowing that Guy Clark was there. Guiding the ship and influencing the songwriting world. But, while he might not be here physically, his presence still influences.

I’m lifting a Mad Dog margarita for Guy tonight. Thanks for the songs and for always taking me back. You still inspire me, and yes, I did love her from the get-go, and I’ll love her till I die.

For more info on Guy Clark, visit his official site here.

 

“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel ok…”

I was riding in a van along the north coast of Jamaica recently when my wife leaned over to me and said, “One person can change the world. One Love.” We were driving past a mural of Bob Marley in Ochos Rios, and I knew she was right.

People all across the world love Bob Marley. Music aficionados, guitar players, singers, dancers, one and all can feel his spirit. I still tear up when I hear “No Woman, No Cry.” I can even sense the feedback that is coming in the live recording that made the song a worldwide anthem.

Marley had the ability to take music and transcend cultures, nations, and religions. The messages in his song speak of his own battles, his people’s struggle for equality, and the way that love conquers all. Did he make a difference? Did he change the world? You bet he did. Some 37 years after his untimely death, and you still his image on shirts and flags everywhere…not just in Jamaica. But, his influence does loom over the island, and I think it looks down and smiles on the visitors that come to see it for themselves. Pilgrims still flock to the area he was born and to his burial site in Nine Mile.

Back in Ochos Rios, I stared for a long minute at a statue of Marley that we found in city park, and then let my gaze wander out to the water and the distant shoreline. I could feel the ocean breeze blowing on my face, and I knew that in some way, Bob Marley was the reason that I and so many others first heard about Jamaica. He brought the culture and the struggle to us. He made it real and showed it through the music. His memory still shapes and influences the world today.

“So, hit me with music, brutalize me with music.”

I recently received a copy of the latest Bootleg Series by Bob Dylan: More Blood, More Tracks. It’s a great piece documenting the making of Blood on the Tracks. These sets are put out for the purists and artist junkies like me, that eat anything their artistic heroes release. A behind the scenes look at the making of it.

This one’s different. This one stung. Blood on the Tracks has always been one of my favorite, if not my all time favorite albums. Those who don’t have a taste for Dylan, don’t really get it, but his different phases speak to you (me) at different times in my life in different ways. Time Out of Mind helped me get through my grandparents’ deaths. Blonde on Blonde helped me make it through college when I didn’t really fit in. Tempest is an unsung treasure that is special to my wife and I. But, Blood on the Tracks was always different. I felt an affinity and a relation to it that I didn’t with any other of his work. From the first line of, “Early one morning, the sun was shinin’, and I was layin’ in bed. Wondering if she’d changed at all, if her hair was still red,” the album felt like a compass for my life.

Knowing the pain, he was enduring when writing it, could make you view it poignantly. But, rather, he transfers the heartbreak to you, the listener. You FEEL it. If you don’t know what I mean, you probably should stop reading now. But, the songs show a meaning to you the listener. Not necessarily the author’s meaning, but your meaning. “Simple Twist of Fate” still cuts to my soul. I’ll never forget the first time I got the chords right on “Tangled Up in Blue.” “Idiot Wind” is bitter and pure and haunting all at the same time.

I don’t claim to know what’s in Bob’s mind. Heck, most of the time, I can’t claim to know what’s in my mind. But, this music stands the test of time and challenges me to be a better writer, a better story-teller, and a better poet. Dylan never seemed to want to challenge anyone (other than Donovan with “It’s all over now, baby blue”), he just seems to do it. That kind of ease would be great to have. Just translate it in every other area. No competition for being, for taking the best picture, for posting the best dinner. Just know your own greatness.