It's funny you should mention Ramblin Jack Elliot. Tonight, Mrs. Dough and I went out to see Guy Clark in concert. It took place in an old movie theater in downtown Petaluma (CA). The theater is in a particularly picturesque block of Petaluma. with its cute little box office under an old fashioned marquee. has itself appeared in a number of the movies shot all or in part in Petaluma, "Peggy Sue Got Married", "American Graffiti". It's a great location for 50s movies.
Originally, the concert was to be two acts, Guy Clark and Jessie Winchester, a singer with whom I am only vaguely familiar. For some reason, he didn't show up. He was, according to management, "stuck in Canada". Clark appeared alone and as a result there were a lot of disappointed people. One of them was Dave, a friend from here in the Greater Petaluma Area. Dave said he had already seen five Guy Clark shows and they were always the same. He claimed that Clark never made any changes in his songs or accompaniments.
Clark was appearing with an accompanist. Dave explained that the accompanist used to be married and that he and his wife, for a number of years, had backed Clark with instruments and vocals. When the couple divorced, Guy got custody of the husband who is an excellent musician while the wife went off on her own. Clark called him one of the great songwriters of our time. Coming from Clark, who has written some wonderful songs of his own, it is a certainly meaningful compliment.
Almost as soon as the performance started, it was clear that this was going to be a special evening. For one thing, Clark and his accompanist seemed to be having a really good time. Dave Tracy said this was very different from the other performances. After a while, when the crowd was really acting very appreciative, he said that he had a surprise guest - and then he announced that Rambling Jack Elliot was in the audience. Jack Elliot has bummed around the world and his voice as well as his face shows it.
I don't know how old Jack is now, probably about seventy or seventy five although he may look older than he is because of all those hard miles he's put on over the past four, five or six decades. Jack lives over in Marshall, on the coast about fifteen or twenty miles from Petaluma and a few minutes earlier I had wondered if he might show up in the audience for the show. It never occurred to me he might get up on stage. Jack doesn't ramble so easily any more. He had a hip operation a couple of weeks ago and tonight had to be helped up on the stage, a skinny old man in blue jeans, big hat and sunglasses, bent over and hobbling, with those kinds of aluminum crutches that have braces to help support the arms. He had an athletic looking and much younger guy, a rodeo cowboy in town for the Grand Nationals, who was there with his girlfriend, to help Jack up the stairs from the audience. Once he made his way rather painfully to a stool about a third of the way across stage, he managed to sit down. He was charming but his voice was so whispery it was hard to hear him even with the microphone.
He told a few self-effacing kinds of jokes about his condition. Then someone handed him a guitar and he took probably two minutes to figure out how to get the strap off the tailpiece, get it around his neck and back on the instrument. However, the audience was on his side. Almost all of us knew of Jack Elliot so we were patient, waiting for the legend to get ready. When he began strumming the instrument tentatively and very quietly, I had to concentrate to hear him say that this was the first time that he'd picked up a guitar since before "the hospital thing".
Then he broke into a blues and his voice strengthened. He began singing with a surprising power and his guitar picking was clear and purposeful. He then played San Francisco Bay Blues, told a charming story about the writer, and left the stage to thundering applause from a standing audience. The funny thing was that he walked so much more smoothly leaving the stage.
A while later, he came back, this time to tell a story. Guy Clark and his partner had started to introduce a song and mentioned that it reminded them of Jack's road manager who was a dog. The audience laughed when the two performers agreed that the dog used to drive the car sometimes when Jack had to travel between cities. That got Jack back up on the stage again to tell the story, the whole story, of traveling with his dog. This time he walked up the stage a lot more smoothly and sure looked as though he was in much less pain.
The story was hilarious and he had the audience laughing for five minutes or so before he even got to the climax when, late for a club date in Denver, he makes a phone call from a lonely public phone booth in Nebraska, and while feeding quarters into the phone, gives a remote performance of four or five songs thanks to a microphone held next to a receiver at the club. He could even hear the audience applauding.
Well, the story went over very well. Guy Clark and his accompanist were laughing as much as we all were and Jack Elliot looked as though he was having a better time than any of us. His grin looked so broad that it appeared at times as though he might give up on the story and just break down laughing . He looked like a very happy man.
This time when he left the stage, he was walking almost straight.
He came on stage one more time. late in the show. He almost scurried up onto the stage. If there was ever an example of pain numbing endorphins at work, this was it.
All in all, it was a delightful evening.
All this from a request for lyrics for "More Pretty Girls Than One".