Interview by Jon Bream
Ramblin' man: En route to a Twin Cities gig, folk legend Ramblin' Jack Elliott talks about Bob Dylan and his other Minnesota connections.
Jon Bream, Star Tribune, June 16, 2010 (original article at Star Tribune)
Folk-blues legend Ramblin' Jack Elliott is on a roll. Two of his past five albums have earned him Grammys, including one this year for "A Stranger Here," a wonderful collection of pre-World War II blues. Not bad for a 78-year-old troubadour best known for tutoring Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie and Mick Jagger.
Elliott, who will make his first Twin Cities appearance in 13 years Saturday at the Cedar Cultural Center, is renowned as a storyteller. In fact, his moniker has more to do with his long-winded yarns than his penchant for traveling with his guitar. Calling last week from San Francisco, Elliott, who does 50 to 60 gigs a year, rambled on several topics.
On where he put his two Grammys
"One is home [in suburban San Francisco] because the cats love to rub on it. It comes with an owner's manual that says 'Do not rub with rag.' Because you'll take the gold right off. The new Grammy I just saw an hour ago for the first time. It's here at [his manager's] house. I don't need to keep two Grammys in my little house. One's enough. Maybe I'll just leave it here."
On 1995 Grammy winner "South Coast," recorded in Minnesota
"It was quite pleasant in that studio [Pachyderm, in Cannon Falls]. I liked Bob Feldman, the owner of [St. Paul's] Red House Records who produced that album. We didn't have a list of songs to do; we just informally recorded songs off the top of my head.
"[St. Paul singer-songwriter] Gene LaFond, my friend who was there, asked Bob a few days later about the recording, and Bob said he didn't really hear anything exciting about it and he was going to let it sit and not make it into an album. Gene encouraged him to listen to it again and said, 'You ought to make a record out of it.' So I must have Gene LaFond to thank for that Grammy for the album and, of course, Bob."
On the last time he talked to Dylan
"I saw him about three years ago at a concert in Oakland. He waved to me as he ran in from the bus, because his bus driver told him that I'd be waiting. I don't think he saw me wave back because he was moving so fast.
"The time before that was a year or two previous to that. Bob saw me and he said [imitating Dylan], 'What's in your life, Ramblin?' I repeated the question. Then I said, 'I got a new Ford truck and I drove it here from Colorado just to see you. Took me four days. Fed the cats and got a little sleep and here I am.' And he must have thought I was reciting haiku because he had a very appreciative giggle and he said, 'Fed the cats. Got to feed them cats, got to feed them cats.' That's all he said. And I'm still waiting for a Dylanographer to explain what he meant."
On visiting Dylan's home in Hibbing at Dylan Days in 2008
"The owner left the house open for me. We enjoyed looking around a bit. I played Bob's mother's upright piano. I'm not a pianist myself, but I've always liked to fool around with pianos. The house was not very spacious or exciting. Not much to look at. I feel like when I close my eyes and remember how the house looked, that I can associate it with the Bob that I know, which is not the same Bob that everyone else knows.
"Of course, the whole world knows Bob. Or they think they do. To me, he's mainly and mostly mysterious. The three M's. Isn't 3M a Minnesota company? Well, it makes sense. For the first time in my life, it makes sense."