I heard a whole thing on NPR a year or two back which managed not to mention
what I would have called the saliencies of Woody's career in some three
or four episodes. Him and Josh on stamps... Well.
- I'm one of those young English boys who learned Woody's licks off
Jack Elliott (and learned a lot more besides). He's got a strange way
of telling the truth sometimes, but he always winds up telling it. Jack
is the great catalyst probably as nearly personally responsible
for the British rock and roll explosion as Joe McCarthy (my theory is
that we got all the good Americans when Joe started his witch-hunt).
I live in Texas now. That's partly Woody's fault (I corresponded with
Woody) and partly Leadbelly's and partly Jack's. I haven't seen him
in all those years (though I have his records) and he wouldn't remember
me amongst so many admirers, but it was through Jack's songs and his
Topic albums that I first heard Woody's songs. Should you be in touch
with him, say Hi and thanks. I'm still a pretty lousy guitar player,
but what sounds good in it probably pretty much all comes from Jack.
My letters to Woody were sometimes, I know, 'keep on trucking' letters,
because he was being hassled by Joe M, as was Pete Seeger. Woody would
just send back little notes, sometimes with a line or two on them, on
pages torn from school exercise books or legal pads, saying to keep
on keeping on. So I knew Jack Elliott wasn't lying when he talked about
Woody. In those days he almost went into a trance to become Woody
not for his whole set usually, but when he was discussing Guthrie or
whatever. He and Derroll Adams were famous for the hardness of the liquor
they could hold.
I hope he hasn't stopped drinking and toking. Some of us have to prove
to the younger generation that it is possible to survive into happy
old age doing all the things their parents are telling them will bring
them to no good.
Woody was damned because his guitar had the slogan 'This Machine Kills Fascists"
on it while he was on minesweepers. They used this to prove he had to be
a communist (anti-fascists have to be communists ?). In that same paranoia,
which never got as bad in England, but was bad in certain circles, nonetheless,
my boss at the publishing house I worked for decided I was a communist because
I had a beard and sometimes wore sandals in the summer. The reason he didn't
fire me was because he was convinced the Red Army was about to come marching
up Fleet Street and I'd, of course, be a commissar and would take my revenge.
That's the gospel truth.
It wasn't until
the second album that I started taking [Dylan] seriously, him and his railroad
cap. I have a picture of me at 16 wearing the nearest thing I could get
to a railroad cap. Just like Woody. It was Dylan's and Simon & Garfunkel's
copyrighting of traditional English songs that got a few people wondering
about their public credentials. I'd like to see these 'radicals'
given a crash course in ethics. Lonny Donnegan did it in the UK.
'If it wasn't for me,' he said, 'Woody's songs would be on the scrapheap.'
That's why I can't stand him (or Van Morrison) but let's not start.
Jack was already admitting he wasn't a cowboy in London in fact, you
began to wonder how long he pretended! A stab at self-invention which didn't
really work and which was never needed. I think he learned early that being
Jack Elliott was all he had to be. A friend of mine who fronted a band called
Mr Fox said he'd seen Jack and Derroll Adams drink serious-sized jars of
medicinal alcohol and still keep playing. He said he thought Jack had turned
yellow at one time, but that could me thinking of my cat, who has begun
to look like my friend Graham Hall who at 30 was dying of scirrosis from
booze in LA .
Moorcock, prolific author of novels including Mother
London and creator of fantasy genre-redefining characters such
as Elric: "Although I make my living largely from it, I'm
more like a mafiosa don, I don't get too close to the actual business."
Additionally, "I was playing guitar in a whorehouse at the age
of 15." and he later was a lyricist and guitarist for Hawkwind
(among England's most long-lived heavy rock bands): "I noted Johnny
Rotten bullshitted about Cheltenham, which they did after us. He made
it seem a heavy gig. Cheltenham maximum security prison was one of the
sweetest gigs in the country."