Marshall folk legend now a reluctant film star

By Stephen Barrett (31 August 2020, Point Reyes Light)

Marshall's Ramblin' Jack Elliott returned home wearied last week from a month-long publicity tour for his daughter's new movie, The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack, a portrait of her father which opens in Bay Area theaters this weekend.

Aiyana Elliott's first feature-length documentary took top honors for artistic achievement at this year's Sundance Film Festival for its depiction of her peripatetic father and his life on the road. But after seeing the picture ten times, Ramblin' Jack seemed somewhat ambivalent about getting nailed down.

"I'm a private man, if you can believe that," he told The Light. "It's not the best feeling to have your worst characteristics portrayed in front of a million people. I've looked for the exits."

Father & daughter

Besides being the subject of a documentary, the folk singer said he has faced a barrage of questions about his relationship with his daughter, which he said has only gotten stronger from working on the movie and promoting it with her from coast to coast.

The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack started as a film school project for Aiyana Elliot, 31, the folk singer's child from his fourth marriage. It tells the story of a self-styled singing cowboy from Brooklyn, New York who became an influence to a generation of singer-songwriters in the early 1960s.

At the movie's New York City opening earlier this summer, Ramblin' Jack performed at a rooftop gala on Times Square with folkies Dave Van Ronk and Odetta, the singer who reportedly gave him his nickname when she realized some 40 years ago that his stories had no end.

Ramblin' Jack said the publicity tour seems very distant from the quiet life he enjoys with his fifth wife, Jan Currie, whom he married this year at Tomales Town Hall after a four-year engagement.

Marin premiere

This week, the couple was preparing for a concert appearance at the Rafael Film Center to celebrate the movie's Marin County premiere on Wednesday evening. Ramblin' Jack said he is more accustomed to renting videos to watch at home.

The folk singer and his wife visited Point Reyes Station on Tuesday to return a movie from Video West and visit friends at Cabaline Saddle Shop & Country Emporium, where they also bumped into Prince Tupouto'A of Tonga, who was getting measured for a pair of riding boots.

While the Polynesian got his feet measured, Ramblin' Jack chatted with the prince's entourage about hillbilly music and horseback riding in Mongolia. Meanwhile, his wife asked the prince's driver how much it would cost to rent his limousine for a ride to San Rafael on Wednesday for the opening of The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack.

After the prince departed, Ramblin' Jan Elliot allowed her husband to buy a leather belt but refused him a new cowboy hat. Then she hurried the last of the singing cowboys out the door so they could pick up some dry-cleaning and get ready for their next public appearance.