album is supposed to be the best of Jack Elliott and maybe
it is a very good album but it certainly isn't the best of Jack Elliott. The best of Jack Elliott is Jack Elliott — I don't mean the things he has to
say when you meet him 'cause Jack loves to talk about square riggers which he knows a little about and Mack trucks which he knows a lot
about and line drawing which he knows almost nothing about or other things that will bore the hell out of you. Jack speaks very slowly and it takes him a long time to tell a boring story which only makes it twice as bad — but the best part of Jack Elliott is watching him — I first met Jack
when he was in Rome in 1957. I used to eat in a cheap restaurant called Taverna Margutta which is on the Via Margutta which is one block from the Piazza D'Espagna. Joe Fazzio and Franco the Guitar Player and Wally King the Ex-Piano player and myself used to hang out there almost every night along with some Italian dentist but I don't remember his name. And
we'd sit and booze it up so then the food wouldn't taste so bad and then we'd go down to the Trevi Fountain and try to pick up English girl tourists who were making wishes and throwing those idiotic coins in the fountain. The Margutta was supposed to be an artists' restaurant but I never saw any artist hang out there. Artists generally have to find a cheaper place
in a so called artist's hang out.
I came out of there on night and I was pretty well bombed because I was
singing out loud and I fell right into this table outside
where this guy and this girl were sitting and they were both wearing
those thick grey English turtle neck sweaters and I figured they were English or German but the guy just asked me if I knew Wabash Cannon Ball and so I sat down and we sang Wabash Cannon Ball and that was
Jack Elliott and we've been friends ever since.
But, I can't say that it has been a particularly relaxing friendship.
girl at the table was June Elliott who was Jack's wife at the time but
she wasn't really Jack's wife — she was his everything — his agent, general
business and personal manager, and his hat passer, the motor scooter navigator.
Now this is no easy task even for a girl like June who
is a pretty tough cookie because Jack is the kind of guy who will take an hour and a half to put on his pants after he has one leg on and if he can't find his pants it might take a whole weekend so it was June's job to tell him where his pants were and his boots and dust off his cowboy hat because Jack says that one thing about a real cowboy is that he never lets his hat get dusty and every night we'd make the rounds of the different restaurants and maybe go over to the Via Veneto and go down to Brick Tops or some place like that and June would make sure that Jack had his finger picks and that he knew what songs he was going to sing and that his hair was combed and that his fly was zupped up and while he was singing she would just sit and hold an extra set of strings in case he
broke one and after he got through she would pass the hat around and then we'd go somewhere to eat and she would portion out the money —
so much for supper — so much for Petrol — so much for heels for Jack's boots — they generally slept on somebody's floor so they didn't have to worry too much about rent.
this time they were staying with a family named McInytre and they were
Americans and he had a job with the Embassy or something
like that and they let Jack and June stay at their house and in return
for this Jack would entertain at Mrs. McIntyre's parties and sing songs
for the birthday parties for the McIntyre's kids and so forth. One of the kids was a little boy and the boy had a little small model square rigger
and Jack had promised he would rig the boat for him but he never seem- ed to get around to it. I had been pretty impressed with Jack's singing, especially songs like San Francisco Bay and I Got a Woman which I had never heard before and which he told me was sung by a guy named Ray Charles who I had never even heard of because I had been out of the country for a long time. Anyway, I decided to buy a guitar myself
because I felt it would be less lonely having a guitar. So I got myself
this six string inlaid banjo thing which has about the worst sound you have ever heard and I took it up to Jack to tune it for me and write me down a few chords. It didn't have a case. I had to get over to Jack's in a
hurry that night because in a few hours he and June were leaving for Greece or Turkey and when I got there they were in their typical state
of confusion. June was packing and Jack was alternating between fixing
his boot and practicing some new run on this guitar. Jack treats his
guitar like a human being and June told me when they first got married Jack wanted to keep the guitar in bed with them because that was the
way he was used to sleeping but she finally convinced him to put it in
the case which probably disillusioned him a lot about marriage. Anyway, June kept screaming at Jack to hurry and Jack kept saying he couldn't
find something or another and I brought him a drawing pad as a going away present but June said it was too big and he couldn't carry it on the scooter and Jack said he wanted it and I said it was only 9 x 12 and June said hurry up and pack because they were going to miss the boat and I kept telling Jack to write down the C chords and Jack didn't know exactly what a C chord was until he looked it up on his fingers so he had to pick up the guitar and he remembered he hadn't finished rigging the boat for the McIntyre kid and started looking around for his thread and June started screaming they were going to miss the boat and I asked Jack to write down an F chord and June screamed that they only had an hour to get the boat and it would take at least six hours to rig the boat and they had to leave right now and Jack screamed that he had to rig the boat
and June screamed that he couldn't rig the boat and Jack stood up and
he clenched his fists and squinted his eyes and he was practically crying and he said "I never finished anything in my whole life."
I could explain this but I hope I don't have to.
of years later I saw them in New York for about a week and I didn't see
Jack again until about another year later. Then one day he came over to
my house and he was wearing his black cowboy hat which
he always wore and that sheepskin jacket that he loves and he was carrying his guitar and he had some old friend of his with him. He told
me June was in Japan doing some work in the movies and he had gotten
a couple of letters from her and he wanted me to read them. I saw that they were in English but he said he wanted me to "translate" them but they were in English but he wanted to get my opinion on them and what they meant. So the first letter said "Dear Jack, what's the news about the divorce, please take care of it as soon as possible, signed June" and I said he didn't need a translation on that one, he said read the second one — "Jack exclamation point where the hell is that divorce, I want it now exclamation point, signed June," — so I said to Jack I don't think you
need any translation of these letters. She wants a divorce. And Jack said "you're obviously missing the whole point 'cause if you look close you'll see that in the first letter she says, 'dear Jack' which means she still
cares about me" and with that he put on his hat and picked up his guitar and he and his friend walked out, probably looking for someone who could give him a better translation.
with this whole scene for a while and then finally he met Patti and I guess
she took over the duties of hat dusting and gasoline buying but by now
he was buying gasoline for a second hand telephone service truck which
he still drives around and they were having a pretty good time until they
decided to get married. I was best man at the wedding which I guess was
last summer and Jack and Patti and me and
a girl named Sandy who was maid of honour we all piled into a taxi and went down to City Hall and it was raining and it was a very nice wedding because I had never seen a civil service ceremony before and there was no bull about it and no mumbo jumbo, they just tell you you are married and that's it and the next thing you know you are back outside in the rain again. Anyway, the price was four bucks and I said I would pick up the tab because I figured I had never treated anybody to a wedding before so I picked up the tab and I laid down the four bucks but I guess it wasn't a very good investment because about three months later Jack rang my
bell and he was wearing his cowboy hat and that sheepskin jacket and
he was carrying his guitar and had an old friend of mine with him and
he tells me he has a letter that he wants me to translate. So that's the way it goes with Jack Elliott and he is still wearing the black cowboy hat and sheepskin jacket and I don't' know what girl is his personal manager right now but he's still riding around in that old telephone service truck and I hope you enjoy this record.
(Editor's note: Might this be the most bizarre thing Shel ever wrote? Maybe...at the very least it's the longest run-on sentence!)