I know a lot about Westport’s musical history.
I was there when the Doors, Cream, Yardbirds and many other bands played at Staples.
I remember when Johnny Winter lived here, and hung out at Players Tavern. And of course, REO Speedwagon wrote “157 Riverside Avenue” about their former home across from what is now Saugatuck Elementary School.
But I had no idea Ramblin’ Jack Elliott spent time here too.
He had a profound influence on generations of musicians. Arlo Guthrie says that because he was young when his father died, he learned Woody’s songs and performing style from Ramblin’ Jack.
Jack’s interpretations of Woody Guthrie’s songs made a great impact on a young Bob Dylan. Jack later appeared in Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review concert tour. He also influenced Phil Ochs.
Peter Barlow not only remembers Ramblin’ Jack’s Westport days — he was an important part of them. Peter writes:
Ramblin’ Jack came a lot to Westport in the late 1940s and early ’50s. He saw his friends Ric von Schmidt, Bill Frey, Bob Keedy, several others I can’t remember, and me. We were all in our late teens.
We knew him as Xerxes. He had no other name and no explanation, though if pressed he was Jack Elliott.
His real name was Elliot Adnapoz. He lived in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. His father was a surgeon. I met his parents there. They were constantly worried about Elliot, and somehow thought I was a good influence (!).
He met my parents too. I brought Xerxes over to my house one evening. He played and sang a song for my father, who was very impressed.
He played guitar and sang incessantly. I never knew there were so many verses to those folk songs.
Xerxes had 2 other interests: rodeo and sailing ships. It was the ships that connected us to each other.
I didn’t see Xerxes for a long time after those years. He became very successful, without compromising or going commercial. He’s still performing concerts.
Although Jack Elliott rambled many places — including Westport — that’s not how he got his name. Apparently, it came from his tendency to tell long, drawn-out stories.
Folk singer Odetta claimed her mother gave him the nickname, saying, “Oh, Jack Elliott, yeah, he can sure ramble on!”