The pair grew close when they were neighbors in the Hotel Earle in Greenwich Village, where they bonded over a shared love of Guthrie, and other music of the burgeoning folk revival. Since then, fans have accused Dylan of aping Elliott’s style in his early days, particularly his nasally delivery, but that doesn’t bother the elder. “I helped him get into the musician’s union,” he said. Today, the pair aren’t in regular contact, but when they do cross paths, it’s with a great deal of warmth. “Love you Jack,” Elliot recalled Dylan saying after a gig in Oakland in 2014. “I thought, ‘Wow, you’ve never told me that before,’” Elliott said.
Unlike Dylan, and many of his other peers, Elliott hasn’t seen much commercial success — partly because he deals in niche genres, but also because “he’s not been great at managing his career, per se,” according to Aiyana. Because he hasn’t written many songs, he receives far fewer royalties on album sales and streams. The bulk of his income comes from touring, which has its own risks. More than anything, Elliott has sought freedom, and human connection. “He lives quite modestly, a lot of people don’t realize just how modestly,” Aiyana said. “But I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone so rich in friends.”
After decades of touring, the nonagenarian is resilient. He’s recovered from triple bypass surgery and two “little strokes” that left him unable to play the guitar for about a week. His hearing is assisted by small aids, but his mobility and stamina befit a much younger man. He moves with swagger in his carefully chosen outfits.
After a breakfast of oatmeal with berries and chopped pecans, and a plethora of stories about schooner ships, James Dean, big rigs, Leon Russell and other subjects between, Elliott loaded into his Volvo station wagon to wind through the cypress-lined roads overlooking the inlet Tomales Bay. He passed through his friend Nancy’s lavender field, and by the dunes at Dillon Beach where he and his friend Venta hike. In a vulnerable moment, he recalled his wife, Jan, the last of five, who died from alcoholism in 2001. “I was very devastated when she left us,” he said.
In 1995, the pair were living in a motor home in Point Reyes while she worked for Ridgetop Music, owned by Jesse Colin Young of the Youngbloods. One day, they decided to head north to sight see. “I was driving and admiring the bay on the left, and she was in the passenger seat and saw a sign on the right,” he said. “We pulled in and rented the house on the spot.” He’s lived in it ever since.