Jerry Jeff Walker (born Ronald Clyde Crosby; March 16, 1942 – October 23, 2020)[1][2] was an American country music singer and songwriter. He is best known for writing the 1968 song "Mr. Bojangles".[3]

Biography

Walker was born in Oneonta, New York. His maternal grandparents played for square dances in the Oneonta area, with his grandmother, Jessie Conroe, playing piano, and grandfather playing fiddle. During the late 1950s, Crosby was a member of a local Oneonta teen band called The Tones.

The band traveled to Philadelphia to audition for Dick Clark's American Bandstand, but were turned down. Members of the band found Dick Clark's house and were able to get a recommendation to audition at New York City's Baton Records through the company's lead producer Sol Rabinowitz. The band was given a recording contract, but the studio wanted a quintet backed by studio musicians, which left Crosby and another member (Gerald T. Russell) out of their recordings.

After high school, Crosby joined the National Guard, but his thirst for adventure led him to go AWOL and roam the country busking for a living in New Orleans and throughout Texas, Florida, and New York, often accompanied by H.R. Stoneback (a friendship referenced in 1970's "Stoney"). He played mostly ukulele until Harriet Ottenheimer, one of the founders of The Quorum, got him settled on a guitar in 1963. He adopted his stage name "Jerry Jeff Walker" in 1966.[citation needed]

He spent his early folk music days in Greenwich Village in the mid-1960s.[4] He co-founded a band with Bob Bruno in the late-1960s called Circus Maximus that put out two albums,[4] one with the popular FM radio hit "Wind", but Bruno's interest in jazz apparently diverged from Walker's interest in folk music.[4] Walker thus resumed his solo career and recorded the seminal 1968 album Mr. Bojangles with the help of David Bromberg and other influential Atlantic recording artists. He settled in Austin, Texas, in the 1970s, associating mainly with the outlaw country scene that included artists such as Michael Martin Murphey, Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Waylon Jennings, and Townes Van Zandt.[citation needed] Walker was mentioned by name in the lyrics of Jennings and Nelson's 1977 hit song "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)".

A string of records for MCA and Elektra followed Jerry Jeff's move to Austin, Texas,[4] before he gave up on the mainstream music business and formed his own independent record label. Tried & True Music was founded in 1986, with his wife Susan as president and manager. Susan also founded Goodknight Music as his management company and Tried & True Artists for his bookings. A series of increasingly autobiographical records followed under the Tried & True imprint. Tried & True also sells his autobiography, Gypsy Songman. In 2004, Jerry Jeff released his first DVD of songs from his past as performed in an intimate setting in Austin.[citation needed]

Walker married Susan Streit in 1974 in Travis County, Texas.[2] They had two children: a son, Django Walker, who is also a musician, and a daughter Jessie Jane. Walker had a retreat on Ambergris Caye in Belize, where he recorded his Cowboy Boots and Bathing Suits album in 1998.[citation needed] Walker also made a guest appearance on Ramblin' Jack Elliott's 1998 album of duets Friends of Mine, singing "He Was a Friend of Mine" and Woody Guthrie's "Hard Travelin.'"

Walker recorded songs written by others such as "LA Freeway" (Guy Clark), "Up Against the Wall Red Neck Mother" (Ray Wylie Hubbard), "(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night" (Tom Waits) and "London Homesick Blues" (Gary P. Nunn).[citation needed] He also interpreted the songs of others such as Rodney Crowell, Townes Van Zandt, Paul Siebel, Bob Dylan, Todd Snider, Dave Roberts, and even a rodeo clown named Billy Jim Baker. Some have called Jerry Jeff the Jimmy Buffett of Texas. It was Jerry Jeff who first drove Jimmy Buffett to Key West (from Coconut Grove, Florida in a Packard). Walker and Buffett also co-wrote the song "Railroad Lady" while riding the last run of the Panama Limited.[citation needed]

Walker had an annual birthday celebration in Austin at the Paramount Theatre and at Gruene Hall in Gruene, Texas.[2] This party became an enormous event in Texas and brought some of the biggest names in country music out for a night of picking and swapping stories under the Austin skyline. Jimmy Buffett attended the 2004 birthday bash.[citation needed]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Jerry Jeff Walker among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal Studios fire.[5]

Walker was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017 and died on October 23, 2020 in Austin, Texas, from throat cancer-related complications.[6][7]

"Mr. Bojangles"

Walker's "Mr. Bojangles" (1968) is perhaps his best-known and most-often covered song.[2] It is about an obscure alcoholic but talented tap-dancing drifter who, when arrested and jailed in New Orleans, insisted on being identified only as Bojangles (the nickname of famed dancer Bill Robinson).

In his autobiography, Gypsy Songman, Walker made it clear the man he met was white. Further, in an interview with BBC Radio 4 in August 2008, he pointed out that at the time the jail cells in New Orleans were segregated along color lines, so his influence could not have been black. Bojangles is thought to have been a folk character who entertained informally in the South and California, with authentic reports of his existing from the 1920s through to about 1965.[citation needed]

Discography

Albums

Source: AllMusic[8]

Year Album Chart positions Label
US Country[9] US[10] AUS[11] CAN Country[12]
1967 Circus Maximus - Vanguard
1968 Neverland Revisited -
Mr. Bojangles - Atco
1969 Driftin' Way of Life - Vanguard
1970 Five Years Gone - Atco
1970 Bein' Free -
1972 Jerry Jeff Walker 208 48 MCA
1973 Viva Terlingua 160 -
1974 Walker's Collectibles 141 -
1975 Ridin' High 14 119 -
1976 It's a Good Night for Singin' 18 84 -
1977 A Man Must Carry On 13 60 -
1978 Contrary to Ordinary[A] 25 111 - 3
1978 Jerry Jeff 43 206 - Elektra/Asylum
1979 Too Old to Change -
1980 The Best of JJW 57 185 - 21 MCA
1981 Reunion 188 -
1982 Cowjazz -
1987 Gypsy Songman DoLP - Sawdust Records
1987 Gypsy Songman - T&TM/Ryko
1989 Live at Gruene Hall -
1991 Navajo Rug 59 -
Great Gonzos - MCA
1992 Hill Country Rain - T&TM/Ryko
1994 Viva Luckenbach -
Christmas Gonzo Style -
1995 Night After Night - T&TM
1996 Scamp -
1998 Cowboy Boots & Bathing Suits -
Lone Wolf: Elektra Sessions - Warner Bros.
1999 Best of the Vanguard Years - Vanguard
Gypsy Songman: A Life in Song - T&TM
2001 Gonzo Stew -
Jerry Jeff Walker: Ultimate Collection - Hip-O Records
2003 Jerry Jeff Jazz - T&TM
2004 The One and Only -
2009 Moon Child -
2018 It's About Time -

Singles

Source: AllMusic,[15] unless otherwise stated.

Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country[16] US AUS[11]
1968 "Mr. Bojangles"[B] 77 22 Mr. Bojangles
1972 "L.A. Freeway" 98 98 Jerry Jeff Walker
1973 "Desperados Waiting for a Train" Viva Terlingua
"Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother"
1975 "Jaded Lover" 54 Ridin' High
1976 "It's a Good Night for Singing" 88 It's a Good Night for Singing
"Dear John Letter Lounge" flip
1977 "Mr. Bojangles" (Live) 93 A Man Must Carry On
1981 "Got Lucky Last Night" 82 Single only
1989 "I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight" 70 Live at Gruene Hall
"The Pickup Truck Song" 62
"Trashy Women" 63
1994 "Keep Texas Beautiful" Single only

Notes

  1. ^ Contrary to Ordinary also peaked at No. 99 on the RPM Top Albums chart in Canada.[13][14]
  2. ^ "Mr. Bojangles" also peaked at No. 51 on the RPM Top Singles chart in Canada.[13][17]

References

  1. ^ "Country & Songwriting Legend Jerry Jeff Walker Has Died", Saving Country Music, October 23, 2020. Retrieved October 23, 2020
  2. ^ a b c d McGuire, Jim; Ferris, William (2007). Nashville Portraits: Legends Of Country Music. The Lyons Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-1-59921-168-8.
  3. ^ Blount, Roy Jr. (May 1979). "Running Wild With Jerry Jeff". Thecountryradio.com. Retrieved April 19, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. pp. 1225/6. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  5. ^ Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  6. ^ "Jerry Jeff Walker Dead at 78". Pitchfork. 24 October 2020.
  7. ^ Blackstock, Peter (2020-10-24). "Jerry Jeff Walker, Austin country music legend, dies at 78". Austin American-Statesman. Austin, TX. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  8. ^ "Jerry Jeff Walker – Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  9. ^ "Top Country Albums". Billboard. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  10. ^ "Billboard 200 Chart". Billboard. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  11. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 331. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  12. ^ "Canada Country Chart". Billboard. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  13. ^ a b "Results: RPM Weekly – Jerry Jeff Walker". Library and Archives Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  14. ^ "Top Albums/CDs – Volume 29, No. 22". Library and Archives Canada. Government of Canada. August 26, 1978. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  15. ^ "Jerry Jeff Walker – Song Highlights". AllMusic. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  16. ^ "Hot Country Songs". Billboard. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  17. ^ "Top Singles – Volume 9, No. 23–24". Library and Archives Canada. Government of Canada. August 19, 1968. Retrieved October 24, 2020.

External links