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

Early life

Walker was born Ronald Clyde Crosby in Oneonta, New York, on March 16, 1942. His father, Mel, worked as a sports referee and bartender; his mother, Alma (Conrow), was a housewife.[4] His maternal grandparents played for square dances in the Oneonta area[4] – his grandmother, Jessie Conroe, playing piano, while his grandfather played fiddle. During the late 1950s, Crosby was a member of a local Oneonta teen band called The Tones.[5]

After high school, Crosby joined the National Guard, but his thirst for adventure led him to go AWOL and he was eventually discharged.[4][6] He went on to 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").[7] He first played under the stage name of Jerry Ferris, then Jeff Walker, before amalgamating them into Jerry Jeff Walker and legally changing his name to that in the late 1960s.[6]

Career

Walker spent his early folk music days in Greenwich Village in the mid-1960s.[8] He co-founded a band with Bob Bruno in the late-1960s called Circus Maximus that put out two albums,[8] one with the popular FM radio hit "Wind", but Bruno's interest in jazz apparently diverged from Walker's interest in folk music.[8] 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.[9][10] 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,[4] and Townes Van Zandt.[11] Walker was mentioned by name in the lyrics of Jennings and Nelson's 1977 hit song "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)".[12]

A string of records for MCA and Elektra followed Jerry Jeff's move to Austin, Texas,[8] before he gave up on the mainstream music business and formed his own independent record label. Tried & True Music was founded in 1986,[13] with his wife Susan as president and manager.[14][15] Susan also founded Goodknight Music as his management company and Tried & True Artists for his bookings.[14] A series of increasingly autobiographical records followed under the Tried & True imprint, which also sells his autobiography, Gypsy Songman.[16] In 2004, Walker released his first DVD of songs from his past as performed in an intimate setting in Austin.[17]

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.[4] Walker had a retreat on Ambergris Caye in Belize, where he recorded his Cowboy Boots and Bathing Suits album in 1998.[18] He also made a guest appearance on Ramblin' Jack Elliott's 1998 album of duets Friends of Mine,[19] singing "He Was a Friend of Mine" and Woody Guthrie's "Hard Travelin'".[20][21]

Walker recorded songs written by others such as "LA Freeway" (Guy Clark), "Up Against the Wall Red Neck Mother" (Ray Wylie Hubbard),[4] "(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night" (Tom Waits),[22] and "London Homesick Blues" (Gary P. Nunn).[4] 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. Walker was given the moniker of "the Jimmy Buffett of Texas".[23][24][25] It was Walker who first drove Jimmy Buffett to Key West (from Coconut Grove, Florida in a Packard).[26] The two musicians also co-wrote the song "Railroad Lady" while riding the last run of the Panama Limited.[26][27]

"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" (which happened to be the nickname of famed dancer Bill Robinson, leading to speculation that Robinson was the subject of the song). In his autobiography, Gypsy Songman, Walker made it clear the man he met was white, which would indicate that Robinson was not the inspiration. 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.[6]

Notable covers of the song include a live version by his bandmate Bromberg on his album Demon in Disguise and a single by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band that charted at number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971 (also released on their album Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy).

Later years and death

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.[28] The New York Times Magazine reported in June 2019 that Walker was among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal Studios fire.[29]

Walker was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017. He died of the disease on October 23, 2020, at a hospital in Austin, Texas.[4] He was 78 years old.[30][31]

Discography

Albums

Source: AllMusic[32]

Year Album Chart positions Label
US Country[33] US[34] AUS[35] CAN Country[36]
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,[39] unless otherwise stated.

Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country[40] US AUS[35]
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.[37][38]
  2. ^ "Mr. Bojangles" also peaked at No. 51 on the RPM Top Singles chart in Canada.[37][41]

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 e f g h Friskics-Warren, Bill (October 24, 2020). "Jerry Jeff Walker, Who Wrote and Sang 'Mr. Bojangles,' Dies at 78". The New York Times. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  5. ^ Dansby, Andrew (October 24, 2020). "Texas music icon Jerry Jeff Walker dies". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Schudel, Matt (October 24, 2020). "Jerry Jeff Walker, Texas troubadour who wrote 'Mr. Bojangles,' dies at 78". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  7. ^ La Chapelle, Peter (September 9, 2019). I'd Fight the World: A Political History of Old-Time, Hillbilly, and Country Music. University of Chicago Press. p. 152. ISBN 9780226923000.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Weinberg, Bob (March 8, 2017). "David Bromberg: The return of a rock 'n' roll Zelig". Sun Sentinel. Fort Lauderdale. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  10. ^ Gage, Jeff (October 24, 2020). "Jerry Jeff Walker's 'Viva Terlingua': Inside the Fringe Country Album". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  11. ^ Davis, John T. (October 24, 2020). "Jerry Jeff Walker, a Trailblazer of the Cosmic Cowboy Sound, Passes Away at 78". Texas Monthly. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  12. ^ Loewenthal, Robyn (October 26, 2020). "Texas Legend Bringing Hard Luck Songs This Way – Jerry Jeff Walker, known for such hits as 'Mr. Bojangles,' will perform at the Ventura Theatre". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  13. ^ Miller, Ken (October 24, 2020). "Jerry Jeff Walker, Texas singer and songwriter, dies at 78". Associated Press. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  14. ^ a b "UT freshmen to hear from women leaders in the Texas music scene". UT News. University of Texas at Austin. October 13, 1999. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  15. ^ Schwartz, Matthew S. (October 24, 2020). "Jerry Jeff Walker, Who Wrote 'Mr. Bojangles,' Dies At 78". NPR. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  16. ^ Walker, Jerry Jeff (1999). Gypsy Songman. Woodford Press. ISBN 9780942627572.
  17. ^ "Jerry Jeff Walker: The One and Only". AllMusic. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  18. ^ Brass, Kevin (September 7, 2007). "Viva Belize! Jerry Jeff Walker's island getaway". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  19. ^ "Ramblin' Jack Elliott: Friends of Mine – Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  20. ^ Reineke, Hank (December 30, 2009). Ramblin' Jack Elliott: The Never-Ending Highway. Scarecrow Press. p. 324. ISBN 9780810872578.
  21. ^ "Jerry Jeff Walker – Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  22. ^ Jacobs, Jay S. (November 16, 2010). Wild Years: The Music and Myth of Tom Waits. ECW Press. p. 411. ISBN 9781554902613.
  23. ^ Himes, Geoffrey (October 26, 2020). "Jerry Jeff Walker (1942–2020): The Cosmic Cowboy and Mr. Bojangles". Paste. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  24. ^ Darling, Cary (July 25, 2018). "The 50 Greatest Texas Musicians Ever". Houston Chronicle. Archived from the original on October 9, 2020. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  25. ^ Parker, Virginia, ed. (July 2006). "Listings: July 17–23". Atlanta Magazine. Vol. 46 no. 3. Emmis Communications. p. 154. ISSN 0004-6701.
  26. ^ a b B., Jon D. (October 25, 2020). "Jimmy Buffett Posts Touching Tribute To Late Singer-Songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker". Outsider.com. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  27. ^ "Jerry Jeff Walker: Railroad Lady – Song Info". AllMusic. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  28. ^ Goldsmith, Thomas (February 13, 1988). "Nashville Notes On the road with rabbits, doves, chimp". The Tennessean. Nashville, Tennessee. p. 39. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ "Jerry Jeff Walker Dead at 78". Pitchfork. October 24, 2020.
  31. ^ Blackstock, Peter (October 24, 2020). "Jerry Jeff Walker, Austin country music legend, dies at 78". Austin American-Statesman. Austin, TX. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  32. ^ "Jerry Jeff Walker – Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  33. ^ "Top Country Albums". Billboard. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  34. ^ "Billboard 200 Chart". Billboard. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  35. ^ 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.
  36. ^ "Canada Country Chart". Billboard. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  37. ^ a b "Results: RPM Weekly – Jerry Jeff Walker". Library and Archives Canada. Government of Canada. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  38. ^ "Top Albums/CDs – Volume 29, No. 22". Library and Archives Canada. Government of Canada. August 26, 1978. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  39. ^ "Jerry Jeff Walker – Song Highlights". AllMusic. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  40. ^ "Hot Country Songs". Billboard. Retrieved October 17, 2020.
  41. ^ "Top Singles – Volume 9, No. 23–24". Library and Archives Canada. Government of Canada. August 19, 1968. Retrieved October 24, 2020.

External links