In Memoriam: Jerry Jeff Walker (1942 – 2020)

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

Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles” (1968) is perhaps his best-known and most-often covered song. 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.

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.

Walker had an annual birthday celebration in Austin at the Paramount Theatre and at Gruene Hall in Gruene, Texas. 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.

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.

Walker was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017 and passed away on Friday, October 23, 2020, from cancer-related complications.

 

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