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L E’s Stories – “To The Gypsy Songman And Madison Square Garden Fan” – Salute To Jerry Jeff Walker

There have been many icons of the Austin Music Scene over the years….to include such names as Marsha Ball, Bob Schneider, Omar & The Howlers, Guy Clark Jr., Janis Joplan, Robert Earl Keen, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Jimmie Vaughan & The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Lucinda Williams, Eric Johnson, Rocky Ericson & The 13th Floor Elevators, Asleep At The Wheel, Nanci Griffith, Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers, Alejandro Escovedo, Townes Van Zandt, Groupo Fantasma, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Patti Griffin, W C Clark, Doug Sahm, Angela Strehli, Spoon, Charlie Sexton and Willie Nelson….just to name a few….and this list would be considered incomplete without the name of one Jerry Jeff Walker….who happened to be a sports fan regular at Madison Square Garden, The Sports Place, at 302 E. 6th Street in downtown Austin, TX….which was owned by our Bone Daddy, the original Sportsphile.  So, this post brings back fond memories of the man who wrote “Mr Bojangles”….a truly classic song….as we pay homage to another very popular Austin Music Scene icon….who has resided and worked in and around Austin for the past 50 years since he moved to town in 1970.                                  

Music – 1964 – Jerry Jeff Walker – Rare Folk Songs & Ballads Song Excerpts From The 1960’s

 

Jerry Jeff Walker, born Ronald Clyde Crosby,  is an American country music singer and songwriter…..whose maternal grandparents played for square dances in the Oneonta, NY area….with his grandmother, Jessie Conroe, playing piano, and grandfather playing fiddle. During the late 1950’s, Crosby was a member of a local Oneonta teen band called The Tones…..as the band traveled to Philadelphia to audition for Dick Clark’s American Bandstand….but were turned down….when 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….when 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.                                                                                                        

Music – 1991 – Jerry Jeff Walker & Susan Clark – “We Were Kinda Crazy Then”

 

After high school, Crosby joined the National Guard….when 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….and was often accompanied by H.R. Stoneback….when he played mostly ukulele until Harriet Ottenheimer….who was one of the founders of The Quorum….and got him settled on a guitar in 1963. He adopted his stage name “Jerry Jeff Walker” in 1966.

Music – 1988 – Jerry Jeff Walker – “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” + “Morning Song To Sally”

 

He spent his early folk music days in Greenwich Village in the mid-1960’s.   He co-founded a band with Bob Bruno in the late-1960’s called Circus Maximus that put out two albums….while one with the popular FM radio hit “Wind”…. but Bruno’s interest in jazz  apparently diverged from Walker’s interest in folk music…..so, Walker thus resumed his solo career….and recorded the seminal album Mr. Bojangles….with the help of David Bromberg and other influential Atlantic recording artists…..then he settled in Austin, Texas, in the 1970….while 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.                             

Music -1979 – Austin City Limits – Jerry Jeff Walker Live On Stage In Concert

 

A string of records for MCA and Elektra followed Jerry Jeff’s move to Austin, Texas….after which he gave up on the mainstream music business and formed his own independent record label…..as Tried & True Music was founded in 1986….along 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….which 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.

 

Music – 1989 – Live At Gruene Hall – Jerry Jeff Walker – “Long Long Time”
 

Jerry Jeff Walker has interpreted the songs of others such as Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Paul Siebel, Bob Dylan, Todd Snider, Dave Roberts and even a rodeo clown named Billy Jim Baker.  Some folks around Central Texas have called Jerry Jeff the “Jimmy Buffett of Texas”…..for it was Jerry Jeff who first drove Jimmy Buffett to Key West in a Packard….when.Walker and Buffett also co-wrote the song “Railroad Lady”….while riding the last run of the Panama Limited.                                                    

Music – 1991 – Jerry Jeff Walker + Jimmy Buffet Live In Concert – Performing “Railroad Lady”

                                                                                                                                                                              Walker married Susan Streit in 1974 in Travis County, Texas……where they had two children. a son, Django Walker, who is also a musician….and a daughter Jessie Jane. Jerry Jeff Walker has a retreat on Ambergris Caye in Belize….where he recorded his Cowboy Boots and Bathing Suits album in 1998. Susan and Jerry Jeff were big fans of UT Head Basketball Coach Abe Lemons….who was a huge fan of Jerry Jeff’s music….so, the Walkers came to MSG, The Sports Place every time the Horns had an “away game” that was on television….as well as being frequent attendees at the “Lunch With Abe” buffet luncheon on Thursdays during the season.                                                                                                                

Music – 1978 – The Dinah Shore Show With Don Meredith – Featuring Jerry Jeff Walker Singing “L A Freeway”

 

Walker has an annual birthday celebration in Austin at the Paramount Theatre and at Gruene Hall in Gruene, Texas. This party has become an enormous event in Texas and brings 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.

 

Music – 1989 – Jerry Jeff Walker + Gary P. Nunn Live On Stage – Performing “London Homesick Blues”

 

Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles” is perhaps his best-known and most-often covered song….which was 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 was the nickname of famed dancer Bill Robinson.  In his autobiography Gypsy Songman, Walker makes it clear the man he met was white…..and 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….while 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 1920’s through about 1965.  Walker recorded songs written by others such as “LA Freeway” by Guy Clark, Jr….“Up Against the Wall Red Neck Mother”  by Ray Wylie Hubbard….“(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night”  by Tom Waits….and “London Homesick Blues” by Gary P. Nunn.  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.                                             

Music – 1968 – Jerry Jeff Walker – “Mr. Bojangles”

While writing this story, Bone Daddy reminded me about how Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Guy Clark Jr., Kris Kristofferrson, B W Stevenson, Tompaul Glazer, Johnny Cash, Joe Ely, Leon Russell, Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker and many others brought “outlaw music” into the genre of country music….and especially to Austin…..when and  told me another story about a party that he attended after an “outlaw music concert” held at the Armadillo World Headquarters….but that is a story for another time.                             

Music – 2012 – Jerry Jeff Walker Live In Auburn, CA – “Stoney”

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