Jerry Jeff Walker – in concert at The Great American Music Hall, San Francisco – June 28, 1991 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Continuing the seemingly daily dose of loss, reports (and confirmations) that Music legend Jerry Jeff Walker died earlier today at 78 from Throat Cancer, leaving a wife of 46 years, a legacy and untold numbers of fans and fellow musicians who were moved, influenced and inspired by his gift.
Initially part of the Greenwich Village Folk scene, Walker relocated to Austin, Texas and began work on the hybrid that would be forever associated with him. Outlaw Cowboy; a mashup of Country, Rock and Folk which became hugely popular throughout the country and the world. You could hear it in The Burrito Brothers, The Eagles – Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and an endless list of artists who took it and added their own points of view, helping expand and shape it into a lasting genre.
A string of records for MCA and Elektra followed Jerry Jeff’s move to Austin, Texas, 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.
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.
As tribute to the artist, here is a concert he performed at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on June 28, 1991.
You don’t have to be a fan of Country to appreciate the eloquence of his craft – his is a music that will always be timeless and without boundaries.