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Country music fans mourned on Oct. 23, 2020, when news broke of the death of Jerry Jeff Walker. He was 78-years-old. Walker’s former publicist John T. Davis announced his death was caused by cancer.
He was born on March 16, 1942, in Oneonta, New York as Ronald Clyde Crosby. His health has been declining for the past several years. In 2017, Walker came close to dying due to throat cancer.
The singer-songwriter is famously known for his song “Mr. Bojangles” which he wrote in the 1960s. Walker wrote the song after he spent the night in jail in New Orleans. There he met a man who gave him the idea for the song.
The song later became the cornerstone for the Texas outlaw movement and made Walker a legend in Austin. “Mr. Bojangles” was the song that catapulted Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson into stardom.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band brought the song to pop’s Top 10 list in 1971. Other well-known artists to sing the song are Neil Diamond, Sammy Davis Jr., Nina Simone, and Bob Dylan.
Walker told Rolling Stone that the reception he received in Austin when he took the stage at Armadillo World Headquarters was amazing. He stated Texas was the only place that did not get weirded out when he got on stage to sing.
Armadillo World Headquarters is the first place to make him feel valued while on stage. “Other places, they said, ‘Aw, you’re just another Bob Dylan, trying to make it with your guitar,’” he stated.
Walker’s career covered six decades, and yet he never had a Top 40 pop hit song. In his glory days — back in the 1970s — he recorded a number of conclusive Texas outlaw recordings with the Lost Gonzo Band.
Mainstream radio programmers never played any song where Walker was singing. Most attribute this to his gruff, whiny singing voice. Or the fact that the man was intoxicated while he was on stage.
Walker mainly toured and recorded during the 1970s and 1980s. He had a massive issue with finances and alcohol, including owing back taxes to the I.R.S. With the help of his wife Susan Streit, he managed to give up alcohol.
His wife of 46 years helped him recreate himself and helped him gain the role of elder statesman of the bizarre Texas music scene he helped create.
Walker announced he donated his music collecting, including photographs, handwritten lyrics, and tapes to the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in 2017. In his memoir, he wrote that the mid-1970s “were the busiest, the craziest, the most vivid and intense and productive period of my life.”
He further stated he had been fueled by alcohol and drugs. He thrived in pursuing the weirdness and wildness of his musical art.
I didn’t just burn the candle at both ends, I was also finding new ends to light.
Walker is mourned by his wife, son Django, daughter Jessie Jane McLarty, sister Cheryl Harder, and his two grandchildren. Of course, his many fans and friends are greatly missing the Texas legend.
Written by Sheena Robertson
The New York Times: Jerry Jeff Walker, Who Wrote and Sang ‘Mr. Bojangles,’ Dies at 78; Bill Friskcs-Warren
Wide Open Country: Austin Legend and ‘Mr. Bojangles’ Writer Jerry Jeff Walker Dies at 78; Bobby Moore
USA Today: Jerry Jeff Walker, known for writing ‘Mr. Bojangles,’ dies at 78; Peter Blackstock
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of amy halverson’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inlined Image Courtesy of Dave Hensley’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License