NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Jerry Jeff Walker, perhaps most noted around the world as the man who penned pop and country hit “Mr. Bojangles” has died at the age of 78.
According to the Associated Press, family spokesman John T. Davis said Walker died Friday, October 23 of cancer.
“He had battled throat cancer for many years, and some other health issues, the cause death was cancer,” Davis said Saturday.
“The last time I’ll play here,” a quote from Jerry Jeff’s, “Too Old To Change” album released in 1979. He uttered the line prior to recording the title track on that album. “I can’t say I’ve been sorry, about anything I’ve ran off to see,” another lyric from that song. Both seem a bit prophetic in how Walker lived his life. And how he left it.
Although, when Walker was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017 he was quoted as saying, “I guess I took my singing for granted, and now I don’t.” Walker was speaking to the Austin American Statesman in 2018 and told them he was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
North Texas country music radio personality Mark “Hawkeye” Louis of 96.3 KSCS reacted to the loss of Walker.
“The Texas Music Scene exists today because of the groundwork that Jerry Jeff Walker laid back in the 70s. The fact that his fans span all generations is a testament to his talent as a songwriter and a performer. It is a sad day for Texas,” Hawkeye said.
Jerry Jeff Walker was not a native Texan, but as he was often quoted, he “got here as quick” as he could. He had his roots in New York’s Greenwich Village folk scene in the 1960s and he was a founding member of the band Circus Maximus – that according to the Associated press. He moved to Texas in the 1970s and in 1972 had his first hit with his version of the Guy Clark song “L.A. Freeway.”
It was shortly thereafter that Jerry Jeff Walker helped inspire the new Cosmic Cowboy Texas music scene.
In an interview back in 2016, Walker talked about how he ended up in Texas.
“I was sorta headed to California,” Walker told Bruce Robison in 2016. ” I drove through Austin… of course ya gotta stop in Austin.” Walker said he met musicians Garry P. Nunn and Bob Livingston – members of the Gonzo Band. “All of a sudden I’m in the mix of the Cosmic Cowboy scene.”
But it wasn’t the music that kept him in Texas.
“The reason I stayed is because of my wife,” Walker told Robison. “I fell in love with a girl, born and raised in Texas, stole my heart and I lost my ramblin’ ways,” Walker sang in “The California Song.”
According to her bio on the Stephen F. Austin University website, Susan Walker was born in Vernon, TX in 1948.
Walker credits his wife Susan for keeping him in line and away from the alcohol and drug scene that was prevalent in the 70’s and 80’s.
Walker was always a trend setter and a rebel. He was not afraid to play the music he wanted to play… and how he wanted to play it.
“This song was first taken shape, a few blocks from here,” Walker said of “Mr. Bojangles” while recording the live album “A Man Must Cary On” in New Orleans. “In the first precinct jail.”
As Walker told the story in his book “Gypsy Songman,” he was in jail after a night of being overserved in New Orleans, and met the homeless man – who called himself Bojangles — who told the story about losing his dog. According to Walker, he was using a pseudonym to hide his identity from the police. Walker said after the sad story, to lighten the mood, the man danced a bit there in the cell.
Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band in 1973 recorded an album live in Texas called “Viva Terlingua” that became a classic of the country-rock scene. Walker has since released more than 30 albums.
Two of the songs that were a huge success on Viva Terlingua were “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother” and “London Homesick Blues.” Ironically, Lost Gonzo Band member Gary P. Nunn was the singer on the London Homesick Blues track that became famous.
Nunn wrote “London Homesick Blues” while in that country waiting to head back home to Austin. Texas Songwriter Ray Wyllie Hubbard wrote the Walker hit “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother” he said after almost getting beat up in a bar for being a long haired hippie.
“Our family’s heartfelt love and sympathy are with Susan, Django, and Jessie Jane this morning,” posted Nunn on Facebook on Saturday. “Rest in peace, my buddy.”
“A fragment of my soul has been ripped away,” Hubbard tweeted. “One of the greatest songwriters ever who unselfishly introduced so many other songwriters to the world.”
a fragment of my soul has been ripped away; one of the greatest songwriters ever who unselfishly introduced so many other songwriters to the world. pic.twitter.com/GPG0OimDnU
— Ray Wylie Hubbard (@raywylie) October 24, 2020
Walker began releasing his music on his on Tried & True Music label in 1986.
According to the Associated Press, In 2017, Walker donated more than 100 boxes of his music archives to The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, including tapes, photographs, hand-written lyrics and artifacts.
Walker’s survivors include his wife Susan, son Django and daughter Jessie Jane.
Geoff Allen Petrulis is head of Digital at CBSDFW.com and also a noted country music aficionado.