Jerry Jeff Walker (March 16, 1942 – October 23, 2020) was an country music singer, songwriter and a leading figure in the outlaw country music movement.
Jerry Jeff Walker was born Ronald Clyde Crosby in Oneonta, New York. His father, Mel, was as a sports referee and bartender and his mother, Alma, was a housewife. His grandparents played for square dances with his grandmother, Jessie Conroe, playing piano and his grandfather playing fiddle. During the late 1950s, Ronald Crosby was a member of a local teen band called The Tones.
After high school, Crosby joined the National Guard, but went AWOL and was eventually discharged, and went on to roam the country busking for a living in New Orleans, Texas, Florida, and New York, where he was often accompanied by his friend H.R. Stoneback.
Ronald Crosby first played under the stage name of Jerry Ferris, then Jeff Walker, before finally mixing the two into Jerry Jeff Walker and then legally changing his name to that in the late 1960s.
In the mid-1960s Jerry Jeff Walker spent his early folk music days in Greenwich Village, New York. In the late-1960s he co-founded a band with Bob Bruno called Circus Maximus, and they put out two albums, one which included the popular radio hit “Wind”, but Bruno’s interest in jazz and Jerry Jeff Walker’s interest in folk music led them to split.
So, Jerry Jeff Walker resumed his solo career and recorded the 1968 album “Mr. Bojangles” with the help of David Bromberg.
He settled in Austin, Texas, in the 1970s, working mainly with the outlaw country scene that included artists including Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Waylon Jennings, and Townes Van Zandt. Walker was mentioned by name in Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson’s 1977 hit song “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”.
Jarry Jeff Walker released a string of records for MCA and Elektra following his move to Austin, Texas before he gave up on the mainstream music business and formed his own independent record label, Tried & True Music in 1986, with his wife Susan as president and manager. A series of increasingly autobiographical records followed and in 2004, Jerry Jeff Walker released his first DVD of songs from his past which he performed in an intimate setting in Austin.
Walker had a place on Ambergris Caye in Belize, where he recorded his “Cowboy Boots and Bathing Suits” album in 1998. In the same year, he also made a guest appearance on Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s album of duets “Friends of Mine“, singing “He Was a Friend of Mine” and Woody Guthrie’s “Hard Travelin'”.
Jerry Jeff Walker recorded songs written by many other songwriters and was given the nickname of “the Jimmy Buffett of Texas”. In fact it was Walker who first drove Jimmy Buffett to Key West (from Coconut Grove, Florida ). The two musicians also co-wrote the song “Railroad Lady” while riding the last run of the Panama Limited, a passenger train operated from 1911 to 1971 between Chicago, Illinois, and New Orleans, Louisiana.
“Mr. Bojangles” (1968) is perhaps Jerry Jeff Walker’s best-known and most-often covered song, and 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, although Walker said he was not the man who influenced the song).
Every year Jerry Jeff Walker had birthday celebrations in Austin at the Paramount Theatre and at Gruene Hall in Gruene, Texas. These parties became an enormous event in Texas and brought out some of the biggest names in country music for a night of picking and swapping stories under the Austin skyline.
Jerry Jeff Walker was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017 and died of the disease on October 23, 2020, in Austin, Texas, aged 78.
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