Mr Bojangles turn into a typical as quickly because it was first recorded in 1968. Nina Simone did a beautiful version. Bob Dylan did a dreadful model. Sammy Davis Jr constructed it into the centrepiece of his dwell present. Mr Bojangles appealed to cabaret, jazz and folks singers (even Robbie Williams sang it). This story of a worn-out hoofer who the narrator encounters when each males are locked up in a New Orleans jail has a delicate melancholy and a wistful melody; it’s reflective of time passing and hardships skilled. Much less well-known was its writer, Jerry Jeff Walker, who has died in Texas on the age of 78. Walker by no means grew to become a family identify. Some would contemplate him a one-hit surprise. However to his legions of followers he was a maverick, a musician whose offbeat music and presence ensured their devotion.
Walker lived a completely American life: born Ronald Clyde Crosby in Oneonta, New York, he performed in rock’n’roll bands as a youngster then, impressed by Woody Guthrie and Jack Kerouac, lived an itinerant busker’s life hitching across the US. It was throughout this time that he spent the evening in a New Orleans jail. Returning to New York Metropolis, he performed the Greenwich Village folks golf equipment (adopting the stage identify Jerry Jeff Walker in 1966) and co-founded the folk-rock group Circus Maximus with Bob Bruno. They launched two albums that attracted some consideration however Walker left the group to focus on his solo profession. His debut album, 1968’s Mr Bojangles, gained good critiques however bought slowly. However different artists began recording the title music: country-rock outfit the Nitty Gritty Grime Band reached No 9 within the US charts in 1971 with their model.
Round that point Walker relocated to Austin, Texas. He would dwell there for the remainder of his life, changing into virtually as beloved by locals as native son Willie Nelson. He was a prolific songwriter and recording artist, releasing 11 albums through the Seventies: his sound was the form of rough-hewn, country-flavoured folks that might turn into generally known as Americana – typically creative, all the time considerate and good-humoured. He was bracketed with the so-called “outlaws” – the advertising and marketing motion that enabled Nelson and Waylon Jennings to all of the sudden promote albums on a scale not often seen earlier than in nation music – and he shared their defiant, liberal-yet-proudly-Texan worldview. With out ever having fun with their big business successes, Walker’s albums bought strongly. He appealed to long-haired nation, folks and southern rock followers and his dwell performances, backed by the Misplaced Gonzo Band, had been legendary. He additionally recorded the songs of Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits, Rodney Crowell and others early on of their careers.
Because the music trade modified within the Eighties – the main focus now extra on promoting huge portions of LPs reasonably than nurturing artists – MCA ended Walker’s contract. Defiant, he arrange his personal label, Tried & True Music, and dealing together with his spouse, Susan Streit, took management of his profession a long time earlier than most musicians could be pressured to think about doing so: his Tried & True debut, 1985’s cassette-only album Gypsy Songman album, bought 40,000 copies through mail order. His reputation in Texas was such that, for each birthday, Walker would play two live shows – one at Austin’s Paramount theatre, one other at Gruene Corridor (the final of the outdated dancehalls) the place every year he could be joined on stage by completely different famous musician pals. The royalties from Mr Bojangles may have allowed Walker to retire however, as a substitute, he bought land in Belize the place he hosted festivals and arrange the Tried & True Basis.
Curiously, the charity began by this Texas-rooted musician solid a powerful connection to the UK. After his son Django studied on the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and informed his father how he was creating music with gifted children from all around the world – and studying their native musical types – Walker funded scholarships to the college for gifted US musicians who couldn’t in any other case afford to attend. The inspiration later offered monetary assist for psychological well being and habit restoration providers for Austin-area musicians and their households, and staged end-of-life live shows for the terminally sick at their houses generally known as Swan Songs.
Walker himself died of throat most cancers. For a musician who by no means bothered the Prime 40, the tributes had been fulsome. Invoice Clinton tweeted: “I’ll always remember seeing him on the Armadillo music corridor in Austin in 1972, or his efficiency for my 1992 marketing campaign the evening earlier than Election Day. He was a real unique, and his music will dwell on.” Musicians from Jason Isbell and Hiss Golden Messenger to Jimmy Buffet paid tribute, as did Stephen King.
In the course of the Seventies Walker beloved a drink and a superb time on and offstage. His music Trashy Girls celebrated “an excessive amount of lipstick and an excessive amount of rouge”; that evening within the New Orleans jail was all the way down to public inebriation. “Greased by medication and alcohol, I used to be additionally elevating the pursuit of wildness and weirdness to a superb artwork,” he wrote in his memoir Gypsy Songman. “I didn’t simply burn the candle at each ends, I used to be additionally discovering new ends to gentle.” Inevitably, he crashed and burned, his spouse making certain a sober Jerry Jeff would, from the Eighties on, take the stage. Whereas his performances could have turn into much less raucous, his outlaw spirit blazed on.