Jerry Jeff Walker, outlaw country great and “Mr. Bojangles” writer, dead at 78
Singer, songwriter and outlaw country vet Jerry Jeff Walker has died after a long battle with throat cancer and other health problems. He was 78.
Born Ronald Clyde Crosby in Oneonta, NY, he spent time in Florida and New Orleans before heading to NYC for the early-'60s Greenwich Village folk scene, having adopted the Walker moniker. With Bob Bruno he formed Circus Maximus who recorded two albums before breaking up in 1968. That same year, Walker released "Mr Bojangles" -- also the name of his solo debut -- which would be a hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1971 and has been recorded by everyone from Dolly Parton and Cat Stevens to Sammy Davis Jr and William Shatner.
Walker moved to Austin in 1971 where he began performing in the city's thriving "outlaw" country scene that included Waylon Jennings, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson and Townes Van Zandt. He scored a minor 1972 hit with a cover of Guy Clark's "L.A. Freeway" and the next year released live album ¡Viva Terlingua! which is considered an outlaw country touchstone and includes his famed cover of Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother." In the '80s, Walker ditched major labels and started his own, Tried & True Music.
“‘Outlaw country’ made it sound like you had to go to jail to be an artist, but it’s just that some people like Waylon and Willie were outside the business [norm],” Walker told Rolling Stone. “People said, ‘We’re different, but we’re not hillbilly country.’ We didn’t blacken our teeth and wear baggy pants, we just liked cowboys and played like that.”
Rest in peace, Jerry. Read tributes from fellow artists and fans -- including Bill Clinton, Jason Isbell, and more -- and listen to some of his music, below.