Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


WALKER, Jerry Jeff

(b Ronald Clyde Crosby, 16 March 1942, Oneonta NY; d 23 October 2020, Austin TX, of cancer) Country rock singer, songwriter, guitarist. The family played and sang traditional music; he sang with high school group the Pizzerinos, then formed Circus Maximus '66 in NYC but played only on their firest album. (With bassist Gary White, Bob Bruno on lead guitar and keyboards, Peter Troutner on guitar, David Scherstrom on drums; all sang except the drummer: they made LPs Circus Maximus and Neverland Revisited c.'67-8 on Vanguard before they disbanded.) Walker made Drifting Way Of Life on Vanguard '69, switched to Atco for three LPs: Mr Bojangles, including his own title song, a Billboard Hot 100 hit '68; also Five Years Gone and Bein' Free '69-70.

He took a break, settled in Texas, signed with MCA and made Jerry Jeff Walker '72 with the Four-Man Deaf Cowboy Band; his cover of Guy Clark's 'L.A. Freeway' reached the Hot 100 '73. Viva Terlingua! '73 with the Lost Gonzo Band reached the top 200 LPs USA, recorded live in Luckenbach, Texas, later made famous by a Waylon Jennings song; by now he hobnobbed with Clark, Townes Van Zandt etc, finding a niche as an unlikely 'outlaw' with rough-edged voice and unpredictable humour in his stage act, well-chosen songs including his own provided a loyal following. Good covers included Clark's 'Desperadoes Waiting For A Train', Butch Hancock's 'Standin' At The Big Hotel', John D. Loudermilk's 'Bad News', Rodney Crowell's 'Banks Of The Old Bandera'. MCA LPs included Walker's Collectibles '74, Ridin' High '75, It's A Good Night For Singing '76, two-disc A Man Must Carry On '77 (his best showing, at no. 60 in LP chart); Contrary To Ordinary '78. MCA released Best Of '80; meanwhile he split with the Gonzos; Jerry Jeff '78 (aka Comfort And Crazy, title song by Clark) appeared on Elektra/Asylum (also including Walker's 'Good Loving Grace') followed by Too Old To Change '79 with his Bandito band; Reunion on his South Coast label was distributed by MCA; Cowjazz '82 was not.
Almost all his LPs charted, but he joked, 'Sometimes the music business is so bad, I'm glad I'm not in it.' He made a 24-song cassette Gypsy Songman '86 available from his Tried and True Music including delightful, swinging versions of 'Bojangles', 'My Old Man', 'Hill Country Rain', 'Charlie Dunn', but mostly songs not previously available, the first album he retained complete control over; then he made a distribution deal with the enterprising Rykodisc label (see their entry): the CD of Gypsy Songman '87 had 20 tracks at over 71 minutes, a party for the buckaroos; Live At Gruene Hall '89 was recorded at Texas's oldest dance hall, including 'Trashy Women' (covered by Confederate Railroad '93); Navajo Rug '91 featured Ian Tyson's title song; while recording Hill Country Rain '92 he was hosting The Texas Connection on TNN; more albums included Viva Luckenbach! '94, Christmas Gonzo Style '94, Night After Night '96, Cowboy Boots And Bathin' Suits '97 (made in Belize at Casa Gonzo), all on Tried and True/Rykodisc. Whether he gigged solo or (as he did in 1987) with orchestra conducted by David Amram (a pal from Greenwich Village days), he makes fans feel as though 'none of us was ever gonna die, and when we did, he'd be there too' (Earl Casey).