Jerry Jeff Walker, the legendary and influential country musician, has passed away at 78. Best known for writing "Mr. Bojangles," Walker made a name for himself as part of the Outlaw Country movement alongside Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and others.
Born Ronald Clyde Crosby in Oneonta, New York in 1942, Walker earned his stage name in New Orleans before ending up in Austin, Texas in 1971. Walker had already sparked fame by this point, though, thanks to "Mr. Bojangles." The song became a hit for The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1970 and was later recorded by Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone and Sammy Davis Jr. According to Rolling Stone. The early success opened the door for Walker's ¡Viva Terlingua!, helping seal his status within the outlaw movement.
We are very sorry to learn of the death of the great Texas singer/songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, a guiding light in Austin and Texas music in general. We'll have more to say about him and his ACL legacy on Monday. https://t.co/iqorwCUtjI— Austin City Limits (@acltv) October 24, 2020
"It's still the quintessential Texas album as far as explaining how it all was before Austin City Limits," Walker told the outlet in 2018. The album spawned many memorable songs, including "Sangria Wine" and Gary P. Nunn's "London Homesick Blues," the latter which is the theme song to Austin City Limits for 30 years.
"'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 the outlet. "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."
Walker has been name-dropped in songs by Nelson, Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. He also launched his own record label in the 1980s called Tried & True Music alongside his wife Susan who also was Walker's manager and booking agent. Together they share daughter Jessie Jane and son Django Walker, who is also a musician.
My favorite Jerry Jeff Walker story is the one Todd Snider has told about six million times and swears is true, about the two of them leaving a bar and walking down a deserted street in Santa Fe. From Todd’s book: pic.twitter.com/Cl7gqt8I3E— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) October 24, 2020
Walker leaves behind a career that was full of unpredictable energy and outlaw influence. As Rolling Stone points out, Walker's concerts were described as "full of thrills and surprises" that were comparable to NASCAR races, according to Texas journalist Bud Shrake.
Walker follows other country stars who passed this year, including Kenny Rogers, John Prine, Justin Townes Earle and Joe Diffee. Many fans and fellow artists shared their thoughts on social media, including author Stephen King and former president Bill Clinton.
I was saddened to hear about the passing of Jerry Jeff Walker. I’ll never forget seeing him at the Armadillo music hall in Austin in 1972, or his performance for my 1992 campaign the night before Election Day. He was a true original, and his music will live on.— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) October 24, 2020