R.I.P, Jerry Jeff Walker

Scamp Walker has left the building.

Jerry Jeff finally got off of that L.A. freeway. But he had to get killed to do ’er.

“L.A. Freeway” wasn’t one of his songs. That was a Guy Clark number, like “Desperados Waiting for a Train.” Likewise, a lot of the songs I remember him for came from other musicians. “London Homesick Blues” (Gary P. Nunn). “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” (Ray Wylie Hubbard). “Jaded Lover” (Chuck Pyle). “Night Rider’s Lament” (Michael Burton). And “Railroad Lady” (co-written with Jimmy Buffett). Etc.

“Mr. Bojangles” was the first actual Jerry Jeff tune I heard, by far his most famous, and I heard it from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

I got to say howdy to Jerry Jeff, briefly, at the Dirt Band’s 20th anniversary bash at Denver’s McNichols Arena, the same show where I met John Prine. Jerry Jeff was off the sauce then, or so we heard, and not at all the same fella who was so hammered he nearly fell off the stage during a concert years earlier in Greeley, when I was still pretending to go to college.

For my money, Roy Blount Jr. wrote the definitive Jerry Jeff story (The Early Years Edition).  Here’s a sample:

Not long ago Jerry Jeff telephoned my home in Massachusetts to report that he would be appearing in nearby Hartford the next weekend. My wife and I were out; our friend Rose took the message. “Where exactly in Hartford are you going to be?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” said Jerry Jeff. “Where exactly am I now?”

You get the picture. Religions have been founded on less. And Jerry Jeff was certainly one of our “high” priests Back in the Day®, with the live album “¡Viva Terlingua!” (recorded with The Lost Gonzo Band) containing most of the hymns. “Ridin’ High” was a close second.

Throat cancer nearly did for him a couple years ago. He managed to churn out another album (“It’s About Time”), but recently his voice went, and soon Jerry Jeff followed it, wherever it went. Peace to him, his family and friends, and his fans. Let’s sing him out with “Mr. Bojangles,” from the Dirt Band’s 50th anniversary show.

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5 Responses to “R.I.P, Jerry Jeff Walker”

  1. Sharon Says:

    Guy Clark was a better songwriter, but Jerry Jeff was everyone’s buddy. He was the guy to connect all the dots, start a party and bring good music to the mainstream. He was the original Jimmy Buffet of Texas music. Really nice guy too.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I still have four Jerry Jeff albums in vinyl and doubled up some on iTunes. Even learned how to play a few of the songs he popularized. “London Homesick Blues” is a fave. I like “Jaded Lover” but have a hell of a time hitting that B chord. “Little Bird” is a real beauty.

      And hell, you have to like a guy who’s obnoxious enough to get punched by Willie Nelson.

  2. Pat O’Brien Says:

    The power of a John Prine song. And you got to meet him. Heady stuff.

  3. mike w. Says:

    First heard and hears of Jerry Jeff Walker: Ballad of the Hulk, 1968

  4. mike w. Says:

    And just when you thought that 2020 couldn’t suck more…

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