R.I.P, Jerry Jeff Walker, The Man Behind “Mr. Bojangles”
Sad news reached us here at Rhino HQ over the weekend: Jerry Jeff Walker, the man who penned the classic tearjerker “Mr. Bojangles,” has died at the age of 78.
Born in Oneonta, New York as – wait for it – Ronald Clyde Crosby, the man who would eventually become known as Jerry Jeff Walker came from musical stock, with his maternal grandmother playing piano and his maternal grandfather playing fiddle, so it’s no surprise that he was drawn to music. Similarly unsurprising is that he found his way into a band while still in his teens, playing for a local band called The Tones. After doing a stint in the National Guard which turned out to be a poor decision, Walker ended up hitting the road and busking his way around the country for a fair while, playing variously in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and New York.
In 1968, Walker – having built up his reputation through playing frequently in Greenwich Village – secured a record deal and recorded his 1968 debut album, MR. BOJANGLES, the title track of which became a huge hit, albeit not for Walker himself. (His version only climbed to #77 on the Billboard Hot 100 before it began its descent.) Still, it helped him carve a place for himself in the pantheon of the so-called “outlaw country” scene in Austin. It wasn’t until his fifth album, i.e. his self-titled debut for MCA Records, that he finally had an album crack the charts, and it would still be another few years before he became a significant figure on the Billboard Country Albums chart, thanks to 1975’s RIDIN’ HIGH.
Walker spent his career as a songwriter’s songwriter, someone whose critical acclaim was always miles beyond his commercial success, but when you’ve forever got a tune like “Mr. Bojangles” in your quiver, you’re guaranteed music immortality no matter what else you do. Fortunately for us, Walker kept delivering great music for the rest of his life, so in his absence, give it a listen and remember him fondly.