I was sorry to learn — this past Saturday morning — of the death of Texas singer/songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker on Friday, Oct, 23, 2020. Walker was 78 years old and had been a guiding light in the early Austin music scene and in Texas music — and just music in general. He was probably most well known for writing Mr. Bojangles —an early hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. He was born in upstate New York on March 16, 1942, and his real name was Ronald Clyde Crosby. He had been diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017.
He was one of my favorite singer/songwriters.
Like many of his contemporaries, Walker was known in the early days for living a wild life. In fact, the song Mr. Bojangles was reportedly written in a drunk tank in New Orleans one weekend when Walker walked into a local cafe, stepped onto a table, and started telling everyone in the place about the virtues and wonders of love. That was his style back then.
Walker’s death comes on the heels of another of my favorite singer/songwriters. Master wordsmith John Prine died earlier this year from complications related to COVD-19. These two were part of my top five or six singer/songwriters. The others are aging and — I hear — dealing with health problems of their own. Personally, I hope they hang around a while longer.
We’ve been missing others for a while now: folks like Guy Clark, Dan Fogelberg, Townes VanZandt, and Leonard Cohen. Other favorites, including Carole King, Jackson Brown, Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill and Kris Kristofferson are still hanging in there — doing what they do.
And if you love a great song, or if you reach to turn up the radio in the car when a certain song come on (and people in the car with you know they should remain quiet), or when you hear a song and a tear immediately comes to your eye because of a memory — happy or sad — then you know what it is songwriters do.