Jerry Jeff Walker, ‘Mr. Bojangles’ Singer-Songwriter, Dies

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Jerry Jeff Walker (Photo from his Facebook page)

Jerry Jeff Walker, a country music singer and songwriter, best known for his 1968 composition, “Mr. Bojangles,” died October 23, 2020, according to several reports. The cause was reportedly throat cancer; Walker was 78.

Walker was born Ronald Clyde Crosby on March 16, 1942, and as a teenager performed in several musical combos near his home in Oneonta in upstate New York. After briefly serving in the National Guard, he hitchhiked to New Orleans in 1963, where he sang in the French Quarter district. In 1965, he was arrested there for public intoxication and while in jail overnight he met a street dancer who called himself “Bojangles.”

The man’s story inspired Crosby, who in 1966 adopted the name by which he would come to be known. He formed a band that ultimately called itself Circus Maximus, and in the late ’60s they recorded two albums for the Vanguard label.

After little success, the band broke up and Walker went solo. With the support of musician David Bromberg, he recorded the album Mr. Bojangles, for Atlantic’s Atco label, which released the title cut as a single.

The song’s lyrics were inspired by that night from several years’ earlier.

I met him in a cell in New Orleans I was
Down and out
He looked to me to be the eyes of age
As he spoke right out
He talked of life
He talked of life
He lightly slapped his leg instead

The song, which features several musicians including Bromberg and the jazz bassist Ron Carter, reached #77 on the Hot 100.

Two years later, the country-rock band the Nitty Gritty Dirty Band recorded the song. It became a significant success, peaking on the pop chart at #9 in 1971.

Walker ultimately settled in Austin, Tex., in the 1970s, where he continued to record many albums, as part of the progressive country boom that’s also associated with Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Several of them–1975’s Ridin’ High, 1976’s It’s a Good Night for Singin’ and 1977’s A Man Must Carry On–reached the top 20 of the country albums chart.

Related: Musicians we’ve lost in 2020

By coincidence, a collection of recordings Walker made for the Atco and Elektra labels between 1968 and 1979 is being released on Nov. 20.

Among the most prominent cover versions of “Mr. Bojangles,” is the one recorded by Sammy Davis Jr. in 1972, which became one of the entertainer’s most identifiable songs.

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  1. Munk
    #1 Munk 24 October, 2020, 21:38

    Jerry Jeff, one of the best musicians out of Texas ever! Loved pissin in the wind, and Redneck Mother! Man was a musical genius!

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