Oct 23, 2020: Jerry Jeff Walker, ‘Mr. Bojangles’ Singer-Songwriter—Obituary

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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, at 78, at a hospital in Austin, Tex. The cause was throat cancer; Walker had been diagnosed with it in 2017.

Our obituary: Jerry Jeff 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.

This ad appeared in the June 29, 1968 issue of Record World

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 lost in 2020

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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3 Comments so far

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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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  2. mnimudd
    #2 mnimudd 24 October, 2022, 11:30

    “ViVa Terlingua!!!” is the best drinking lp in the history of drinking!!!

    Reply this comment
  3. mak
    #3 mak 24 October, 2023, 08:15

    Got to talk with him and David Bromberg at Newport Folk in probably 1968. They were doing impromptu workshop thing in the parking lot. Sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck. I think Jesse young was there. Muddy Waters strolled by and said hi. What fun!

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