By Jerry Jeff Walker (RIP 1942 - 2020)
Jerry Jeff Walker passed away October 23, 2020 in Austin, Texas. He was one of the most influential "Texas Outlaw" musicians of the 1970's and he continued recording and touring most of his life. When he released the live album "Viva Terlingua" in 1973 (recorded in Luckenbach, Texas) I was 15 going on 16 and I remember going and buying the album somewhere in Lubbock and soon enough also bought an 8-track tape for my car. Along with Willie Nelson's "Red Headed Stranger" in 1975 this outlaw country music and the larger than life images of Jerry Jeff, Willie, Waylon and others gave me an early identity as what we then called a "redneck hippy." By this I then meant someone of independence, fun loving, compassionate; rooted in the life of rural country living and hard work but a skeptic of sorts, a bit of a loner, a long-haired boot stomping cowboy.
I still have that same vinyl Viva Terlingua album. It is a treasure. Every song on the album is a masterpiece. In addition to several of his own songs, Jerry Jeff covered great songs by Willie Nelson (Wheel), Gary P. Nunn (London Homesick Blues), Guy Clark (Desperados Waiting for a Train), Michael Martin Murphey (Backsliders Wine) and Ray Wiley Hubbard (Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother). Among his own songs on the album are the fun loving "Sangria Wine" and the tender "Little Bird" about time and love gone by, but remembered by watching the life of a little bird:
Little Bird come sit upon my window sill
Sat there through the falling rain
I watched that little bird upon my window sill
Saw my thoughts of you go by again
Perhaps the most well known song written by Jerry Jeff is "Mr. Bojangles." Perhaps his most popular radio hit is his cover of Guy Clark's "LA Freeway." Jerry Jeff was born and raised in New York, adopting Texas and its musical tradition as a young adult. This showed me that my then rural Texas- centric experience and way of thinking could often be wrong and that if a New Yorker could become a full on Texas icon then most other barriers I believed in were also likely to be limited if not entirely false. Jerry Jeff opened my eyes to try to see more clearly and with less bias, a process I have continued pursuing my entire life.
In 1975 I took my then girlfriend and future wife, Elaine to one of the first real concerts I saw all on my own. We saw Jerry Jeff Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band play at the former Lubbock Municipal Auditorium. I loved the genera breaking, blending of musical styles in his music. While rooted in country, his music fused rock, folk, jazz, blues and Tejano. He left a deep influential musical legacy and some sweet memories in his songs.