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Jerry Jeff Walker (1942–2020), “Mr. Bojangles” singer and songwriter

by Linnea Crowther

Jerry Jeff Walker was a singer and songwriter best known for his enduring composition, “Mr. Bojangles.”

Mr. Bojangles

A native of New York, Walker spent his early career as a folkie in Greenwich Village. It was there that he wrote and recorded “Mr. Bojangles,” based on a man he once met in a New Orleans jail cell. Walker’s version was a modest success, cracking the Billboard Hot 100. It was other artists who would make the song one of pop music’s standards, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, who took it to No. 9 in 1971, and Sammy Davis Jr. (1925–1990), who regularly performed it in his stage shows.

Keeping Austin weird

Walker found a new adopted home in Austin, Texas in the 1970s, just as the city’s alternative country scene was being formed. He became one of the regular performers at Austin’s iconic Armadillo World Headquarters, playing with his Lost Gonzo Band on backup, and a member of the city’s legendary group of outlaw country stars. Walker sang backing vocals on bandmate Gary P. Nunn’s “London Homesick Blues,” which became the longtime theme song to the music performance TV show “Austin City Limits.”

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Notable quote

“The mid-’70s in Austin were the busiest, the craziest, the most vivid and intense and productive period of my life. Greased by drugs and alcohol, I was also raising the pursuit of wildness and weirdness to a fine art. I didn’t just burn the candle at both ends, I was also finding new ends to light.” —from Walker’s 1999 memoir, “Gypsy Songman.”

Tributes to Jerry Jeff Walker

Full obituary: Austin American-Statesman

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