Jerry Jeff Walker - Biography
By J Poet
Jerry Jeff Walker is one of the original country music outlaws, a wandering minstrel that has logged millions of miles on the road. From his folk rock days with Circus Maximus, to his hit records in the 70s, including the standard “Mr. Bojangles,” to his country outlaw days with his Lost Gonzo Band, to his current status as Americana icon and grand old man of the Texas songwriting clan, Walker’s remained one of country music’s most underrated performers.
Jerry Jeff Walker was actually born in the state of New York in 1942. His birth name was Ronald Clyde Crosby. He grew up singing rock’n’roll in a high school band called The Tones, but when they got a record deal they kicked Crosby out of the group. He joined the National Guard, but went AWOL and traveled the country playing ukulele and singing on the streets for spare change. In 1963, he was in New York City, part of the folk scene in Greenwich Village and calling himself Jerry Jeff Walker. He started a folk rock band called Circus Maximus and made two albums with them: Circus Maximus (1967 Vanguard, 1991 Vanguard) which spawned a minor hit on the west coast with “Wind” and Neverland Revisited (1968 Vanguard.)
The band broke up due to musical differences - half of the band wanted to play jazz rock – and Walker signed with Atlantic as a solo artist and cut Mr. Bojangles (1968 Atco, 1993 Atco/Rhino), Five Years Gone (1970 Atco, 2000 Atco), and Bein’ Free (1970 Atco, 2000 Atco.) Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles” didn’t hit, but it was covered by dozens of artists including Neil Diamond, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Sammy Davis Jr., and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, who took it to the Top 10.
In 1970 he moved to Austin, Texas, formed the Lost Gonzo Band and made his seminal albums Jerry Jeff Walker (1972 MCA), the gold Viva Terlingua (1972 MCA, 1990 MCA) cut live in Luckenbach, TX with the Gonzos and featuring Guy Clark's "Desperados Waiting for the Train," Walker's "Sangria Wine," Gary P. Nunn's "London Homesick Blues," and Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother," Ridin’ High (1975 MCA, 1990 MCA) It’s A Good Night For Singing (1976 MCA), A Man Must Carry On (1977 MCA) and Contrary To Ordinary (1978 MCA.) The outlaw movement was just getting underway, and Walker’s version of “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother” became one of its anthems. Walker made Too Old To Change (1979 Elektra/Asylum) for Elektra, then returned to MCA for Reunion (1981 MCA) and Cowjazz (1982 MCA.)
Walker was legendary for his rowdy ways and alcohol consumption, but he got clean and sober with the help of his wife Susan. She became his manger and, in 1985, president of his label, Tried & True. Walker records regularly for Tried & True and stays on the road with his band most of the year. He calls his adventurous music “cowjazz,” a blend of jazz, country, blues, folk and rock. His albums include Gypsy Songman: A Life In Song (1986 T&T), a career spanning Best of compilation, Navajo Rug (1991 Ryko /T&T), Hill Country Rain (1992 Ryko /T&T) with a Caribbean flavor added to Walker’s folk/rock/country bag, Night After Night (1995 T&T) a live Greatest Hits concert, Scamp (1996 T&T), Cowboy Boots & Bathin' Suits (1998 T&T), Gonzo Stew (2000 T&T), Jerry Jeff Jazz (2003 T&T), a collection of pop standards that blends country and 40s swing band impulses, and Best Of The Rest (2004 T&T) a two CD set that includes selections from Navajo Rug, Hill Country Rain, Viva Luckenbach, and Scamp.
Walker has an annual birthday celebration in Austin, Texas that draws the biggest names in country and outlaw music, and ranks up there with Willie Nelson’s Picnics as a Texas must attend event.