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Singer-Songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker Dies at Age 78

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Jerry Jeff Walker, the singer-songwriter who brought a Greenwich Village folk vibe to Austin's outlaw country scene, has died according to the Associated Press. He had been diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017. He was 78 years old.Born Ronald Crosby, Walker grew up in Oneonta, New York, and played in local teen bands. As a…
Singer-Songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker Dies at Age 78

Jerry Jeff Walker, the singer-songwriter who brought a Greenwich Village folk vibe to Austin’s outlaw country scene, has died according to the Associated Press. He had been diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017. He was 78 years old.Born Ronald Crosby, Walker grew up in Oneonta, New York, and played in local teen bands. As a young man he traveled to New Orleans and New York City, eventually adopting his stage name in 1966. He was co-founder of the group Circus Maximus, which had a groovy, jazz-rock vibe. They had a minor hit with the tune “Wind,” but Walker was more interested in the folk side of things, so the band split up.Walker began gigging with other artists like Joni Mitchell and David Bromberg, the latter of which played on Walker’s signature tune “Mr. Bojangles.” Walker based the song on a man he met in a New Orleans jail cell who refused to give his real name, only giving the nom de guerre of famed tap dancer Bill Robinson.The song was a success on its own when it was released in 1968, but became a phenomenon two years later when it was recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. It was eventually covered by Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Harry Belafonte, Arlo Guthrie, Harry Nilsson, Whitney Houston, Jaime Cullum, William Shatner, and many others. Sammy Davis Jr. made it something of a signature tune.After “Mr. Bojangles,” Walker left New York for the burgeoning “Outlaw Country” scene in Austin, Texas, that also inspired Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, and others. He remained in Austin for the rest of his life. His ¡Viva Terlingua! album recorded live with his Lost Gonzo Band is something of a Rosetta Stone of Outlaw Country, with tracks like “Sangria Wine” and a cover of Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s great shout-singalong song “Up Against The Wall, Red Neck Mother.”Walker also famously covered two tunes by Guy Clark, “L.A. Freeway” and “Desperados Waiting For The Train.”In a statement to Austin360, Ray Benson from the group Asleep at the Wheel said “other than Willie, Jerry Jeff is the most important musician to happen to Austin. He really brought that folksinger/songwriter form to its height in Texas. And for that, he’ll be eternal.”Jerry Jeff Walker is survived by a wife and two children. His most recent album, It’s About Time, was released in 2018.More Great Stories From Vanity Fair— Monica Lewinsky on the Pandemic’s Forgotten F-Word— Why Harry and Meghan Won’t Spend Christmas With the Queen— What One Book Critic Learned by Reading 150 Trump Books— How Ghislaine Maxwell Recruited Young Girls for Jeffrey Epstein— More Details Emerge on Prince Harry and Prince William’s “Bitter Explosion”— Tracing Photographer Richard Avedon’s Bohemian Coming of Age— From the Archive: The Mysteries of Princess Diana’s Fatal Car Crash— Not a subscriber? Join Vanity Fair to receive full access to VF.com and the complete online archive now.Read More

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