It must have been 1984. Rick was a friend from work who was a little on the crazy side. He was a couple years older, and we shared a fondness for beer and good music. He lived in a double-wide out where the Play Land Amusement Park used to stand. It was there on a Sunday afternoon we were draining a 12 pack when he put on Ridin’ High a Jerry Jeff Walker record. I’ve been a fan ever since. He wasn’t a what you would call a gifted singer, but he had his own unique persona. He wrote “Mr. Bojangles” which has become a standard in the repertoire of folkies everywhere, and a hit for The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. It fascinated me the more I learned about him and his story. Born Ronald Crosby in New York state he eventually moved to the Austin, Texas where he played a key role in the growing “Outlaw” country music scene. He was known as a man who rarely passed up a cold beverage, and his records were often wild affairs with songs that sounded like they were made up on the spot. Viva Terlingua is the best example of Jerry Jeff and The Lost Gonzo Band letting loose. In the middle of “Sangria Wine” his voice cracks while straining to reach the notes in the chorus, but records were not note perfect, but the spirit was there. He championed other talented songwriters by recording their songs. In the years since that Sunday afternoon, Jerry Jeff’s music has been a constant companion. Rick and I lost touch as friends sometimes do, and then I heard that he has passed away. I never found out why. And now Jerry Jeff has passed. But the music remains.
My favorite Jerry Jeff story is told by fellow musician Todd Snyder. It’s on YouTube if want to track it down. Snyder had opened a show for Jerry Jeff. After closing a hotel bar, they were walking back to their hotel room at around 3:00am. Lo-and-behold, they heard someone on the deserted street playing “Mr. Bojangles.” They walked up and listened to the street performer while Todd Snyder debated on whether to tell this old man that the guy who wrote that song was standing right there. He decided not to. Jerry Jeff complemented the man and dropped a few bills into his guitar case.