Singer/songwriter legend, Jerry Jeff Walker sporting his Warmoth neck on his
electric/acoustic guitar playing a fundraiser at Willie Nelson’s ranch house outside Austin, Texas.
Walker was born Ronald Clyde Crosby in Oneonta, New York. During the late 1950s,
Crosby was a member of a local Oneonta teen band called The Tones. The band traveled to
Philadelphia to audition for Dick Clark's American Bandstand, but were turned down.
Members of the band found Dick Clark's house and were able to get a recommendation to
audition at New York City's Baton Records through the company's lead producer Sol Rabinowitz.
The band was given a recording contract, but the studio wanted a quintet backed by studio
musicians, which left Crosby and another member out of their recordings.
After high school, Crosby joined the National Guard, but his thirst for adventure led him to go
AWOL and roam the country busking for a living in New Orleans and throughout Texas, Florida, and
New York. He played mostly ukulele until Harriet Ottenheimer, one of the founders of The Quorum,
got him settled on a guitar in 1963. He adopted his stage name "Jerry Jeff Walker" in 1966.
He spent his early folk music days in Greenwich Village in the mid 1960s. He co-founded a band with
Bob Bruno in the late 1960s called Circus Maximus that put out two albums, one with the popular
west coast hit "Wind", but Bruno's interest in jazz apparently diverged from Walker's interest in
folk music. Walker thus resumed his solo career and recorded the seminal album "Mr. Bojangles"
with the help of David Bromberg and other influential Atlantic recording artists. He settled in
Austin, Texas, in the 1970s associating mainly with the country-rock outlaw scene that included
artists such as Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Waylon Jennings, and Townes Van Zandt.
"Mr. Bojangles" (written by Walker) is perhaps his most well-known and most-often covered song.
It was about an obscure alcoholic but talented tap-dancing drifter, (not the famous stage and movie
dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, as usually assumed, nor was it about New Orleans blues musician
Babe Stovall), a friend of Walker's. In his autobiography 'Gypsy Songman', Walker makes it clear
the man he met was white. Further, in an interview with BBC Radio 4 in August 2008, he pointed out
that at the time the jail cells in New Orleans were segregated along color lines, so his influence
could not have been black. . Bojangles is thought to have been a folk character who entertained
informally in the south of the US and California, and some say he might have been one of the most
gifted natural dancers ever. Authentic reports of him exist from the 1920s through about 1965.
Artists from Neil Diamond to Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Philip Glass and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band,
have covered the song. Walker has also recorded songs written by others such as "LA Freeway"
(Guy Clark), and "Up Against the Wall Red Neck Mother" (Ray Wylie Hubbard).
A string of records for MCA and Elektra followed Jerry Jeff's move to Austin, before he gave up on
the mainstream music business and formed his own independent record label. Tried & True Music was
founded in 1986, with his wife Susan as President and manager. Susan also founded Goodknight Music
as his management company and Tried & True Artists for his bookings. A series of increasingly
autobiographical records followed under the Tried & True imprint. Tried & True also sells his
autobiography called "Gypsy Songman". In 2004, Jerry Jeff released his first DVD of songs from
his past as performed in an intimate setting in Austin, TX.
He has interpreted the songs of others like Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, Keith Sykes, Paul Siebel,
Bob Dylan, Todd Snider and even a rodeo clown named Billy Jim Baker. Some have called Jerry Jeff
the Jimmy Buffett of Texas. Oddly enough, it was Jerry Jeff who first drove Jimmy Buffett to Key West
(from Coconut Grove, Florida in a Packard).
He has a son, Django Walker, who is also a musician. He also has a daughter, Jesse Jane. In addition
to his residence in Austin, Walker has a retreat on Ambergris Caye in Belize where he recorded his
"Cowboy Boots and Bathing Suits" album in 1998.
Walker has developed a style of music he calls "Cowjazz". The poignant
“Eastern Avenue River Railway Blues,” is one of the best examples of this music.
The song sounds like a cross between Bob Dylan and Harry Chapin, with lyrics that refer to the
industrial area between Cincinnati's between Eastern Avenue and the Ohio river, just south of
the tony Mount Adams area.
Members of his band have varied over the years. The Lost Gonzo Band and the Gonzo Compadres have
backed him in the past. Key members of his band have included John Inmon, Freddie Krc, Gary P. Nunn,
Bob Livingston, Michael Clarke, Bobby Rambo, Mitch Watkins, Steve Samuel, David Bromberg and others.
He is presumably the "Jerry Jeff" in the song LUCKENBACH TEXAS when
Willie Nelson sings,"Between Hank Williams pain songs / Jerry Jeff's train songs."
Jerry Jeff has an annual birthday celebration bash in Austin, Texas at the Paramount Theatre
and at Gruene Hall in Gruene, Texas. This party has become an enormous event in Texas and brings
some of the biggest names in country music out for a night of picking and swapping stories under
the Austin skyline. Jimmy Buffett attended the 2004 Birthday bash. His son Django also often
accompanies him at these parties.