He Up And Died: Jerry Jeff Walker

He Up And Died

The lyric “He Up And Died” is from Jerry Jeff Walker’s masterful song “Mr. Bojangles.” In the song Jerry Jeff is speaking of Mr. Bojangles’ dog and continues the heartbreak with the next line: “And after twenty years he still grieves.” For me, those are some of the more poignant lines in that or any song. It always brought a tear to the corner of my eye, but I’m a sucker for such musical sentiment.
Jerry Jeff Walker “Up And Died” Friday October 24th at the age of 78 at a hospital in Austin, Texas. Although Walker was a native New Yorker and began his career with the other folkies who migrated to Greenwich Village in the early 1960s, he then ended up hitchhiking all over … eventually landing permanently in Austin and was an early catalyst for the musical renaissance that was Austin, Texas in the latter part of the 70s.
I was living in Austin during that period. It was nearly impossible for me to go see any live music, at any venue, without Jerry Jeff eventually wandering in (with or without guitar in hand) and if not 3 sheets at least 1 and half sheets to the wind … and in due course finding himself up on stage to sit in and sing a song or three. It didn’t matter if the act was well-established or a newcomer to the Austin music scene, somehow Jerry Jeff would show up.

Thankfully, Jerry Jeff would eventually manage to give up liquor and drugs with the help of his wife Susan and continued to sing “Bojangles” and his acclaimed versions of ” LA Freeway” & “Desperados Waiting For A Train,” written by his good friend Guy Clark. I believe I own most all of his albums and have played the heck out of the self-titled “Jerry Jeff Walker” 1972 MCA~LP and his “It’s A Good Night For Singing” 1976 album also on MCA.

Here’s a link to Jerry Jeff singing “Mr. Bojangles” accompanied by The Lost Gonzo Band (Note: the bass player is Gary P. Nunn songwriter & singer of “London Homesick Blues” which became the theme song for “Austin City Limits” for many years.. and the steel guitar player is Lloyd Maines, father of Natalie Maines lead singer for The Dixie Chicks … now just The Chicks):
….and an interesting interview with an older Jerry Jeff reminiscing about writing that song and other memories is available (Click Here)
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Author: Jay Hamilton

Jay Hamilton is a veteran disc jockey, program director, music director and radio programming consultant. In the Pacific Northwest, he is best remembered for his time at KMPS AM/FM during the '70s and '80s. Jay is now retired and lives on the Olympic Peninsula. Music, of nearly every genre, has always been an important aspect of his life and he frequently contributes opinions, articles and "Collectibles" to Puget Sound Media.
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13 thoughts on “He Up And Died: Jerry Jeff Walker

  1. I somehow missed the news that another wonderful Texas singer-songwriter died this past week. Billy Joe Shaver died at 81 in Waco, Texas of a stroke. Jerry Jeff Walker’s rendition of Billy Joe’s “Old Five & Dimers Like Me” on his “It’s A Good Night For Singing” LP was my initial introduction to Shaver and began my collection of his albums. Willie, Kristofferson, Cash and many others recorded his material. If you’re unfamiliar with Billy Joe or knew of his work and would like to hear him one more time, here’s a link to him singing “Five & Dimers:

    https://youtu.be/tWNE1ebf2Mg

  2. Steve ~ I like the Dirt Band’s version. It’s the 1st version I ever heard. Sammy Davis, Jr. had an MOR version I wasn’t too crazy about … but he did a wonderful singing/dance version on the old Merv Griffin Show. My all-time favorite version is by Jerry Jeff. It’s from a “live” performance … but my copy of it is on a compilation album with no additional credits, so I’m not sure which Jerry Jeff LP they took it from … but the background lead guitar is spectacular!

  3. Most every songwriter hopes to have a signature song. Jerry Jeff wrote lots of songs over the years but none had the impact of “Mr B”. Among his other tunes, my favorite was “Charlie Dunn” about the crafter of handmade boots at Capitol Saddlery in Austin, Texas. – “Her Good Lovin’ Grace” must have been of particular significance to Jerry Jeff because he included it on 2 albums (“Jerry Jeff Walker” MCA•1972 & “Jerry Jeff” Elektra Records•1978). ~ However, beyond his own songwriting, I felt Jerry Jeff’s major musical contribution was making us aware, or reminding us of, other fine Texas songwriters he showcased on his LPs, including Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver, Keith Sykes, Rodney Crowell and Gary P. Nunn.

    1. …one of a number of great pop/rock tunes in 3/4-time.

      Topping my list of favorite 3/4-time songs: the waltz classic “Manic Depression”!

  4. Mike ~ Your comment pushed my Joe Ely button … another terrific Texas singer-songwriter. I give his CD “Live at Liberty Lunch”, plenty of plays at my house. He recorded his 1979 “Down on The Drag” LP at Kay/Smith Studios in Seattle … with the front cover photo taken on a rainy Seattle street & the back photo taken in front of the “Showbox” on 1st Avenue across from Pike Place Market.
    Then there’s Augie Meyers, long time cohort of Texan Doug Sahm of The Sir Douglas Quintet. That’s Augie’s distinctive keyboards style on the quintet’s “She’s About a Mover” ’65 hit & “Mendocino” from ’66. They teamed up in a couple of other Texas groups, including The Texas Tornados with “Flaco” Jimenez famed Tex-Mex accordionist.
    Thanks Mike, for sparking those great Texas music memories.

  5. Thanks to Jay for this retrospective look at the great Jerry Jeff Walker. I first heard & liked his music with a group in the late 60’s called Circus Maximus, where he was the lead singer before embarking on his own solo career. I too caught Jerry Jeff live along with Jimmy Buffett & Texas musicians pianist Joe Ely & multi-instrumentalist Augie Meyers & his Western Head Band. It was a great show by this stellar group of performers. I still have a few Jerry Jeff LP’s in my collection – the self-titled album of 1972 with “LA Freeway’ and live albums “Viva Terlingua” & “A Man Must Carry On” which really captures the feel of this artist live.

  6. Steve ~ The Jimmy Buffett LP you mentioned is this pun lover’s favorite album title “A White Sportcoat & A Pink Crustacean” … a play on the title of the Marty Robbins ’57 #2 Pop hit. Buffett’s LP was released in June of 1973 on Dunhill, but that Jimmy/Jerry Jeff concert you attended was at the Mount Baker Theater on May 23, 1976 … I was already in Portland at “Rockin Country” KPOK by then. That concert tour was at Portland’s Paramount Theater a few days earlier, but I was doing an airshift at the time.
    My feeling was many Texas singer-songwriter’s of that era thought drinkin’ & wild hard livin’ was part of the required persona of the Texas troubadour. I recall observing singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, at the Broken Spoke, so wasted he walked smack-dab into of a full length mirror in the bar and careened backwards onto the floor!
    …and you’re correct, we’ve lost some great ones this year. High on my list of sad occasions was the death, back on April 7th, of singer-songwriter John Prine due to the Coronavirus!

  7. Jay…I saw him when he opened for Jimmy Buffett in the early 70s. It was right after Buffett put out his first album with Filling Station Hold up. You might have been at KBFW then. Anyway, I always loved Bojangles and LA Freeway. But this was during Walkers unreliable years. He came on stage. He was incoherent, forgot words to his songs and cussed at the audience. At one point he turned his back so the audience could not see him or vice versa. I had heard later that before the show he went drinking in the restaraunt that took KBFWs place when we vacated the top of the Bellingham Hotel. All that said, I liked his music and glad to hear he got his life turned around. Jack is right, seems to be an awful lot of musical artists exiting this year…and radio guys too….Pat, Charlie, Les and others.

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