Jerry Jeff Walker


What do Hunter S. Thompson, Jimmy Buffet and the president of the United States have in common?  They are all Jerry Jeff Walker fans.

Jerry Jeff Walker has carved out an enviable career over the past three decades, creating great songs without ever compromising his music to suit the whims of the music industry.  Walker blew out of Oneonta, NY as a teenager in the early 1960s, with a Stella guitar on his back , a tattered copy of Dylan Thomas' Welsh Mysticism in his hip pocket and an eye that wandered restlessly to the skyline.  In 1971, the vagabond singer set up shop in Austin, Texas, and he continues to reside in the Lone Star State to this day.

By that time, Jerry Jeff had already established a national reputation as a performer with a deft lyrical touch and a way with the folks out there in the dark.  One night in 1968, a Manhattan disc jockey spun a new song called Mr. Bojangles.  It's composer heard the broadcast, and soon Jerry Jeff was in the studio, discoursing on the song he hadn't written, so much as lived - a wastrel's tale of a wino and his dog.  He could not know then that the song would go on to become a benchmark of American popular music.

The records began to come in 1967, first with a short-lived psychedelic folk/rock group called Circus Maximus, and then under his own moniker.  The early albums like Driftin' Way of Life and Bein' Free were collections of road songs and picturesque love songs; sometimes it was hard to tell the two apart.  But his first self-titled album for MCA Records marked a distinct departure in the way Walker chose to conduct his career.

Using indigenous Austin sidemen, and some right coast immigrants, and recorded mostly in a primitive downtown Austin studio, the 1972 album, which contained songs like L.A. Freeway and Charlie Dunn, was Jerry Jeff's musical declaration of independence.  In Austin, he found a creative community that let him mix folk, rock, country and anything else that caught his ear.  Along with fellow Austinites like Willie Nelson, Asleep At The Wheel and Michael Martin Murphy, he became one of the arbiters of the progressive country movement of the mid-1970s.

In 1986 Walker formed an independent record label called Tried & True Music, with wife and manager Susan Walker serving as president, manager and booking agent.  Their first effort, Gypsy Songman, was recorded largely in Walker's den, and reprised songs from across the entire breadth of his career.  The resulting album was acquired for international distribution and released on CD by the Rykodisc label in 1987.  The Tried & True Music/Rykodisc partnership continues to this day.

Through it all, Jerry Jeff continued to tour and play.  Jerry Jeff's Birthday Weekend celebration in Austin each March has become a fixture on the calendars of his fans across the country, and in 1993, he added a week's worth of performances in Belize to his annual itinerary; he dreams someday of being able to walk out of his back door barefooted and play for whoever happens to be on the beach.

Jerry Jeff continues to be an uncompromising troubadour who has never let the music industry entrap him.  His music - elastic, unqualifable, uniquely emphatic, has retained the power to touch two generations of listeners.


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See News page for more JMI news.