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.