Many country music stars and the countless numbers among his fans gave a look upward, a smile, and perhaps a wistful pause after learning of the passing of Jerry Jeff Walker on Friday, October 23. As the news of the loss of the Texas music giant spread, Taste of Country was just one of the entertainment hubs that began to gather moving tributes from artists in the country music realm and beyond.
The man who always greeted the world with a smile and a familiar song under a well-worn hat is singing in heavenly realms now. But Jerry Jeff Walker left a catalog of music, memories, and a love for his friends and fans that will remain eternally alive.
Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker shared a love of the cowboy
A few might scoff over Jerry Jeff Walker’s stature in Texas music lore, noting his birthplace Oneonta, New York, in 1942. The singer-songwriter would doubtless say that he got to Texas as quickly as he could and with perfect timing. Walker was part of the Greenwich Village folk music scene in the 60s. Together, he and Bob Bruno co-founded the band, Circus Maximus. The group had an FM radio hit with the song, “Wind.”
The duo parted ways over musical influences. Bruno leaned more toward jazz tonalities, while Walker was still deeply into folk. In the 70s, Jerry Jeff Walker settled into the rising enclave of artists in Austin, Texas, and never looked back. The outlaw country movement that started the tide of success for Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Townes Van Zandt, and Guy Clark, among others, fully embraced the transplanted singer-songwriter.
Keeping the cowboy bond
There has been no official statement from Willie Nelson on the passing of his close friend, in a sense, there doesn’t need to be one, because the music speaks for itself. One of the gems that abides between the two compadres is a live version of “Man with the Big Hat” extolling the cowboy way of life. It’s also no wonder that one of the photos used in many of the posted memorials for the icon is a photo taken at a 2005 fundraiser outside Willie Nelson’s Austin property.
In 2017, Willie Nelson wrote a heartfelt ballad honoring his friend and the country music legend, Merle Haggard, entitled “He Won’t Ever Be Gone.” The same words can be said of Jerry Jeff Walker. Sadly, the amiable troubadour didn’t make his 80th birthday, passing at 78 from throat cancer. Jerry Jeff did send Willie Nelson sweet congratulations for his 80th birthday celebration, echoing the connection between the two.
Being a bada@# isn’t so bad for Jerry Jeff Walker
Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn praised Jerry Jeff Walker “one of the great Texas bad a**es” in a tweet. Brooks recalled being blessed by Walker when the newcomer was offered a gig “in the 70s when he [Walker] was the King in my neck of the woods.”
Multiple Grammy-winner Jason Isbell shared an incredibly touching and intimate memory of Jerry Jeff Walker. Jason and his wife, acclaimed fiddler, Amanda Shires, were backing musician, Todd Snider, onstage when the legend jumped in to perform his greatest song, “Mr. Bojangles.” The singer-songwriter took off his shoes, so he could do “the old soft shoe” from the song.
One day I’d like to be an old man who dances onstage like John Prine and Jerry Jeff Walker.
— Jason IsBOO (@JasonIsbell) October 24, 2020
“One day, I’d like to be the man who dances on stage like John Prine and Jerry Jeff Walker,” Isbell wrote on social media.
The master of horror writing, Stephen King, should be relishing more stories fit for this time of year. However, the mega-successful writer took time out to give his own moving tribute to Jerry Jeff Walker in a simple few words.
“Jerry Jeff Walker has left the building. Damn. RIP,” lamented the writer from Massachusetts. A song under the tender care of a great artist has a power that even a multimillion-selling wordsmith cannot conjure.
A president and a political mind pay respects to Jerry Jeff Walker
It’s fair to say that no political contest has been more fraught with tension and tumultuous times than the current national election for president. Even so, former president Bill Clinton didn’t have this year’s November 3 election in mind when he wrote his reflections of Jerry Jeff Walker. Instead, Clinton remembered, “the Armadillo Music Hall in Austin in 1972.”
Walker performed on behalf of Clinton for the 1992 presidential campaign “the night before Election Day,” as the former president described. “He was a true original, and his music will live on,” the 42nd president US President affirmed.
Sad word comes this morning that my friend and neighbor Jerry Jeff Walker has passed away. My condolences to his wonderful wife Susan and all his friends and family. He was a brilliant songwriter, singer, musician, and all around good guy. He will be missed.
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) October 24, 2020
Dan Rather is another newsman under demand for his political perspectives in this unprecedented time. The former CBS News anchor is also a Texas native and an immensely devout country music aficionado. Rather addressed his warm words to “my friend and neighbor” and remembered Jerry Jeff Walker’s wife, Susan, and “all his friends and family” in his tribute.
“He was a brilliant songwriter,” praised the journalist who now conducts the AXS TV series, The Big Interview, with some of the greatest musicians across genres and generations. Dan Rather would have loved to spark a conversation with the “Desperados Waiting for the Train” singer. He probably would love to join in on another Guy Clark song made into his own by Jerry Jeff Walker, “LA Freeway.”
Let’s not forget that Willie Nelson remembered Jerry Jeff Walker in another of the country outlaw’s famous classics, “Luckenbach Texas.” Not even a president has ever earned that distinction.