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Sunday, October 25, 2020

Remembering Jerry Jeff Walker and Minnie Pearl. Sunday, Oct 25 2020


Two bits of music news Sunday, one very sad, the other speaking to the joy of remembrance. 


Jerry Jeff Walker died last night after a long battle with throat cancer. Forever famous as the writer of the song, "Mr. Bojangles," it was a huge hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and covered by dozens of prominent recording artists over every subsequent decade. Jerry Jeff was the quintessential Texas troubadour, even though he was a transplant, born Ronald Clyde Crosby in Oneonta, New York in 1942. 

His first record, "Circus Maximus," was unremarked on Vanguard in 1967. Two albums followed in turbulent '68, the first again on Vanguard, and the other, "Mr. Bojangles," on Atco. Thirty-five more albums would follow on a rainbow of labels, through 2018's "It's About Time," his last, following a nine-year gap. 

It resonates more to look at his thirteen released singles that include titles of more of his memorable songs, often known when performed by others:
1968: "Mr. Bojangles"
1972: "L.A. Freeway"
1973: "Desperados Waiting for a Train" 
    and "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother"
1975: "Jaded Lover"
1976: "It's a Good Night for Singing" and "Dear John Letter Lounge"
1977: "Mr. Bojangles" (Live)
1981: "Got Lucky Last Night"
1989: "I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight" 
   and "The Pickup Truck Song"
   and "Trashy Women"
1994: "Keep Texas Beautiful"

As the New York Times wrote, "He never had a Top 40 pop hit. But his best-known composition became an enduring standard, and he became a mainstay of the outlaw country movement."

Austin American Statesman writer Peter Blackstock said, "Jerry Jeff Walker, the notorious rowdy raconteur who left a thousand beer-drinkin', hard-partyin' imitators at honky-tonk roadhouses all across Texas in his wake, penning songs of social consciousness? It's not really all that far-fetched, as it turns out." Blackstock says Walker may have written more about the country's social scene in the 1970s than he was given credit for.

A far-reaching incluence

Walker is credited with giving fellow Texas singer-songwriter Guy Clark his big break by recording Walker's originals "L.A. Freeway" and "That Old Time Feeling." 

ABC-TV Channel 13 in Austin adds, "Parrotheads everywhere may have Jerry Jeff to thank for Jimmy Buffett's long-time association with Key West and the Margaritaville sound. Buffett recently recalled how his association with Walker led to his relocation to the Keys.

"'Jerry Jeff was kind enough to take me in and let me stay and live with him for a while," Buffett said. "I worked part-time in an auto repair garage, working on his car and then, when the car got fixed, we drove to Key West.'

"Michael Martin Murphy and Gary P. Nunn also went on to successful solo careers of their own after spending time in Walker's Lost Gonzo Band.

Lyle Lovett posted to social media:

"When Jerry Jeff Walker saw me taking pictures of him during his show at the @redantspantsmusicfestival on July 31, 2011, he looked right into my camera and gave me a smile. A split second later he was back into his song, entertaining the thousands of people standing in front the stage on the prairie. I’ll always remember Jerry Jeff’s kindness to me in that moment and every time I ever saw him."

The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University has acquired Walker's early recordings, including song demos he made in Houston in 1965.

Despite his diagnosis with throat cancer in 2017, Walker continued to work on songs and projects throughout his battle against the illness.

He's survived by his wife, Susan, his son, Django, and his daughter, Jessie Jane.

But we can't end with the traditional obit line.

Texas raconteur Rowdy Yates posted, "Hated hearing the news that Jerry Jeff Walker has moved on to that dancehall/icehouse in the sky. If you'd like a taste of what made him such a Texas treasure, I have something for you here:"

And you can't beat the following for an expression appropriate to the memory of the one taken from us. It comes from his fellow Texas musician, Kevin Fowler:

"2020, you can officially kiss my ass. I’m done with you. Now you’ve crossed the line. RIP, @jerryjeffwalker. Like we hadn’t lost enough this year. You took our Texas music hero! 2020, 🖕."


From Garrison Keillor's daily missive, "The Writers Almanac," for Sunday, Oct 25th:

It's the birthday of comedian Minnie Pearl (books by this author), born Sarah Ophelia Colley (1912) in Centerville, Tennessee, the youngest daughter of a well-to-do lumberjack. She majored in theater, taught dance lessons, and joined a theatrical troupe which went all over the south. While on tour she met a woman from the Alabama mountains whose manner of talking amused her. The young comedienne Sarah Colley imitated the mannerisms and mode of speech of the Alabama mountain woman in an act where she called herself "Cousin Minnie Pearl", which first appeared in 1939. Nashville radio executives saw the act and were impressed and in 1940 offered her the chance to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. It was a huge hit, and she'd continue with the Opry for more than 50 years.

She said, "The doctor must have put my pacemaker in wrong. Every time my husband kisses me, the garage door goes up."


Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon, known professionally as her stage character Minnie Pearl, died in 1996.

Minnie Pearl feature copyright Garrison Keillor, The Writer's Almanac, 2020.

Remainder of this edition copyright Larry Wines and Acoustic Americana Music Guide, 2020.

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