Another Good One Gone

It was the summer of 1973, and I was unpacking boxes in a Houston apartment. When Kinky Friedman and his Texas Jewboys came on the radio with their rousing rendition of “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed,” I became fairly certain, fairly quickly, that I’d left Iowa behind.

That same summer, Jerry Jeff Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band were in Luckenbach, recording Viva Terlingua. It wasn’t long before I made it to Luckenbach, not to mention Austin’s Broken Spoke, Gruene Hall, and Crider’s Dance Hall and Rodeo. Along the way, names like Guy Clark, Gary P. Nunn, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Michael Martin Murphey began to resonate like a good guitar on a back porch.

There’s a lot to like about Texas, especially the variety and quality of our music. Jerry Jeff was one of our best, and it’s good that his music remains: evoking memories, and easing grief over his passing.

“We play country music. We’re just not sure what country it is.”

Jerry Jeff Walker March 16, 1942 – October 23, 2020


Comments always are welcome.

54 thoughts on “Another Good One Gone

    1. I’ve not always been sure which country it is, either, but I’m glad to be living in it. Did you know that he’s from Oneonta, New York? Down thread, Gary Myers mentioned that he likes to imagine that, as a kid, he ran into Jerry Jeff at Coney Island.

  1. Like Steve, I also hadn’t heard about his death. I first heard Jerry Jeff in 1968 as I sat on the floor at Rice. A local musician was supposed to be playing with him, but he couldn’t make it so he got someone he knew that made guitars to fill in. That fill-in was Guy Clark. I’ll miss them both.

    1. That’s about as close to the ground floor as you could get, since he “became” Jerry Jeff around 1966, and the Mr. Bojangles album came out in ’68. What a night that must have been. I didn’t realize that he and Guy Clark were associated that early, but when I think about it, it was only five years later the whole crew showed up at Luckenbach.

      1. As I rerun the dates in my head, I have to correct ’68 to ’70. (I was checking the date on my Bojangles album just before I replied and had ’68 stuck in my head.) Anyway, I know it was ’70 because I cut a night Biology lab to go the show and I took that course in the spring semester of ’70. And it was quite a night. Very few of us had heard of Guy Clark at that time. Clark had only an hour or so warning that he had to perform and he had to keep retuning the fresh strings on his guitar. I mostly remember his dry sense of humor as he dealt with the surprise performance and its challenges.

        The local musician who couldn’t play that night was John Carrick. He was responsible for the Sand Mountain Coffee House. I didn’t know about Sand Mountain back then, but it was a hangout for Walker, Clark, and many others.

        1. At least you cut your lab for a good reason. I didn’t know about Sand Mountain until about ten minutes ago, and the Wiki article was an interesting read. I confess I laughed when I read Mrs. Carrick’s comments about Janis Joplin clearing the place out. I laughed even more at the thought of Joplin being hired as a waitress; I just can’t imagine that. I once knew a guy who went to high school with her, and he had some stories to tell.

    1. I don’t care what anyone says — I love those old vinyl recordings, scratches and static and all. Todd Snider tells the story of being in Santa Fe with Jerry Jeff, leaving a bar about 2 a.m. after last call. They came across an old guy with a banjo and a harmonica there on the street, and he was singing “Mr. Bojangles.” They stood and listened, and Todd wondered if he should tell the old guy that Walker was standing there listening to him, but then he decided that if Walker wanted to say something, he could. From what I remember, Jerry Jeff didn’t say a word.

  2. Gosh, I didn’t know he’d died either. What a loss!! We’re fortunate to have/had such remarkable and talented, if quirky, musicians. Play on, Jerry Jeff!

    My in-laws were friends with the Friedman family; my father-in-law played tennis with Tom-Kinky’s (ahem, Richard’s) father.

    1. It’s a real loss, but we were lucky to have him as many years as we did. Have you ever been to the Natives of Texas Nursery on Hwy 16 between Kerrville and Medina? The Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch that Kinky helped establish isn’t far from there.

  3. When I first heard that JJW was a New Yorker, I refused to believe it. He really fit in with that “Outlaw” group that called Austin home. Ray Wylie Hubbard and MM Murphey are also favs of mine, as are Jesse Colter and Gary P. Nunn. This has been a bad year in so many ways, and in so many passings.
    Let’s go put on another play of “London Homesick Blues” and toast the moonrise, as it plops big donuts around the trees.

    1. It was a hard choice between “What I Like About Texas” and “London Homesick Blues,” with Gary P. and Jerry Jeff teaming up live. There’s so much fine music — I’m equally hard-pressed to choose between Guy Clark’s version of “LA Freeway” and Jerry Jeff’s. I suppose the good news is we don’t have to choose — the bad news is that we can’t choose to bring JJW back again.

  4. Jerry Jeff was from Oneonta, an hour or so from here. I remember seeing a guy going to Coney Island as a kid in the late 60’s, when I was maybe 10 years old. While I roamed around on my own, my parents knocked back a few at a boardwalk bar where a guy in cowboy garb stood on the bar singing country western tunes. I like to think that it might have Jerry Jeff who was still in NYC at that point. Love his versions of Guy Clark songs, especially “Desperados Waiting For a Train.” Sad to see him go.

    1. All of those sayings about it being a small world have a lot of truth to them. I’d like to think you did get to see Jerry Jeff back in the day — why not? I just mentioned “LA Freeway” to someone. Of course Guy Clark’s version is nigh unto perfect, but Jerry Jeff’s is perfect in a different way. I still smile when I remember how much I didn’t like the song “Mr. Bojangles” — until I finally heard Jerry Jeff sing it.

  5. Ahh, man. Jerry Jeff and John Prine in the same friction’ year. I hadn’t heard yet either, but I’ve been avoiding the news. Cripes. When I was a child, The Yellow Rose of Texas and Sweet Betsy from Pike were my favorite songs. Good to hear that tune in What I like About Texas. Your blog has convinced me there are indeed things I would like about Texas. And thanks for reminding me of Kinky Friedman!!!

    1. Believe it or not, I have a blog post about a woman I named Betsy, and it includes a version of “Sweet Betsy from Pike.” I think you’d get a kick out of the post, not to mention the title of the artwork that gave rise to it: “She Made Her Own Groceries.”. As for “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” I’ve been known to sing that one when I cross the state line and am on Texas soil again.

      There’s a lot to like about Texas — even more than the barbeque and the music. It’s a place where competence counts, and what you can do is usually more important than who you know: at least, outside the corporations and bureaucracies.

      1. Thanks for that link. I love hearing about ancestors and learning about women and their work. It’s nice to have that long line to look back to–and letters!!! I did like that version of Sweet Betsy. The thing about folk music is that it’s always a bit different because there are so many different versions. As for your Betsy holding a chicken, I have many pictures of my nieces and nephews hugging their egg chickens, who don’t seem to mind at all.

      1. Yeah. I hate when I don’t think to read the comment before posting, but friction year works, too… It’s bad because so many people actually use the wrong word (not knowing it’s wrong) and then there’s auto correct. I’m glad it still had a ring of truth–and was more creative than swearing, had I been intentional…

    1. Well, yes and no. There was a time when I thought Willie would go first, mostly because of his life choices, but Jerry Jeff’s been battling cancer, and had reached 78 years of age, so if it wasn’t now, it would have been relatively soon. I’m just glad for the legacy he left.

    1. I don’t think it made most news broadcasts until about mid-morning, anyway. I heard it earlier, over breakfast at a local café. If important news involves music, fishing, boating, or weather, that’s where you’ll hear it first.

    1. I’m not surprised you hadn’t heard the news. He died just yesterday, and it took a while for reports to begin circulating. I happened to hear about it early enough this morning to post here. I will say that, for me at least, Jerry Jeff’s death seems more inevitable than wrong. After all, he was 78, and had been suffering from cancer for some time. It always seems too soon, but in his case, it’s at least understandable. He was a fine musician, and a good man.

    1. I’ve always enjoyed his music — and the rest of ‘Outlaw Country,’ for that matter. The next generation’s coming up, too. I hear some are urging Willie Nelson’s son Lucas and Ray Wylie’s son, also Lucas, to team up for a project. The name suggestions for the duo are fun; I’m especially fond of Lucasii (like cacti) and Dos Lucas.

  6. I hadn’t heard. Great road trip music, good when it’s been a lot of hours driving and you need to wake back up, “rousing” is just the right word. My dad told us many times, when he was in college during the ’70’s, every week they’d wrap up the student newspaper, at 2 or 3 am. And they’d then eat doughnuts, maybe have a few beers, and sing along to “London Homesick Blues” and “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother,” full blast.

    1. Those are good memories your dad has. I’ve never considered combining doughnuts and beer, but there’s no particular reason not to — especially if the doughnuts are good. On the other hand, if there’s enough beer consumed, the quality of the doughnuts doesn’t matter.

      Good road music’s one of the real pleasures of life. I tend to favor genres that are rooted in wherever I am: Cajun in Louisiana, Western Swing in some parts of Texas, Tejano down south. I wasn’t sure about Kansas for a while, but bluegrass and string bands did just fine. Someday I’ll have to see what goes with the upper midwest!

      1. There’s a good indie band from Eau Claire, Bon Iver, and going back to the ’80’s, the BoDeans were from Milwaukee, and the Jayhawks, from Minneapolis, who I think are just amazing – definitely one of the best American bands going for the past few decades. (Hope I haven’t tipped my hand, but I really like them!)(and they played with Ray Davies of The Kinks on his “Americana” album.)

  7. A really nice tribute, Linda — I hadn’t realized he’d passed on. And thanks for the link; that music reminds me why I fell in love with Texas lo, those many years ago … and why I still love and miss it. Maybe one day I’ll get back!

    1. It doesn’t surprise me that you’ve not heard of him. I’m sure there are many musicians in your part of the world I don’t know. But he and his fellows made quintessentially Texan music for years and years, and we’re all grateful to have his music as a legacy.

  8. We’ve lost a lot of great folks this year. Each seems like the most significant until we lose another. With each one I hear someone say, “Oh no, not…”. As you said, we still have Jerry Jeff’s music to carry on for him.

    1. The music will have staying power, no doubt. On the other hand, it’s so much a part of a certain time and place it probably will fade as the generation that experienced it in the dancehalls and saloons begins to fade, as well. No matter. It’s great, evocative music, and I’m glad to have it.

      Now, Willie? When he departs, we’re going to need a national day of mourning.

  9. We have entered that sad time of life, the decrescendo, when we are saying more goodbyes than we are hellos. There is that antique notion that when people depart this life, they join the choir invisible. That’s gotta be one heck of a choir.

    1. And now Billy Joe Shaver is gone, too — only days after Jerry Jeff. It’s the way of the world, but sometimes it seems a little sadder than usual. Still, the music that lingers is a gift.

  10. Gruene Hall! Some good memories are stirring.

    Although Floridians by birth, we have been fortunate to have lived in San Angelo and San Antonio. Our son was born in Texas and still lives in Houston.

    The Lone Star State has produced a long list of great musicians.

    Jerry Jeff will be missed. His talent survives.

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