Jerry Jeff Walker — the early days

| December 27, 2018 | Reply

Jerry Jeff Walker and band at Gruene Hall, 2018.

Story by Claude Webb, Photos by Axton Deary

To be honest, I was pretty disappointed when I heard that some guy named Jerry Jeff Walker would be the featured performer at our spring concert at Austin College my freshman year, 1974. After all, our fall concert that year had been cancelled when singer-songwriter, Jim Croce, scheduled to play September 21st, died in a plane crash … on his way to Sherman! Artists like Croce, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Neil Young and Jackson Browne – those were my guys. I had spent many a night in high school learning to play their songs on my guitar, and now that I was in college, I’d found plenty of pickers that wanted to stay up until all hours of the night jammin’ to their hits.

But, when your small, liberal arts college only provides a couple of concerts a year, regardless of who is playing, you buy a ticket (I think it was $3.00), stuff as much beer as you can into a pillow case and plop down on the gym floor with several hundred other students and try to enjoy it. Maybe if I’d known that Jerry Jeff had written “Mr. Bojangles,” a song whose version by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had recently been a hit, and an even earlier version by David Bromberg was one of my favorites, I’d have been a little more excited. Instead, I was less than enthused when a bunch of guys in cowboy hats and boots appeared on stage. “Oh no!”, I thought to myself – I’m about to be subjected to the same country and western music I had been force-fed by my dad the past eighteen years. I’d better start drinking. And that’s when we heard those words that have since been etched into the collective hearts and souls of not only every student at the show that night, but thousands upon thousands of other Texans since …


Texas State University’s Witcliff Collections

By the end of the night we were all on our feet, cheering and begging for more. He had played every song from his recently released album, Viva Terlingua, and the next day it seemed everybody on campus went out and bought a copy. From that night forward, you’d be hard-pressed to walk from one end of a dorm hallway to the other without hearing it playing from almost every room. Songs from that album began to dominate our pickin’ sessions, our sing-a-longs at the Hill (a spot out in the country where our frat went to drink beer), and blasted from 8-track players snugly mounted under car dashes all over Texas.

Though Jerry Jeff had been born Ron Crosby, and grew up in a small town in upstate New York, he changed the entire image of Texas music, as much as Willie and Waylon did, simply by recording Viva Terlingua 45 years ago at Luckenbach, and along the way made Gary P. Nunn and Ray Wiley Hubbard into mythical, honky-tonk heroes. Yes, it’s been 45 years since Hondo Crouch (my oldest son’s namesake) let Jerry Jeff and his Lost Gonzo Band gather in the small Luckenbach dance hall he owned and record Viva Terlingua; but every song on that album is as relevant and fresh as the August week in 1973 when it was recorded. And that’s why, every time I get the opportunity to play before my Austin College friends, I always open with …



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