Singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, a country music legend best known for his hit song “Mr. Bojangles,” died on Friday after a long battle with throat cancer. He was 78.
Born Ronald Clyde Crosby in 1942, Walker joined the National Guard after high school, but went AWOL to travel the nation as he busked for money. He began his professional music career in the folk music scene of Greenwich Village, co-founding the band Circus Maximus, which produced a popular radio hit “Wind.”
Walker went solo with the 1968 “Mr. Bojangles” album, with the eponymous single about tap-dancing drifter he met in lock-up, going on to become his most recognizable hit. The song has been covered by Bob Dylan, Sammy Davis Jr., Mina Simone, and Dolly Parton.
Walker moved to Austin, Texas in the 1970’s, where he became part of the outlaw country scene with the likes of Willie Nelson and Guy Clark. In his 51-year career, he released 36 albums, mainly through his own label, Tried & True Music, which he founded with his wife in 1986.
— Dinn Mann (@mooseoutfront) October 24, 2020
Walker is survived by his wife Susan Streit, who he married in 1974, and children Django and Jessie Jane.
Tributes poured in for the late country-music star on Twitter. Kix Brooks, of Brooks & Dunn, wrote: “One of the great Lone Star bad asses – gave me a gig in the 70s when he was the king in my neck of the woods.”
Country singer Tim McGraw posted, “”She Knows Her Daddy Sings” was one of the songs I used to play for my girls when they were little. Thinking back on those days today….and missing you, Jerry Jeff Walker. Thank you for the songs.”
Former NY Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning remembered Walker with a tweet, “Great Gonzos was one of the first cd’s that I bought. Growing up his music was a staple in the Manning household.”
Past President Bill Clinton is sad to hear about Walker’s passing: “I’ll never forget seeing him at the Armadillo music hall in Austin in 1972, or his performance for my 1992 campaign the night before Election Day. He was a true original, and his music will live on.”