Outlaw country pioneer Jerry Jeff Walker has passed away at the age of 78, after a battle with throat cancer and other health problems, according to the Brooklyn Vegan. He is best known for penning the hit song “Mr. Bojangles,” the title track for his 1968 studio album, which was later famously covered by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band three years later.
Born Ronald Clyde Crosby in Oneonta, New York, Walker spent some time in Florida and New Orleans before making his way to the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s. He recorded two records alongside Bob Bruno as Circus Maximus, before the group’s break up in 1968 and recorded “Mr. Bojangles” during this time. This song has been covered by numerous performers including Dolly Parton, Cat Stevens, Sammy Davis Jr and William Shatner.
He moved to Austin in 1971, becoming a part of the thriving outlaw country scene which included Waylon Jennings, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson and Townes Van Zandt. In 1973 he released the live album ¡Viva Terlingua!, an outlaw country touchstone containing his famed cover of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother.” In the 1980s he abandoned major labels, in favor of releasing music through his own Tried & True Music.
“‘Outlaw country’ made it sound like you had to go to jail to be an artist, but it’s just that some people like Waylon and Willie were outside the business [norm],” Walker told Rolling Stone. “People said, ‘We’re different, but we’re not hillbilly country.’ We didn’t blacken our teeth and wear baggy pants, we just liked cowboys and played like that.”