There are few places more synonymous with country music in Texas than Luckenbach, and there are few places more synonymous with an individual artist than Luckenbach is with Jerry Jeff Walker. When Walker recorded his album Viva Terlingua! in Luckenbach’s legendary dance hall in 1973, it put the tiny destination spot on the map, and made names for some of the artists featured on the album such as Ray Wylie Hubbard and Gary P. Nunn.
Jerry Jeff Walker died on October 23rd, 2020 at the age of 78, but in Luckenbach TX, legends never die. And just to make sure nobody ever forgets just what Jerry Jeff Walker meant to Luckenbach, and what Luckenbach meant to Jerry Jeff, on Saturday, October 8th, and new bronze sculpture was unveiled in Jerry Jeff’s honor, depicting the songwriter sitting right beside Luckenbach founder Hondo Crouch, whose vision is what has allowed Luckenbach TX to remain a destination spot nearly 50 years after Viva! Terlingua, and 45 years after Waylon Jennings had a #1 hit with the “Luckenbach TX” song.
The sculpture sits right beside the legendary Luckenbach TX Post Office/gift shop under a shade tree. It was the work of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based sculptor Clete Shields. Shields was also the artist behind the eight-foot bronze statue of Willie Nelson, which resides outside the Moody Theater in Austin where Austin City Limits is taped. Clete Shields is also responsible for a 14-foot bronze statue called “Vaquero: Genesis of the Texas Cowboy” at Texas State University in San Marcos, as well as commissions by Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson.
Clete Shields spoke briefly before the unveiling, and then Jerry Jeff’s widow Susan Walker gave an inspiring speech about just what Luckenbach meant to Jerry Jeff Walker, and what Hondo Crouch and Jerry Jeff Walker meant to each other. She also told stories of Luckenbach lore that you’d have to be boned up on the lore to understand—stories about coasting trucks and avoiding the cops.
Then the sculpture itself was unveiled, with a grey cat scampering out from under the tarp, like the mischievous spirits of Jerry Jeff and Hondo Crouch letting their presence be known.
In Texas, legends never die.— Saving Country Music (@KyleCoroneos) October 8, 2022
Just unveiled in Luckenbach, TX, right next to the legendary post office, a sculpture by Cleve Shields commemorating the friendship between Jerry Jeff Walker who made Luckenbach famous, and Hondo Crouch who founded it. Together again, forever. pic.twitter.com/ERCTu8NZAI
Steve Earle was on site for the unveiling, completing the circle as someone who was mentored by Jerry Jeff Walker, and just released a tribute album to him called (appropriately) Jerry Jeff. Jerry Jeff’s son and performer Django Walker was also on site as entertainment and de facto Master of Ceremonies on the night. When he sat down next to his father, he said, “Man, I got to admit, it’s a little creepy,” making reference to the uncanny likeness Clete Shields crafted into the statue.
Multiple other artists were also on site, including Jamie Lin Wilson and Wade Bowen—who got their picture taken with Jerry Jeff and Hondo (see below). William Beckmann, James Otto, Channing Wilson, and others also performed in concert after the statue unveiling under the Luckenback, TX trees. William Beckmann, Django Walker, Jamie Lin Wilson, and Channing Wilson singing “Desperados Waiting For a Train” was absolute church. Baseball player and songwriter Tim Flannery played his Jerry Jeff tribute song.
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A general store and saloon were first opened on the Luckenbach property back in 1849 by Minna Engel. Like so much of the area, it was settled by German immigrants. The community was first called Grape Creek, with the name “Gap Creek” being the literal German translation of “Luckenbach.” The town was later named for Minna Engel’s husband, Carl Albert Luckenbach.
By the early 1900’s nearly 500 people lived in Luckenbach, but by the 1960s, it was virtually a ghost town. This led to Hondo Crouch purchasing the 9-acre property after answering the advertisement of “Town, pop. 3, for sale” in 1970. He purchased Luckenbach for $30,000. A folklorist and rancher by trade, Hondo Crouch was considered a mix between Will Rogers and Peter Pan, and it was his vision that led to Luckenbach becoming such a unique place.
Jerry Jeff Walker had already cemented his place in music lore as the writer of “Mr. Bojangles,” which became an American standard. Originally from New York State, he settled down in Texas in the early 70s and became synonymous with the state as the Austin, TX music scene coagulated around his presence. When Waylon Jennings sang about it in 1977, he’d never even been there. But Luckenbach’s reputation preceded it, thanks in part to it’s connections with country music, and Jerry Jeff Walker.
All photos below by Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos