They were all of our heroes. But to Steve Earle, they were his friends and mentors. As the young pup of the Texas-born songwriters who flocked to Nashville to save country music during the 70’s Outlaw movement, including sitting there at the kitchen table of Guy Clark as he sang his heart out on Heartworn Highways, Steve Earle was the fly on the wall for it all. And as his friends have fallen—Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and even his own son Justin Townes—Steve has stood up with his band The Dukes to pay tribute.
Jerry Jeff Walker died on October 23rd, 2020, but not before becoming a folk hero from the song “Mr. Bojangles,” and helping to set up the conditions in Austin, TX that would ultimately make it the Live Music Capital of the World, and an alternative to Nashville. And now one of his many understudies will release the tribute JERRY JEFF on May 27th via New West Records.
“This record completes the set, the work of my first-hand teachers,” Earle explains in the liner notes, referencing 2009’s TOWNES and 2019’s GUY after they passed away. “The records were recorded and released in the order in which they left this world. But make no mistake – it was Jerry Jeff Walker who came first.”
Steve Earle says that he first heard Jerry Jeff Walker when he was 14, after a high school drama teacher handed him a copy of “Mr. Bojangles.” Earle would later meet Jerry Jeff personally in Nashville, and became his designated driver for a stint. But Steve Earle also wants to know that Jerry Jeff wasn’t just “The guy that wrote ‘Mr. Bonjangles,'” even if that song put him on the map after everyone from Bob Dylan, to Sammy Davis Jr. recorded it.
“There’s a tendency to think of Jerry Jeff around a relationship to one song. He was also such a great interpreter of other people’s songs. But my main purpose in recording this album was to remind people that he wrote a lot of fucking great songs,” says Earle, who cut the record with The Dukes at the Electric Lady Studios in New York. Though synonymous with Texas, Jerry Jeff Walker was originally from midstate New York himself.
Ahead of the album, Steve Earle has released the song “Gettin’ By,” which started off Jerry Jeff Walker’s iconic album Viva Terlingua! released in 1973 recorded in Luckenbach, Texas.
Along with putting his own catalog of songs together, what made Jerry Jeff Walker so important was how he used the popularity he accrued from “Mr. Bojangles” to highlight his fellow songwriters, cutting songs from Ray Wylie Hubbard (“Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother”), Guy Clark (“L.A. Freeway”), Willis Alan Ramsey (“Northeast Texas Women”), Michael Martin Murphy (“Backslider’s Wine”), and so many more. Now Steve Earle and The Dukes will return the favor.
JERRY JEFF is now available for pre-order.
- Gettin’ By
- Gypsy Songman
- Little Bird
- I Make Money (Money Don’t Make Me)
- Mr. Bojangles
- Hill Country Rain
- Charlie Dunn
- My Old Man
- Old Road