Meeting Mr. Bojangles in person
I finally got to meet my hero last night, Ronald Clyde Crosby. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps you know him as Jerry Jeff Walker.
Strangely enough I saw my hero at the Minnesota Zoo, of all places. Technically, I didn’t meet him there. I only heard him perform. It was later that evening when I met him in person at his hotel.
Although Jerry Jeff Walker never became a renowned star, his name and style of music is as big as the state of Texas.
Along with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, he is highly regarded as a founding father of ‘outlaw country’.
He did have one hit in the late sixties that catapulted him to the top of the charts. The ever-popular “Mr. Bojangles” is still his most highly recognizable tune.
Jerry Jeff Walker, originally born in upstate New York, eventually travelled throughout the South and finally settled in Austin, Texas in 1972.
That was the same year my wife and I took up residence in the capitol city of the Lone Star State. It was also the year I fell in love with the local Austin music scene. This was four years before the television production of Austin City Limits.
Musicians like Jerry Jeff and Marcia Ball (Frieda and the Firedogs) could be heard around town, often with no cover charge.
The Armadillo World Headquarters, recently converted from the old National Guard Armory, became the top music venue in town. The place caught on quickly with the music and hippie culture because admission was cheap and marijuana use was tolerated.
I’m certain that nowhere else in Texas would that statement hold true. In its entire history, the Armadillo was never once raided. It became the hang out for Jerry Jeff and the plethora of other Texas singer-songwriters for the next several years.
Although I heard Jerry Jeff perform many times over the decades, personally meeting the man whose songs I loved remained elusive. The path to meeting him last night took many twists and turns over the years.
My big break came when an old friend of mine, Texas’s 2011 Musician of the Year, Chris Gage, became Jerry Jeff’s bandleader.
Chris was born and raised in Pierre, South Dakota, just up the river from my hometown of Chamberlain. After Chris formed The Red Willow Band, I eventually became good friends with him and followed his career with Roy Clark, the television show Hee Haw, and his current duet with his with Christine called Albert and Gage.
When Chris came to the Minnesota Zoo last year for an outdoor concert with Jerry Jeff, we invited him and the band to come over to our house afterward to wind down. Chris came but Jerry Jeff opted out to go back to his room. When my wife drop Chris back at the hotel at two a.m., Jerry Jeff was still in his room which was the hotel bar.
Last night I used a different strategy. Chris, along with the rest of the band had an early morning flight back to Texas so he suggested we join them for post-concert drinks back at the hotel. When we arrived, a group of about a dozen people were sitting outside on the patio enjoying a cool Minnesota evening.
I wasted no time walking right over to Jerry Jeff and blurted out “Man, you were really on tonight. Thanks for the great show!”
He was rather polite to me even though I later realized I hadn’t even introduced myself.
We talked a little about his long-time friendship with Jimmy Buffet and how he had deposited Jimmy in Key West forty years ago while he continued on to settle in Austin. He mentioned that Jimmy’s son had just written a song for him that he recently recorded.
We spoke about his annual vacation to his second home in Belize and how I used to take my kids there when they were quite young.
A handshake, a few minutes conversation and my moment with a much-admired musician had ended. The forty years was worth the wait.