Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Mister Bojangles came to town

Wick's World

 


I walked into the room, threw my luggage on the bed and immediately headed out the door. I noticed the room was already cooled enough to beat the hot, humid South Dakota weather. Seeing no need to check the air conditioning and as I was already running late, I made a quick exit from the hotel and headed downtown to the recently refurbished Sioux Falls Pavilion. This evening’s episode was part of a nationwide series called “Swan Song,” an event founded by my good friend, Christine Albert.

I was exhausted from the four-hour car drive I had just completed between the Twin Cities and my destination. A short break would have been nice, but tonight I would have to be fueled by the energy from the show. By the time I returned to the hotel that evening, my room was a frigid 60 degrees. I should have checked the air conditioners’ setting.

Over the years, I had gotten to know Christine and Jerry Jeff Walker through my longtime association with my old college friend, Chris Gage. Chris and Christine were married several decades ago, sometime between his 10-year stint with Roy Clark and the television show “Hee Haw” and his gig with “The Highwaymen.” Shortly after their marriage, Chris became lead guitar for The Jerry Jeff Walker Band.

Following the show, our group gathered at the hotel bar to unwind. For many years now I had become the lucky one allowed to join this group of some of the finest musicians from the state of Texas. Chris had recently been recognized as “Texas Musician of the Year.” Meanwhile, Christine had garnered many trophies from her days as “Female Vocalist of the Year” at the world renowned “Kerrville Folk Festival” and from her role as chairperson for the Grammy Awards Ceremony. Then there’s Jerry Jeff Walker who will forever be known as Mr. Bojangles.

Jerry Jeff had developed a new habit of going to bed early ever since he became the focus of Toby Keith’s hit song “I Ain’t no Fun since I Quit Drinking.” Meanwhile, the rest of us sat around reminiscing about our old South Dakota days spent in college town bars, Deadwood and every juke joint and gambling den in the Black Hills. Earlier in the evening, well-known Sioux Falls’ singer/songwriter Tom Peterson joined Chris and Christine on stage to sing a song from his latest Texas-produced album called “Black Hills Gold.” It was a well written and very descriptive narration of the Black Hills gold rush, but it lacked the knockout punch delivered by his infamous “There’s an Iowa driver on a Sioux Falls street.”

Ironically, our after-gig gathering at Sioux Falls’ newest bar, The Crave, was the second time our group had gathered that evening. As I was rushing from my hotel room to the concert across the street, I saw one of the most bow-legged cowboys ever to pound the South Dakota pavement. I know of only two ways to get this bow-legged. One way is to ride a horse every day of your life. The other way is to ride the royalties of a hugely successful hit song like “Mr. Bojangles.” I think this man did both.

“Mr. Walker!” I hollered as I jokingly greeted the old man walking toward me. As the song goes, he was trying to “... find my own way to the door.”

That pre-concert chat turned out to be a premonition of the evening’s entertainment. This was the first time I had ever heard Jerry Jeff painstakingly narrate the meaning and historical background of every song he played for the very receptive crowd. It is widely known around musical circles that this New York transplant rarely leaves his adopted state of Texas. He said as much when he introduced his band to the crowd.

“Of course ya’ll know my guitarist, Chris Gage from Pierre, South Dakota. In these parts, he’s much better known than me,” said Mr. Bojangles.

A most touching story was told in a song about his marriage that somehow survived his drinking days. After a stormy bout with Susan “over something I’ve long forgotten,” Jerry Jeff found himself in his old pickup truck sitting at the end of their driveway. It inspired this most poignant of love letters he titled, “Everything I do now, I do because of you.” The narrative, “Mr. Bojangles,” tells the story exactly as it unfolded. How did this transplant from upstate New York find himself a Texan? You can find that in this most heartfelt and touching song, “Where you fall in love, is where you stay.”

Sometime after Jerry Jeff went to bed, Chris leaned over and said to me, “I never would have believed that Jerry Jeff Walker would become my best friend. I love that old man.”

 

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