Jerry Jeff Walker is one of the founding fathers of Americana music whose face probably belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of the genre. He was inventing music that would define the form and inspire its artists over 30 years ago. From the time he first stepped into a studio, he’d already been on the road long enough to write a song about a New Orleans jail encounter with an old alcoholic tap dancer that has since turned into American pop standard, “Mr. Bojangles,” covered by everyone from The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to Sammy Davis Jr.
But, there’s a lot more to Jerry Jeff Walker than his signature song. His latest release Jerry Jeff Walker: Dixie’s Bar Bus Stop-Live from Austin, TX serves as a reminder of what has made a him an icon of outlaw country for all of these years: brilliant songs, a respect for like-minded fellow song craftsmen, a band that can honky-tonk or hang back and let the song do the work when necessary. Recorded in 1984, near-end of the New Traditionalist era when Austin was hitting it’s stride as a music town, the album nicely captures Jerry Jeff’s live show before an intimate audience.
The material covers the best known of originals and covers from his considerable legacy of studio recordings over the last 30 years. The album demonstrates how generous an artist Walker has been through the years giving visibility to other songwriting friends like Guy Clark. His versions of Clark’s L.A. Freeway and “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train” are interpreted here with such heart, it’s hard to believe Walker didn’t write them. He put Ray Wylie Hubbard on the map with his version of the Austin outlaw anthem, “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother.” Also included is an eight song acoustic set of all original songs. The electric set of songs shows how Jerry Jeff Walker tailored his own sound from all of his years playing honky-tonks. But, the acoustic set reveals the artist who wrote “Mr. Bojangles”, with the focus on lyrics and some fine storytelling, like “Stoney,” a character-driven tale of an old cowboy he meets on the road. and “Charlie Dunn,” is a true song about a Texas boot maker. But, when the acoustic set closes with Django’s Lullaby, a song for his young son, it’s easy to understand why Jerry Jeff Walker as a song craftsman belongs among the rare company of the best of American songwriters including John Prine, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.