Friday, October 30, 2020

In Memoriam: Jerry Jeff Walker

Jerry Jeff Walker, 1942-2020. (Photo: Paul Natkin)

Jerry Jeff Walker, who succumbed on October 23, at seventy-eight, to the throat cancer that had been dogging him for three years, embodied Austin, Texas so perfectly that it was something of a shock to recall that he was actually a native New Yorker whose early days as a singer and songwriter were spent in the Greenwich Village of the mid-1960s. He moved to Austin in the early seventies, where he was a vital part of the outlaw country movement (“outlaw” because they weren’t mainstream enough to get played on conventional country-music stations), which also included Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Steve Earle. These men loved Texas and they made music that sounded like it couldn’t have come from anywhere else. But like liberal Austin itself, they were wild cards – holdover hippies, exuberant free spirits. (Van Zandt, a drug addict who died at fifty-two, was the tragic figure of the group.) You can glimpse Walker in a party scene in James Szalapski’s affectionate 1981 documentary about the Austin outlaws, Heartworn Highways.