OK, buckaroos..., this week’s blog features my favorite song by the artist who influenced my life the most. For those of you who know me well, it will be no surprise to you that this artist is none other than Jerry Jeff Walker. The song may be a surprise, however...
Welcome to the second installment of my blog — a nonlinear romp showcasing the music which has affected my life meaningfully. Most entries will tend to be short so as to avoid “TLDR” (Too Long Didn’t Read) syndrome, and I hope each one provides a trip down memory lane for everyone.
OK, buckaroos…, this week’s blog features my favorite song by the artist who influenced my life the most. For those of you who know me well, it will be no surprise to you that this artist is none other than Jerry Jeff Walker. The song may be a surprise, however…
As a kid growing up in Houston Texas during the 1970s and 1980s, I knew Jerry Jeff Walker’s music before I knew anything about Jerry Jeff Walker the singer-songwriter. My family and I spent a lot of time on Interstate 10 between Houston and San Antonio — either at the farm of an old family friend in Schulenburg or waterskiing at Lake McQueeney near New Braunfels or canoeing on the Guadalupe River.
Jerry Jeff is most well known as the man who wrote “Mr Bojangles” and for his classic whiskey-soaked hell-raising 1973 live album, Viva Terlingua. It seemed like every jukebox full of crackly 45s along that highway corridor had Jerry Jeff’s rowdy cover of “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother” or “Desperados Waiting For a Train.” I remember distinctly feeling giddy and mischievous hearing the “Redneck Mother” chorus, “…just kicking hippies’ asses and raising hell…” Cuz, you know, I was like eight or nine years old and words like “hell” and “ass” were not words that I heard all the time.
That’s about the extent of my early remembrances of Jerry Jeff Walker. The story picks up again a few years later in an unlikely place: Pottstown Pennsylvania. In the Fall of 1983, I started 4th Form at The Hill School, which was, at the time, a classic Northeastern all boys boarding school (it’s now co-ed). For reasons which were never clear to me, The Hill adopted the Form system found most commonly in Great Britain; Fourth Form is the same thing as 10th Grade. As a bonus, we all got to go to school on Saturday morning–I wonder if they’re still doing that? Anyway, my high school friend and 6th Form roommate, Tim Ramos, was a huge Jerry Jeff Walker fan. Tim is from from Chicago Illinois; so, I have no idea how he came to like or even know about Jerry Jeff. I highly doubt there were nearly as many jukeboxes in Illinois with Jerry Jeff songs.
On weekends and other free time periods, Hill boys frequented shops along High Street in downtown Pottstown or scrambled through fields and along back roads to the Coventry Mall. On one such excursion during our 5th or 6th Form years, Tim was super excited to stumble upon and purchase A Man Must Carry On — Jerry Jeff’s 1977 mostly live double album (two cassette tapes, in this case). This double album contains my favorite Jerry Jeff Walker song and is the reason I named this blog “Song For My Life.”
My favorite Jerry Jeff song is “Song For the Life” written by Rodney Crowell, another great Texas singer-songwriter who will get a blog entry. “Song For The Life” has been covered by many famous artists like Waylon Jennings, John Denver, and Alan Jackson. Jerry Jeff’s version is a soaring celebration of life which honors the inevitable difficulties which accompany this human experience. It exudes hope and wonder and weariness and beauty with a heavy dose of recognition that life can be hard as hell sometimes, too. After I got sober in 1992, like John Denver’s & Alan Jackson’s versions, I replaced the first line with the phrase “I don’t drink as much as I used to” instead of the original version’s “I don’t drink as much as I ought to.”
Jerry Jeff is one of the great 20th century singer-songwriters, and I’ll have more to say about my journey with him somewhere down the road. Until then, enjoy “A Song For The Life.”