Steve Earle’s new album is like catching up with an old friend that you’ve been missing. And we’ve been missing Jerry Jeff Walker.
With his upcoming album, Jerry Jeff, set to release on May 27, hardcore troubadour Steve Earle will cap a trio of tribute albums to his songwriting mentors. Earle released his Townes Van Zandt tribute (Townes) in 2009, before dropping his ode to Guy Clark (Guy) in 2019. Of course, Earle’s upcoming Jerry Jeff is a 10-song testament to the prowess of Jerry Jeff Walker, the man responsible for “Mr Bojangles,” “Gettin’ By,” “Gypsy Songman,” and many more.
Earle and his longtime backing band, The Dukes, recorded the album at Electric Lady Studios in New York, shortly after playing a Jerry Jeff Walker tribute concert in Texas in June 2021. Jerry Jeff, 78, died in October 2020, due to complications from throat cancer.
“This record completes the set, the work of my first-hand teachers,” writes Steve Earle in the Jerry Jeff liner notes. “The records were recorded and released in the order in which they left this world. But make no mistake—it was Jerry Jeff Walker who came first.”
Earle Covers Jerry Jeff
After listening to an advance copy of the easy-going album over the weekend, I can confirm it’s the “listeners” who come first. Earle brilliantly captures Jerry Jeff’s songwriting mastery with a couple of deep-cut covers: “Wheel,” which was featured on Jerry Jeff’s 1973 album, Viva Terlingua!, and the harmonica-happy “Old Road,” which Jerry Jeff recorded on 1969’s Driftin’ Way of Life. Of course, Earle also put his weathered pipes on more well-known tunes from Jerry Jeff’s catalog, including the aforementioned “Mr. Bojangles,” and album-opener, “Gettin’ By.”
“There’s a tendency to think of Jerry Jeff around a relationship to one song,” added Steve Earle, in reference to “Mr. Bojangles.” “But he was also such a great interpreter of other people’s songs. But my main purpose in recording this album was to remind people that he wrote a lot of f***ing great songs.”
Of course, the great Jerry Jeff Walker helped turn Austin into the Live Music Capital of the World. He was a regular on the bustling Austin club scene in the 1970s, around the time the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band made “Mr. Bojangles” a household name. He became a key player in the Outlaw Country movement, the Texas-sized answer—rough-edged, twangy honky-tonk music—to the Nashville Sound’s polished country/pop fusion.
‘Jerry Jeff’ Track Listing
- Gettin’ By
- Gypsy Songman
- Little Bird
- I Make Money (Money Don’t Make Me)
- Mr. Bojangles
- Hill Country Rain
- Charlie Dunn
- My Old Man
- Old Road
Fans can see Steve Earle and The Dukes perform some of these songs live during their upcoming summer tour, which kicks off on June 1. Steve will also be performing at two special upcoming events: To Willie: A Birthday Celebration on May 1 at Willie Nelson’s Luck Ranch in Texas, and the WFUV High Line Bash 2022 at City Winery at Pier 57 in New York City on May 13.