Steve Earle’s Worn-Out Version of ‘Mr. Bojangles’ Is Just What You Need to Hear Today

by Jim Casey

“I knew a man, Bojangles, and he danced for you, in worn-out shoes.” It’s one of the most well-known opening lyrics in country music history. After meeting a street dancer one fateful night in a New Orleans drunk tank, Jerry Jeff Walker penned and recorded the iconic track, “Mr. Bojangles,” on his 1968 album of the same name. However, it was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band that turned “Mr. Bojangles” into a household name with their Top 10 cover in 1970. Since then, “Mr. Bojangles” has been recorded by a bevy of A-listers, including Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Dylan, Chet Atkins, and more. Now, Steve Earle is paying tribute to one of his songwriting heroes with his take on “Mr. Bojangles.” Earle harnesses every bit of his 67-year-old voice for a delighfluly “worn-out” cover.

Jerry Jeff Walker was born Ronald Clyde Crosby in Oneonta, N.Y., in 1942. Before he died in 2020, Jerry Jeff (aka Jerry Ferris, Scamp Walker, Jacky Jack, and J.J. Snowdrift) had as many aliases as incarnations: ukulele-strumming beach bum in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., New Orleans street-busker, coffeehouse folksinger in Greenwich Village, and member of the psychedelic-rock band Lost Sea Dreamers. Perhaps his most important incarnation was Texas music icon, thanks, in part, to his groundbreaking—and vastly underrated—1973 album, Viva Teringua!, which was recorded live in Luckenbach, Texas.

Of course, Jerry Jeff developed a cult-like following during his days in the Lone Star State. Among them, hardcore troubadour Steve Earle, who put his vocals on 10 Walker-penned tunes in the aptly named album, Jerry Jeff.

Earle Honors

Of course, the great Jerry Jeff Walker was a regular on the bustling Austin club scene in the 1970s. 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.

With his upcoming album, Jerry Jeff, set to release on May 27, Steve Earle will cap a trio of tribute albums to his songwriting mentors. Earle dropped his Townes Van Zandt tribute (Townes) in 2009, before releasing his ode to Guy Clark (Guy) in 2019.

“There was a time in my life when I wanted to be Jerry Jeff Walker more than anything else in this world,” writes Steve Earle in the Jerry Jeff liner notes. “Looking back, it must have been more than obvious that, having yet to find a voice or persona of my own, I was emulating my hero; the Jerry Jeff we had all come to know and love, the Gypsy Songman, who had arrived at the perfect moment to stand at the Austin epicenter of the latest chapter in the evolution of what was, then, referred to as Progressive Country.”

‘Jerry Jeff’ Track Listing

  1. Gettin’ By
  2. Gypsy Songman
  3. Little Bird
  4. I Make Money (Money Don’t Make Me)
  5. Mr. Bojangles
  6. Hill Country Rain
  7. Charlie Dunn
  8. My Old Man
  9. Wheel
  10. Old Road