Jerry Jeff Walker ('Mr. Bojangles') to play Zoo Saturday
In 1965, an Upstate New Yorker turned National Guardsman gone AWOL turned traveling busker turned Greenwich Village folk scenester was thrown in a New Orleans jail for public intoxication, where it came that he... knewaman - Bojangles - and - he'ddance - for... oh, it's only one of the most-played songs on American radio ever, so you know the rest. In worn out shoes...
Often mistaken as a song about Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (a popular tap dancer, actor, and Shirley Temple antebellum butler sidekick), Jerry Jeff Walker, that AWOL drifter, wrote the oft-covered song "Mr. Bojangles" in 1968 about a homeless man he'd met in that New Orleans jail. As the story goes, this homeless man gave a false name - Mr. Bojangles - in order to conceal his identity after being arrested as part of a police sweep of indigent men in the area. The rest of the story follows via literal interpretation in the song: a dancing man tells his cellmates a tale of traveling as a performer with his dog, who up and died. Man grieves still to this day. Man, now an alcoholic, spends most of his time in jail. His cellmates, saddened by this tale's ending, beseech Mr. Bojangles to once again dance.
Walker, who went on to settle in Texas and was a part of the country outlaw scene with the likes of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt (the Jennings/Nelson duet "Luckenbach, Texas" mentions his train songs), eventually started his own label based out of Austin. He has since developed a style of music he calls "Cowjazz," and will be playing this Saturday at the Minnesota Zoo's Weesner Family Amphitheater (8/21, 7:30, $37).
Walker will no doubt be sharing his Bojangles tale with the audience at the Zoo. Here are a few others' takes on it.
Sammy Davis, Jr.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
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