Jerry Jeff Walker
"It's country music from another country."
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That's how Jerry Jeff Walker describes the music on "Cowboy Boots & Bathin' Suits," The Texas singer-songwriter's 28th album, and the tenth release on his own independent label, Tried & True Music.
For this album, Walker (who has long championed remote recording locations, from the Texas Hill Country hamlet of Luckenbach to the stage of The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia) transported his entire band down to Ambergris Caye, an island off the coast of the Central American country of Belize.
Though it marks (as far as we know) the first time a commercial American artist has recorded professionally in Belize, the juxtaposition of one of Texas' most famous musical sons and the laid-back Caribbean hideaway is not as far-fetched as it first appears. Like Austin, the Texas city in which Jerry Jeff has made his home since 1971, Belize embodies a seductive combination of natural beauty, a friendly native population and a certain lightness of spirit calculated to appeal to a footsore troubadour.
Night after night, in town after town, from sea to shining sea, Jerry Jeff Walker and his band, the Gonzo Compadres, show up, set up their own equipment, and do what they do best. There are no roadies, no fancy bus, no entourage of gofers and groupies. Just four guys who have spent the better part of their professional lives playing music that makes people dance, dream or fall in love.
That unalloyed, straightforward simplicity has been a hallmark of Walker's thirty-plus year career. He has outlasted nickel Cokes, the Berlin Wall and six Presidents. His admirers range from gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson to former Texas governor Ann Richards to musical peers such as Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, Todd Snider and Jimmy Buffett.
By 1971, Jerry Jeff Walker had already established a national reputation as a performer with a deft lyrical touch and a way with the folks out there in the dark. One night in 1968, a Manhattan disc jockey spun a new song called "Mr. Bojangles." Its composer heard the broadcast, and soon Jerry Jeff was sitting in the studio, discoursing on the song he hadn't written as much as lived - a wastrel's tale of a wino and his dead dog. He didn't know (who could?) that the song would go on to become a benchmark of American popular music.
Through it all, Jerry Jeff Walker and the Gonzo Compadres continued to tour and play. Jerry Jeff's Birthday Weekend celebration in Austin each March became a fixture on the calendars of his fans across the country and in 1993 he added two weeks' worth of performances in Belize to his annual itinerary; he dreams of someday being able to walk out his backdoor barefooted to play for whomever happens down the beach.
But the essence of his music is still distilled one night at a time, from Maine to Malibu. Though Jerry Jeff has remained true to the troubadour's tradition, he has never allowed it to entrap him.
His music - elastic, unqualifiedly, uniquely empathic - has retained the power to touch two generations of listeners. He remains one of America's musical landmarks.
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