‘He said his name Bojangles and he danced a lick, Across the cell…’

Country singer Jerry Jeff Walker who wrote the poignant drifter ballad ‘Mister Bojangles’ died Friday, October 23. He was 78.


‘There’s a photo on the back of a long-out-of-print Jerry Jeff Walker album that sums it all up — Jerry Jeff is outside an old roadhouse on a lonesome highway. It’s night, and his collar is turned up against the chill breeze as he hunches over to light a cigarette. His guitar is slung around his back. It’s hard to tell if he’s entering or leaving the roadhouse, but either way you figure he’s got many miles to go before he sleeps…’ — From jerryjeff.com

INSPIRATION IN THE SLAMMER

YOUNGER

Jerry Jeff Walker wrote ‘Mister Bojangles’ after a stint in a New Orleans drunk tank in 1965 with an unknown tap-dancing drifter.

Walker was unknown too, singing in coffee houses and on street corners when he was arrested for public intoxication in the Big Easy’s French Quarter.

His tap dancing cellmate, a white man, went by the nickname Bojangles, after Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a famous Black vaudeville and early film tap dancer of the 1930s and ‘40s.

Bojangles the drifter told Walker and the other inmates many stories about his life, the saddest being about his beloved dog that died.

‘He spoke with tears of fifteen years how his dog and him

Traveled about

The dog up and died

He up and died

After twenty years he still grieves’

The jailbirds got so emotional over the story that Bojangles did a tap dance to cheer them up.

The song has been incorrectly associated with the black tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

THE REAL BOJANGLES
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson

Jerry Jeff Walker said that ain’t so. The song was inspired by the drifter in the New Orleans drunk tank.

In the song, Mr Bojangles is a heavy drinker and had a dog that died. The earlier-era “Bojangles” didn’t imbibe and never had a dog.

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was the highest paid black entertainer of the 1930s and ‘40s, performing in movies with child star Shirley Temple. Despite his success, he died penniless in 1949.

JERRY JEFF WALKER’S ‘MISTER BOJANGLES’

NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND

Walker wrote the song in 1968 but it didn’t become a hit until the early 1970s when The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and other performers recorded it.


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Patsy Cline — a powerful voice silenced too soon

“Don’t worry about me, Hoss. When it’s my time to go, it’s my time.”

Patsy Cline escaped death twice — at age 13 when she was hospitalized with a critical illness, and in a car crash when she was 28.

On March 5, 1963, Fate finally caught up with her. She was only 30 years old.

Patsy Cline gone too soon.

LIFE-THREATENING ILLNESS

Her first brush with death was beating a throat infection and rheumatic fever, a life-threatening condition in those days.

There was one bright side to the illness. Patsy Cline believed the fever was responsible for her rich, deep singing voice. “The fever affected my throat,” she said, “and when I recovered I had this booming voice like Kate Smith.”

HEAD-ON COLLISION

In her second close call with death, Patsy Cline and her brother, Sam Hensley, were in a head-on collision in Madison, Tennessee. Patsy was thrown through the windshield and suffered critical multiple injuries. The accident left her head severely scarred.

When Fate came calling the third time, Patsy Cline had appeared the previous night at a benefit concert in Kansas City for the family of disc jockey “Cactus” Jack Call, who died in a car accident a month earlier.

TURNS DOWN CAR RIDE

After her performance, Patsy spent the night at the Town House Motor Hotel. She couldn’t get a plane out the next day because the local airport was fogged in.

Fellow performer Dottie West invited Patsy to ride in the car with her and her husband for the 16-hour drive back to Nashville, but Patsy declined and said, “Don’t worry about me, Hoss. When it’s my time to go, it’s my time.”

Instead, she climbed aboard a Piper PA-24 Comanche plane with country-western performers, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Randy Hughes, who would fly the plane.

STORMY WEATHER

At 5 p.m. the plane made a pit stop in Dyersburg, Tennessee. The airfield manager suggested they spend the night because of stormy weather, offering them free rooms and meals. But Hughes turned down the offer, saying, “I’ve already come this far. We’ll be there before you know it.” The small craft took off at 6:07 p.m. Ten minutes later the plane flew into a thunderstorm. Hughes had no training in instrument flying.

When the plane didn’t land on schedule, the flight was reported missing. Reports were broadcast on radio and TV. Frantic phone calls from relatives, friends and fans tied up the local telephone exchanges. The lights at the destination airfield were kept on throughout the night.

ROGER MILLER FINDS BODIES

Early next morning, country singer Roger Miller and a friend went searching in a wooded area outside Camden, Tenn.

“I ran through the woods as fast as I could screaming their names,” said Miller, “through the brush and the trees, and I came up over this little rise, and, oh, my God, there they were. It was ghastly. The plane had crashed nose down.”

Recovery teams removed the bodies. Patsy’s wristwatch had stopped at 6:20 p.m.

Patsy Cline gone too soon.

Thousands of people attended Patsy Cline’s memorial service in her hometown of Winchester, Virginia. She was buried at Shenandoah Memorial Park.

PIONEER FOR WOMEN

The subject of several movies, documentaries and books, Patsy Cline is regarded to this day as a pioneer for women in country music.

She has been called one of the greatest vocalists ever, with a voice that’s at once “haunting, powerful and emotional.”

Rolling Stone magazine listed her box set among their “50 Greatest Albums of All-Time.” Patsy Cline “belts out some of the torchiest, weepiest country songs ever, hitting high notes that make you sob into your margarita,” wrote Rob Sheffield.

QUEEN OF THE JUKEBOX

The “First Lady of Country Music” recorded more than 100 songs in her short career, scoring her biggest hits with “I Fall To Pieces,” “Walkin’ After MIdnight,” “She’s Got You” and “Crazy,” which was written by up-and-coming country star Willie Nelson. The song was the No. 1 jukebox song in America.

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