Saturday, October 01, 2005

Jerry Jeff Walker is mentioned...

. . . not even once in John Derbyshire's NRO column on Bob Dylan.

Why should he be? Isn't the column about Dylan?

Well, yes, that's true. But Derbyshire makes the point that Dylan, like many musicians, is not especially articulate in speaking but does . . .

. . . sometimes have a way with words. A very literary person of my acquaintance, a published poet, once told me that he thought "the dog up and died" (from "Mister Bojangles") one of the loveliest lines in the English language. I could bring forth 100 better candidates for that particular award, but I do see my friend's point. If you write as many lyrics as Dylan, though, and have a musician's feel for the rhythmic properties of language, you are bound to come up with good lines once in a while.

Unclear in this passage is whether or not Derbyshire knows that the lovely song "Mr. Bojangles" was written not by Dylan but by Jerry Jeff Walker. Walker wrote and sang it in 1968 as a single release, but it only became a hit in its rendition by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their 1970 album, Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy. Here are Walker's lyrics:

I knew a man Bojangles
and he danced for you,
in worn out shoes.

With silver hair, a ragged shirt,
and baggy pants,
the old soft shoe.

He jumped so high,
jumped so high,
then he lightly touched down.

Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles, dance.

I met him in a cell
in New Orleans,
I was down and out.

He looked at me
to be the eyes of age,
as he spoke right out.

He talked of life,
talked of life,
he laughed, slapped his leg a step.

Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles, dance.

He said his name, Bojangles,
then he danced a lick,
across the cell.

He grabbed his pants for a better stance,
then he jumped up high,
he clicked his heels.

Then he let go a laugh,
let go a laugh,
shook back his clothes all around.

Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles, dance.

He danced for those
at minstrel shows and county fairs,
throughout the south.

He spoke with tears of fifteen years
how his dog and him
traveled about.

His dog up and died,
he up and died,
and after twenty years he still grieved.

Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles, dance.

He said, "I dance now
at every chance in honky tonks
for drinks and tips.

But most the time I spend
behind these county bars,
for I drinks a bit."

He shook his head,
and as he shook his head,
I heard someone ask him please,

Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles,
Mister Bojangles, dance.

The song was inspired by the legendary African-American tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (1878-1949), and many well-known musicians -- e.g., Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Sammy Davis, Jr. -- have put out their own interpretations, but Walker himself did it the best and deserves recognition. Listen for yourself. Go and and click to hear a sample by 'Scamp' Walker himself at Amazon.

Walker deserves at least a mention.


At 10:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



At 4:04 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hallelujah! Another believer.

At 6:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a short film clip of Bill Robinson tapdancing in a show featuring Fats Waller. He is immaculately dressed. In fact, he looks like someone who was always immaculately dressed.

At 8:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good to hear that about Bill Robinson. Was he -- as the song puts it -- doing the old soft shoe? Or was he really tap dancing?

At 1:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nope, the song is about another 'Bojangles' that Mr. Walker met in a New Orleans jail.

The song has touched me for many years, and I am trying to do some research on this other 'Bojangles'... if aynone has any info about him, please e-mail me from my website. Thank you.

At 5:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Vladimir Orlt, I realize that this is the story that Jerry Jeff Walker tells, but I wonder if it's not poetic license on his part.

Yet even if the story is biographical, what about the name "Bojangles"? Might Walker have chosen this name because of Bill Robinson?

Good luck in your quest. Have you considered contacting Walker himself?

Jeffery Hodges

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