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Jerry Jeff Walker, outlaw country star and Mr. Bojangles writer, dies aged 78

Jerry Jeff Walker
(Image credit: Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns)

Jerry Jeff Walker, the country music innovator best known for writing the widely covered song Mr. Bojangles, has died from throat cancer aged 78.

His wife, Susan Walker, confirmed the news of his death to the Statesman (opens in new tab), saying that he “went very peacefully”, and that he was “at home until an hour before his passing.”

Mr. Bojangles, his most famous composition, was written in 1968 and later popularized by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1970. Numerous high-profile names have also covered the song, including Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Nina Simone, Neil Diamond, King Curtis and Sammy Davis Jr.

Walker began his career in the '60s hitchhiking and busking around the US, before becoming a prominent member of New York's Greenwich Village folk music scene toward the latter end of the decade. His move to Austin, Texas in 1970 led him to propel the outlaw country genre to popularity, alongside artists like Willie Nelson.

Social media has lit up with tributes to the late musician, with Jason Isbell tweeting, “One day I’d like to be an old man who dances onstage like John Prine and Jerry Jeff Walker.” Prine passed away in April due to COVID-19 complications.

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Jimmy Buffett recalled: “In such a hurtful moment, I have to say that I am SO happy that he drove me to Key West. That lanky frame, cowboy hat, that energy, voice, those songs, wry wit and wonderful laugh will be with me forever.”

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Over the course of his 51-year career, Walker penned an incredible 36 albums. His final full-length was 2018's About Time, which was released a year after his cancer diagnosis.

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Sam is a Staff Writer at Guitar World, also creating content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar (opens in new tab).