On Jerry Jeff – set for May 27 release via New West Records – Steve Earle pays tribute to influential cowboy troubadour Jerry Jeff Walker, who passed away on October 23 2021. After performing in Texas at a concert celebrating Walker’s life, Earle took his band, The Dukes, to Electric Lady Studios in New York, where they recorded 10 of Walker’s songs.
Earle has shared their freewheeling rendition of ‘Gettin’ By, which is the album’s opening track. Adding a few personal twists to the lyrics, he admits to his greatest boyhood ambition: to be Jerry Jeff Walker.
“This record completes the set, the work of my first-hand teachers,” Earle writes in the liner notes, referencing 2009’s TOWNES and 2019’s GUY, which he made after the deaths of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark.
“The records were recorded and released in the order in which they left this world. But make no mistake – it was Jerry Jeff Walker who came first”, says Earle.
Earle was 14 when he first heard Walker. His high school drama teacher gave him a copy of ‘Mr. Bojangles’, Walker’s classic ballad about an unforgettable character he met in a New Orleans jail. After Earle moved to Nashville in the 1970s, he had the opportunity to get to know Walker, who enlisted him as his designated driver.
“There’s a tendency to think of Jerry Jeff around a relationship to one song”, Earle says, referring to ‘Mr. Bojangles’, which was covered by everyone from Bob Dylan to Sammy Davis Jr. “He was also such a great interpreter of other people’s songs. But my main purpose in recording this album was to remind people that he wrote a lot of fucking great songs.”
Earle delivers a gorgeous, soulful ‘Mr. Bojangles’ on Jerry Jeff, but also covers some of Walker’s lesser-known classics – meditative ballads like 1969’s “Old Road” and 1973’s “Wheel.” Other highlights include joyful takes of “Charlie Dunn,” Walker’s endearing tribute to the bootmaker, and ‘Gypsy Songman’, a stomping busking anthem. See below for track listing.
Jerry Jeff is Earle’s 22nd album. The three-time GRAMMY winner has released nearly an album a year since the mid-1990s, LPs ranging from bluegrass to blues to folk to country. His 2021 album, J.T., features the songs of his son Justin Townes Earle, a two-time Americana Music Awards winner who died in 2020 at age 38.
Restlessly creative across artistic disciplines, Earle has published the novel I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive and a collection of short fiction entitled Doghouse Roses. He has produced recordings of other artists including Lucinda Williams’ Grammy-winning “Car Wheels On A Gravel Road,” and acted in films and TV including a recurring role in the HBO series, The Wire. Earle is the host of the long-running The Steve Earle Show: Hardcore Troubadour Radio on SiriusXM. In 2020, Earle appeared in the Public Theatre production Coal Country for which he also wrote the music garnering him a Drama Desk Award nomination (Coal Country was revived in 2022). Songs from Coal Country are also included in Earle’s 2020 album Ghosts Of West Virginia.
Artist’s website: http://www.steveearle.com/