Jerry Jeff Walker (Photo by Woody Welch)

Jerry Jeff Walker (Photo by Woody Welch)

By John T. Davis

(March/April 2012/vol. 5 – Issue 2)

LSM March/April 2012 Photo by Woody Welch

LSM March/April 2012
Photo by Woody Welch

Jerry Jeff Walker is turning 70.

Who’d of thunk it? Certainly no one who watched him tear a hedonistic path through a couple of decades of high times, late nights, recreational intoxicants and raucous, often inspired music. This was a guy, after all, who got so far out there that the story went that he got beat up by his own band. Even such connoisseurs of decadence as Dennis Hopper and Hunter S. Thompson gazed in awe as Jerry Jeff trashed one genteel enclave after another. (Writer Larry L. King once chronicled the time Walker — “looking like three months on field bivouac complicated by the blind staggers” — blitzed a Princeton cocktail reception).

There was one way to know when you’ve gone too far, Jerry Jeff liked to say — when you looked back over your shoulder and realized, “Oh, yeah, that was probably it back there a-ways.”

But the wild and freewheeling “Jacky Jack Double Trouble” persona was only one chapter in a complex, multifaceted and gratifyingly well-spent life in music’s service. Since he was a basketball-playing teenager named Ron Crosby playing in one of his first bands, the Pizzarinos (they practiced in a pizza parlor, you see), in Oneonta, N.Y., the youngster who would become “Jerry Jeff Walker” saw the strings of a guitar as the thread that would lead him out into the wider world. And so they proved to be.

It’s not entirely accurate to say that Walker has lived a classic troubadour’s life; rather, he has lived several.

He embodied the Kerouac fantasy, riding his thumb out of Oneonta in 1962, hitchhiking down to Fort Lauderdale just in time for the first Spring Break festivities. There’s a picture of him on the beach there with a group of kids, holding a ukulele and wearing a rascal’s grin.

Vagabonding across the country, he began to distill for himself the essence of the gypsy songman’s life. “I would hitchhike out to California,” he once said, “and play a song I had learned on the street in New Orleans, then hitchhike back and play a song I’d learned in California. I was on the move, and it was working.”

Jerry Jeff Walker at 70 (Photo by Woody Welch)

Jerry Jeff Walker at 70 (Photo by Woody Welch)

He played the Greenwich Village coffeehouses and folk music landmarks, following in the footsteps of Dylan and Woody and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. He headed south to Key West (“Go where the weather suits your clothes,” his fellow road warriors always told him). He even made it out to Texas for a look-see, and something about the Lone Star State resonated for him, even back then.

“Mentally, I moved to Texas when I was about 15,” he recalled. “I just like the way of life in Texas, and the fact that people in Texas liked their lives sung about, talked about and told about.”

He caught on as a bartender in New Orleans, but before long he was out on the cobbled French Quarter streets, learning the street singer’s hustle from masters of the trade. “I traveled around with an old bluesman named Babe Stovall,” he recalled. “He showed me some finger-picking styles and how to play with a little flair.”

On July 5, 1965, he was busted and thrown in the First Precinct jug for public intoxication. (Specifically, for standing on a table in the Café du Monde and proclaiming the immutability of love at first sight. Loudly and at length.). In the drunk tank he met a down-and-out street dancer who poured out his hardscrabble tale. The song that Jerry Jeff gleaned from that encounter — a six-eight waltz about a wino and his dead dog — became as improbable a hit as any song ever to enter the American musical canon. “Mr. Bojangles” was recorded by everyone from Nina Simone (Jerry Jeff’s favorite version) to Sammy Davis Jr. to Bob Dylan. That old crook Richard Nixon used to claim his eyes teared up when the damned thing came on the radio.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had the first hit cover of “Mr. Bojangles.” Walker was late to the party. He was trying to get out from under a New York psychedelic rock band called Circus Maximus, and his own career had stalled. Finally, he released his first solo album in 1968, followed by a trio of folk-flavored releases, including the sublime Driftin’ Way of Life. His songwriting began to take on the flavor of autobiography. He rode a motorcycle across Canada, crossing the continent one gig at a time.

As the decade turned, he moved back to South Florida, where he introduced a young musician named Jimmy Buffett to the sublime pleasures of island life, but he couldn’t sustain a career in the face of a mañana-ville attitude and a tidal surge of booze and cocaine. Late one night he smashed his guitar to pieces in frustration. He was 30 years old and going nowhere. “I kept thinking, ‘I’m looking for the right combination, a place to play music with a band of musicians who live and love the same things I do’,” he wrote in his 1999 autobiography, Gypsy Songman. “Where you can write something funny or heartfelt, and they’ll instinctively know what to play.”

He got his ass to Austin as quickly as possible. And there the next incarnation of “Jerry Jeff Walker” was born.

That’s the Jerry Jeff most folks first became aware of, the born-again Texan, in cowboy hat and Charlie Dunn boots, who took his place alongside Willie Nelson and Michael Martin Murphey in the first rank of Austin singer-songwriters who in the early and mid-70s were blowing up the bridges between rock, folk, country and blues.

Walker mixed New York and Austin musicians for the first of many albums for MCA Records, 1972’s Jerry Jeff Walker. Soon thereafter he collected a cohort of Austin sidemen who joined him as the Lost Gonzo Band. The next year, they put tiny Luckenbach, Texas, on the map when Walker recorded one of the signature albums in all of Texas music, ¡Viva Terlingua!, in the tiny Hill Country ghost town. Between 1972 and 1978, he cut nine albums, played upward of 200 dates a year (sometimes commuting by Lear Jet when times were flush) and as he put it, “stirred the Gonzo stew.” “I tried everything at least once,” he said, “Then I went back and tried it again, in case I’d missed it.”

As important as the new and invigorating music he was making was the single most important person he was making it for. Susan Streit was a drop-dead gorgeous, passionately opinionated, ferociously loyal and dauntingly intelligent woman who worked with the politicians at the State Capitol during the day and ran with the mad-dog musicians and writers at night. She and Jerry Jeff met at a party and before long he began aiming his love songs at her in particular.

The courtship was tempestuous — no surprise there — but Susan and Jerry Jeff were eventually wed in Luckenbach in December of 1974. A daughter and a son followed not too long after.

Ridin’ High (1975) and A Man Must Carry On (1977) were a distillation of Walker and the Gonzos at the height of their powers, and they came along at the height of the Texas progressive-country boom. Soon, meth and firearms turned the Texas scene into an ugly biker parody and the creative musical zeitgeist turned to punk and indie rock. As for Jerry Jeff, his own excesses finally caught up with him. Dope and booze defined too many of his days, never mind the nights. He was in hock to the IRS to the tune of six figures; his house was filled with druggies and parasites. He was the hamster on the wheel, running faster to stay in place. He and Susan even separated — briefly. Two weeks before his 37th birthday, he quit it all. “I went home to Susan,” he wrote. “And I slept.”

It was the beginning of a rebirth of sorts. Oh, he still enjoyed a cocktail or three when the mood suited him. And the hellraiser hadn’t entirely been put out to pasture. But the Mardi Gras years were over.

Three years later, Walker recorded Cowjazz, his last release for a major label. Years before “DIY” became a buzzword, he and Susan began to take matters into their own hands. As the kids got older, Susan was determined to go back to work. “Well, then,” said her husband, “come work for me.”

In 1986, the duo formed their own music label, Tried & True Music, and released an inaugural cassette — Gypsy Songman, a mostly-acoustic retrospective of Walker’s formidable catalog. Susan took over his management, his booking (she figured she could lay by the pool and make phone calls as good as any William Morris agent), his publicity, and his song publishing.

(Full disclosure here: Starting in 1990, I spent most of a decade working as a publicist for T&TM, a checkered role that involved everything from writing press releases and scheduling interviews to hauling amps and hustling T-shirts. Much of Jerry Jeff’s evolution from corporate music cog to indie/DIY innovator took shape during that period.)

Over the next 17 years, Tried & True Music released over a dozen albums, all done Jerry Jeff’s way: show up, roll the tapes, have fun and let the music communicate the joy and spontaneity of the moment. He made one album in Gruene Hall, Texas’ oldest dancehall, and another live effort marked the 20th anniversary of ¡Viva Terlingua! with a return to Luckenbach. He made a record at his second home in Belize, a Christmas album, and he even cut an album of jazz standards, a long-cherished project. His latest album, 2009’s Moon Child, was originally offered exclusively as a digital download from It’s a long way from the cassette tape era.

Tried and True: Jerry Jeff and Susan Walker at home in Austin. (Photo by Woody Welch)

Tried and True: Jerry Jeff and Susan Walker at home in Austin. (Photo by Woody Welch)

Over the years, he’s also found time to encourage and help mentor younger songwriters, from Jimmy Buffett and Ray Wylie Hubbard (way back when) to, more recently, Chris Wall, Todd Snider, Pat Green, and even his son, Django. Throughout it all, his support system of fans from all over the country, nourished by his fan club and mailing list, have seen their own changing lives reflected as Walker’s songs evolved from celebrations of high times and hell-raising to the enduring pleasures of love, fatherhood and — God help us — maturity. At the same time, his popularity among college kids remains robust and enduring.

And that’s where we find ourselves — in the third incarnation of Walker’s life story — or stories. Call it the “lion in winter” chapter. He’s pared down his band to a semi-acoustic ensemble (albeit one that can still crank it up when the right honky-tonk comes along). He’s even found a renewed affection for solo performances — just his ownself, a guitar and a harmonica. Back to where it all started.

One afternoon late last year, in the second-story den of his comfortable central Austin home, Walker clicked off a broadcast of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and settled down for a talk. There was an exercise bike in the corner (back and leg problems have plagued him on and off) and a copy of a photo book, Paris Then & Now, on the coffee table. And there was an acoustic guitar on a stand near the window. Of course.

Jerry Jeff’s first musical inspiration was his grandmother, Jessie Conrow, who had played in a family band in her younger days and bought young Ron Crosby his first guitar. There was a piano in the house and Grandma Jessie used to say, “I never walk past the piano when I don’t sit down for at least a moment and see what it says.”

Walker has always remained true to that small particular of the born musician. In all the years that I worked in his house, toured with him or simply observed him as a journalist, there was never a day in my experience when he didn’t set aside at least a few minutes to let the guitar speak to him.


Photo by Woody Welch

Photo by Woody Welch

Your 70th birthday is coming up in March and you’ll be celebrating with your annual Birthday Shows at the Paramount Theatre here in Austin and at Gruene Hall …

I was talking to Buffett, he said, “Oh, 70! I better be there for that.” But I haven’t heard anything since then. Jimmy’s going stronger now than he was 20 years ago. He’s going to China to open another fucking Margaritaville (chuckles). It just keeps snowballing …

I can’t picture a chain of Jerry Jeff theme restaurants.

That sort of sideline never interested me, and with Jimmy it did. From the first time I was ever around him, he was always into this little side stuff. I never cared. I just cared about playing music and being free and going wherever music would take me.

You’ve backed off touring a bit.

I thought I was gonna go around the world, but physically, between my back and my leg, I haven’t been able to travel as much as I would like. As long as we were partying and roaring and playing and going, it was fun. But when you stop all that, the idea of going onstage just to be in Cincinnati is not that appealing. But I wouldn’t mind going someplace I haven’t been. I wouldn’t mind going to Rio de Janeiro and looking around and playing a show or two.

Last summer you were making some noises about a move to California. What was that about?

Susan’s the real planner. I had to sort of insinuate — “Are we just gonna sit here and bake all summer?” I thought we might go to New Mexico or Colorado, but we wound up in northern California.

It’s a real interesting scene of wine and locally grown organic food in the restaurants. It’s an interesting group of people, but it’s not who I thought I’d be in with — I thought I’d be hanging out with Tom Waits and some guys with some old used cars in Petaluma. But if that makes her happy … She put up with all the crap, when we were roaring around. Now, whatever she wants to do, I want to support her.

If you were ever to move, could you shed this Texas identity you’ve spent 30 years building?

I think Texas has separated itself from me, politically and otherwise. I don’t seem to have as much to do with Texas … If I have an identity, it’s Austin. I don’t really have an identity with Lubbock or Amarillo or El Paso, although I like those places for different reasons … The things that I like most about Texas seem to be disappearing — the freedom, the space, the enjoyment of Texans enjoying each other for its own sake.

When I moved here, I was always charmed by the character of people, but now your character is determined by how much money you make. Which I don’t give a shit about. If we’re gonna have a big group of people together, we’re gonna wind up talking about what companies we’re investing in and what’s moving and shaking … (but) I’m a daydreamer and a philosopher.

You started out with a guitar on your back. Now you’re in a big house in Austin with a getaway place in Belize and a celebrated musical legacy. In a nutshell, looking back, how did you make it work?

I went my own way, followed my own muse, and I was able to make a living. Why I turned out that way, I think, was that I was willing to live at whatever level the music supported. I didn’t expect to be living in a house like this in central Austin, but I did expect to be living in some little groove shack in the Hill Country, down around Wimberley or someplace.

By a lot of respects, I wouldn’t be playing if Susan wasn’t involved with the business. I know I wouldn’t be dealing with strangers.

You encouraged Buffett when he was starting out, and along the way you’ve helped mentor younger musicians. What have you told them?

I think they looked at me and said, “Look, he’s been able to write about what he wants to write about and he’s been able to have a career and I’d like to do some of that.” I was talking to Mike Reid and he was saying he went to Nashville and went to the BMI songwriting classes. And he said, “They weren’t saying anything like you’re telling me, Jerry Jeff!” Because I was telling him to follow his own deal.

It’s important to have the tools, also.

You have to have the craft. Like with Guy (Clark), it was “The Randall Knife” — you have all the equipment to write when this thing appears to you and all the pieces fall in place.

Speaking of Guy, you recently guest-starred at a tribute for him at Austin’s Long Center for the Performing Arts. When the two of you were knocking around Houston coffeehouses, did you ever think you’d be onstage at such a fancy joint, pushing 70 and singing each other’s praises?

No. In fact, I didn’t know what Guy was gonna do. He was playing that folk circuit. He would come back into Houston and Townes and I would say, “He’s a real professional! He goes places and plays! He’s got a booking agent!” Guy was aware that Nashville was opening up, and to go there you had to be a singer-songwriter. And to him, that was still a mystery — not how do you do it, but how do you do it well? Then when he played his first couple to me, I said, “You’ve unlocked it. Whatever it is. You’ve reached back in your memory drawer and started pulling things out.”

Where were you when you unlocked it? 

Photo by Woody Welch

Photo by Woody Welch

It almost started from the beginning. I realized that there seemed to be plenty of real technical, folk-ology type of people who could do that real well. Mike Seeger and the New City Ramblers could do it almost word for word like the record; they played like it and dressed like it. And I said, “Christ, I can’t compete with that.” Unless I really wanted to practice a lot. But I didn’t want to do that. And I started thinking, what is it I like about music? I loved … Even from when I was a kid, I remember the first time I saw Hoagie Carmichael or Johnny Mercer on TV — anybody who actually wrote the songs. I was more intrigued by that than I was seeing Perry Como or Eddie Fisher singing the same stuff. My parents said, (Mercer or Carmichael) might not have sung as good as Perry Como, and I said,  “Yeah, but this guy created it.”

Somebody pointed out that, in the ’50s, you first record collection was not your own — it was your parents’. And you had to weed through there to find shit that you could maybe play and identify with.

In the first group that I was involved with, the Pizzarinos, I made up the lyrics. Back in those days, I made up the verses so we could all sing the choruses. Because nobody could remember all the verses to these songs. Nowadays, with the Internet, you can just pop the lyrics up on your cellphone.

Then, when I got into folk music, I started realizing, like Dylan said, that the world of folk music was 14 verses about a mining disaster or a bloody murder somewhere. I took a look at that and said, “This is pretty hard-core!” So I started learning some of those songs, but then I realized, I had to say, “Woody Guthrie wrote …,” or “Leadbelly wrote …” You were still a folkologist. That’s where the break came.

I thought, why can’t I just … Pretty soon, I could just say, “I wrote.” So I tried to pick out things I could do, and put my stuff on top of that. And pretty soon, I wouldn’t have to say anything. I would just come out and start playing, and my personality would carry all of these songs. And some of them I’d written and some of them I’d picked up.

People still tell me today, “When you do a song, you ‘Jerry Jeff’ it.” Well, yeah. It’s the same when other people do my songs. I want to hear what their imprint is.

“Morning Song to Sally” (from 1969’s Driftin’ Way of Life) is one of your first sophisticated ones, I think.

Folk music is simple changes. Johnny Cash, they said, never put a minor chord in anything. We used to laugh about that. But there’s a simplicity to it. Townes used to do that. His first thing was to always resolve everything on the minor. He did that quite a bit.

The first things I wrote, a lot of them, the verse would be one place, but the chorus would be in another part of the key. Like if it was in E, you’d do the bridge in A; I tried writing where the chorus was somewhere else. “I Makes Money” was pretty much that way.

The idea of trying to stay simple and direct was a chore. I wrote “Bojangles” and “Morning Song” about the same week. That was a good week!

But I was writing a lot all the time. I tried to churn ’em out.  I was trying to find the simplicity of folk music, I wanted to write something that sounded timeless. “Bojangles,” when it first came out, people said, “That sounds like a song that’s been around for 50 years!” And I went, “That’s what I want!” I wanted a song where the story holds and the structure holds. Not a chord change where people say, “Oh, that came out of that period of time.” That’s what makes standards, is when they sound timeless.

Was being able to write your own songs a revelation?

It was really intriguing to me. You’ve heard many songwriters say, “It’s a mystery to me, it comes when it comes.” It’s like writers, when their characters have taken on a life of their own, and the writers are watching ’em do shit. Larry McMurtry once said he expected one of his characters to say something a lot sooner.

You keep experimenting with the music and the mystery of it and the playing of it, and grabbing things to write about. Part of it is, I don’t fake stuff very well. I can’t put myself in the position of hating a woman or loving a woman … I can grab hold of the subject of loving a woman with Susan. But that’s a limited thing, because if I’m going to write to all the lovers, I’d have to take a general stance and I don’t do that all that well.

“Bojangles” is fun to do, because I can re-live those pictures that are in there. And that’s the most fun, to have your pictures in the songs. Those are the fun things about having all those images in your songs, you can dig into them and revisit them and have them come out. When I do a really good show, I’m pretty tired afterwards. I’ve just run that whole movie reel again.

One night at the One World Theater, I did two shows, and I got back to the house, and I said, I feel like I’ve had a Ramblin’ Jack experience — we were singing different songs each set and telling all these stories. And I called Jack and said, “I’ve finally had one of those moments where the thing made me dizzy.”

It’s possible to look at your career in three segments — the rambling folksinger, the Gonzo/Progressive Country years, and the elder statesman.

Susan said I was a singer-songwriter until I cut “Redneck Mother,” and then I was a yee-haw bar band. But I was talking to Rodney (Crowell), and I said, “The reason that happened was there was no place in Texas to go and play and support yourself (except for bars).” When I got here in 1971, I went and saw Willie at Big G’s in Round Rock, and a couple of other places out in the Hill Country where he played. And he was probably saying, “How do I get out of these bars and onto the concert stage?” And I was saying, “I’ve been on the concert stage, how do I get into these bars? I’ve got to have someplace to play every week.”

That became the thing — I needed to play with the band, so I could work my songs up with a band. Otherwise, I was just going to be making demos with my acoustic guitar, basically. We had to learn to play with an electric guitar, because that was what would cut through. It was all a matter of getting to a place where (we could make it in bars).

In the elder statesman phase, I’ve become a little subtler, to let people listen. You know, Chet Baker never played with a drummer the last few years of his life. I’m trying to get myself back up to that place where I can perform with my acoustic and harmonica and I’m enthused about doing it. And if I have an out-of-body experience, they love it. It still works to go crazy!

¡Viva Terlingua! is a landmark of Texas music. When was the last time you listened to it?

I don’t know. I don’t much listen to any of my stuff anymore. I never spent a lot of time recording it, because I didn’t like to be there (in the studio) very much, and the musicians I played with got self-conscious if they spent too much time in the studio, because their stuff would hum and squeak and it made ’em nervous. So I said, “Let’s just play and not think about it.” And the other thing was, if we stayed too long, we’d party and things would get sloppy.

But ¡Viva Terlingua! was partially a live recording; it was a product of the (technologies) that were just coming on the horizon then. But that was probably the most ill-prepared to do a recording project I ever was. I had the chorus to “Gettin’ By”; I had “Desperados Waiting for A Train” from Guy; I had this ooky idea for “Sangria Wine”; I even re-did “Little Bird,” because I was trying to find something to do. “Rolling Wheels” wasn’t even supposed to be on there; I wrote that for (a stillborn independent film project). ”Redneck Mother” and “London Homesick Blues” appeared while we were there.

But when you think about it, that was the premise of it: when you went to Luckenbach, fun things happened. And if you could get the fun things on the record, people would have fun listening to it. Vicariously, they were invited into the experience, and that was the reason everybody liked it.

Is that why it holds up?

We were at the cusp of many things at the time. I got to accomplish the thing I wanted to do about taking the band somewhere where they didn’t have to think about recording. Because when you’re in that environment, you don’t think about recording; you think about playing.

We got so much done early in the week, that we added the live show at the end. I wasn’t interested in making money, I just wanted the crowd on the record. Hence, the one-dollar admission. By Thursday, we decided we were gonna do it that weekend, so we called KVET or KOKE and said, “Just announce that we’re down here and it’s a buck, c’mon down.” So it turned out to be 900 people trying to get into that little dancehall.

It was winging it, but it did have that gonzo spirit. Hunter Thompson and I talked about that. “Gonzo” means taking an unknown thing to an unknown place for a known purpose.

Was it hard to maintain that groove?

The name (the Lost Gonzo Band) appeared during that Gonzo period when we were trying to do that. But the thing is, it gets a little old when you try to repeat it too much. But Ridin’ High (from 1975) was a pretty good project, and that was an attempt to address some of the flaws: go in the studio, use a studio rhythm section, put my guys on top of it and see if we can’t create “organized Gonzo.”

A Man Must Carry On is still my one of my favorite Jerry Jeff albums. It’s a big Gonzo stew of live tracks, studio stuff, and a return to Luckenbach with a tribute to its guiding spirit, Hondo Crouch.

There’s a stepping-stone there. From ¡Viva Terlingua!, the problems were addressed in Ridin’ High, with the studio band. Then, we took the studio band out of the studio — we went to New Orleans, where those guys were on the tracks in a live situation. And we’d also gone back to Luckenbach to record again. In fact, the last time I remember being with Hondo was at those sessions. There was a period of those three projects, and then Hondo passing away, and I thought, “How do I address that?” So I said, “Let’s just roll it into that album.” I didn’t just want to make an album around sorrow, so I said, “Let’s make a salute.”

You seem to flourish in live environments. A lot of people got reintroduced to you through the 1989 Gruene Hall project.

I had to do something. Susan said, “It’s time to make a new product.” So what I tried to do with Live At Gruene Hall was kind of a copy of ¡Viva Terlingua! It’s got “Lovin’ Makes the Livin’ Worthwhile,” which is “Gettin’ By.” I did “Man With the Big Hat,” which is “Desperados Waiting For A Train,” and I did “Trashy Women,” which was “Redneck Mother.”

Were you conscious of that?

I was conscious that it wouldn’t be a bad model to follow. I’m not sophisticated enough to plan it out deliberately. I didn’t have the Gonzo Band at the time, so I had to take the guys who would play on the record out on the road. For instance, I had never played with (guitarist) Champ Hood and (pianist) Roland Denney, so we went out and played about six gigs and played some of these songs. Then, the actual night of the recording, it was freezing and before the first set, I said, “No drinking.” And it was terrible! So on the break, I said, “Everybody go to the bar!” So everybody went to the bar and had a few beers and came back and that’s when we cut the whole album.

If you were going to do a live album now, what form would it take?

I’d like to do something in the solo vein. Find a spot and sit where I could really enjoy myself and do it over the course of a couple or three nights. Because I never know exactly what I’m going to do. I’m terrible about making a list and never following it. The band cracks up. I said, “If you think I’m doing this on purpose, you ought to see it when I’m doing it to myself.” Before I come out, I’ll go, “Okay, I’m starting with this song, I’m starting with this song.” Then I come out and it’s, “Naw, I’m not gonna start with that song.” Goddam, Jerry Jeff, you can’t even follow yourself!

What would you like to do that you haven’t yet done?

Win the lottery! That’s one daydream I have. I made a list one day, the first time I ever played the lottery. I was driving back from a gig and there was a little Stop ’n’ Go store by the side of the road. And I said, “That’s where the magic ticket is!” So I went in and bought one. Had never played the lottery before. And it was like $9.5 million.

So I was driving down the road and I thought, “What would you do?” And I thought, “I’d give the band each a year’s salary, and I’d pay off my cars, and I’d buy a better boat down in Belize.” And by the time I got home, I’d spent it all!  “Wow! How am I ever going to get along without it?!” That’s Jerry Jeff dealing with money.

If a young songwriter came up to you on the street and said, “I want to do what you do,” what would you tell them?

Photo by Woody Welch

Photo by Woody Welch

“Turn back, it’s a trap?” (Laughs) No, I’d say, “Just be prepared to be happy with whatever you make, but don’t be afraid to go into the music cities — New York, Nashville or L.A. Then, if you’re happy along the way, as quickly as you can, get somebody in your family to take care of your money.” Then the money you make is okay … I guess that’s no real trade secret.

Show business is not the greatest of careers, but I don’t know which ones are. People go belly-up in other businesses. I was prepared to live with my guitar and travel around. I was prepared to do that, no matter what. We used to talk about it when we were scuffling in the early days in the Village and we were all saying, “If we just had enough money to drive our motor homes and campers around from gig to gig …”

In Texas, probably, you can have more of a career, because live music is still important to the lives of people here. You go to other communities and they have hardly any. And you go, “How do you guys get along without it?”

I expect people to get tired of me at some point, but they haven’t yet. I was talking to a lady about doing an Internet radio show, and she said, “You haven’t saturated yourself.” There’s enough interest in me because I haven’t. If there’s anybody people ought to be tired of, it’s Willie! He never stays away long enough for you to forget he was just here!

You play so that you can play, and you do it so that you can do it.