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"I think it's done pretty good," Walker typically understates regarding the still-solid-selling 1973 MCA opus. "Especially considering we didn't know what the hell we were doing. It was just pure music-making."
In 1977, the Lost Gonzos went their own way, and Walker formed the Bandito Band, resulting in 1978's Contrary to Ordinary and Jerry Jeff releases. But alternative tastes were beginning to shift to all things electrified, progressive country wasn't progressing much anymore, and ramblin' man Walker had gotten married and, in 1978, sired daughter Jessie Jane. The following year's Too Old to Change served as an aptly named swan song for an era of freewheeling experimentation. The alternative musical strains once emanating en masse from Texas were being replaced by an explosion of traditional country in Music City.
"They were doing their own business in Nashville then," Walker notes evenly. "Roy Acuff, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty--they were the stars. It wasn't what I was doing or what I wanted to do, but that's just the way things worked out. I wasn't going there. Now, I guess I probably could've been more successful with Nashville's help. It's not easy to admit, you know. But, of course, Willie and Waylon did well, and, hell, Lyle Lovett still makes good records, and they haven't killed his sense of humor . . . so far."
But he didn't make it to Tennessee, and by 1982, at age 40, Walker had had it with depending upon others to produce, record and distribute his albums. For the next few years, he was content to tour and raise his family, which now included son Django Cody, born in 1981.
In 1986, Walker and his wife, Susan, formed Tried and True Music--We wanted control over what was happening, and this seemed the way to do it," he says--and their company signed an international distribution deal with Rykodisc. Basically, Walker makes the music and Ryko distributes it. With 1989's Live at Gruene Hall placing three singles on Billboard's country-music chart, and another four CDs now in the bins, Jerry Jeff Walker is again giving his legions what they want. The latest, this year's Viva Luckenbach!, marked a return to the scene of his initial success for a 20-year-reunion session with his current Gonzo Compadres. It works, especially the "Gettin' By" redux and Walker's 1968 "I Makes Money (Money Don't Make Me)."
"Next big thing we're going to do," Walker notes, "is record all the stuff on the old records. We'll do it live at the Birchmere, and all those old songs will be home with us." In the meantime, Walker hits the road.
"What a country!" he enthuses. "Last Fourth of July, there were 8,000 people packed into the minor-league-baseball stadium in San Antonio, all of em singing 'Up against the wall, redneck mother. . . .' It was great. After the show, this Norwegian journalist comes up to me and says, serious as all hell [Walker approximates a Scandinavian accent], 'Mr. Jerry Jeff, can you tell me, are you for or against this redneck mother?'" Walker laughs.
"This is how I work, and this is the fun I get," he says. "You can't make this stuff up.