Graded on a Curve:
Jerry Jeff Walker,
¡Viva Terlingua!

Remembering Jerry Jeff Walker.Ed.

When it comes to outlaw country, Jerry Jeff Walker is a proud representative who rarely tops anybody’s list. Chiefly noted for writing the ubiquitous “Mr. Bojangles” and for his cover of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” Jerry generally gets short shrift in comparison to Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Townes Van Zandt. But a listen to his 1973 live LP, ¡Viva Terlingua!, demonstrates conclusively that Walker can hold his own with the best of them.

Recorded with his Lost Gonzo Band at the Luckenbach Dancehall in 1973, ¡Viva Terlingua! is a masterpiece, featuring a unique mix of “outlaw” rock, blues, and traditional Mexican music styles that makes him one of a kind amongst his outlaw compadres. The album’s wonderful mixture of covers and originals helps—there isn’t a weak cut on the damn thing, from the carefree opening track, “Getting’ By,” a rollicking country tune on which Walker sets down his easy-going philosophy of living. The solos are great, Walker is charmingly insouciant, and if this one doesn’t make you happy, I recommend you look into ECT.

His cover of Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting for a Train” is a slow and lovely country lament over an old man who took him under his wing when he was a kid. The desperados turn out to be drifters and domino players, and Walker hits just the right note, avoiding bathos and steering clear of the maudlin, while the band kicks out the jams on the choruses and then kicks into the overdrive at the end, taking the song out, on a rock note.

Walker goes South of the Border on the joyous “Sangria Wine,” a celebration of one great alcoholic beverage. Drinking it with old friends in Texas on a Saturday makes him happy, and it brings out the music, as the song’s cool instrumental passage proves. You’d be hard pressed to find a more joyous celebration of booze than this tune, and if I weren’t a reformed drunk I’d go out and buy me a bottle right this minute. Shit, I might just do it anyway, to make sure Jerry Jeff ain’t exaggerating. “Little Bird” is a great honky tonker, a perky yet sad tune complete with excellent pedal steel by Herb Steiner; there’s a bird on Jerry Jeff’s windowsill and he’s looking out that window and wondering if his reflection on that window pane is clouded by tears or rain. Great tune, a little classic.

“Get It Out” is a flat-out rocker, with country instrumentation, and comes complete with a raucous chorus on which Walker shouts rather than sings. The midsection includes some organ and female backing singers, and is followed by some brief scat singing before the drums kick back in and Jerry Jeff sings, “Feel much better/Just by singing this song” as Craig Hillis hits just the right notes on the electric geetar. Next up is the classic “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” a rollicking condemnation of both ignorant rednecks and the mothers who produced them. Who can resist the lines, “Up against the wall, redneck mother/Mother who has raised her so well/He’s 34 and drinkin’ in a honky tonk/Just kickin’ hippies’ asses and raising Hell.” Throw in some great guitar, harmonica, pedal steel, and piano, and one of the best sing-along choruses ever, and this one is a standard for a reason.

Walker’s cover of Michael Martin Murphey’s “Backslider’s Wine” is a slow one that highlights a great fiddle, nice piano, and lots of pedal steel. It’s a sad number, and the pedal steel and fiddle instrumental is wonderful. It’s the flipside of “Sangria Wine” and ends on an almost evangelical note, and is lovely from start to finish. “Wheel” is a spiritual tune and opens with some spacey noises from a Hammond organ, while Walker sings about a rolling wheel. It opens with a tractor accident involving his daddy, after which “the wheel kept spinning around.” From there he sings about “rolling wheels taking us on our way,” while the fiddle and the pedal steel make a wonderful noise. Those rolling wheels are life and death, the latter personified by the sound of a wheel that keeps spinning around. It’s a great song, country philosophy at its deepest, and the melody is lovely to boot.

As for “London Homesick Blues,” it was written by Gary P. Nunn and takes us to London, where a homesick and freezing country singer wants “to go home with the armadillo/Good country music from Amarillo and Abilene/The friendliest people and the prettiest women you’ve ever seen.” The lyrics are great, the choruses are epic, and the audience is wild. Meanwhile the piano pounds away, the pedal steel makes its plaintive sound, and the whole band sings along as they repeat the chorus over and over, bringing joy to all involved. And after they’ve stopped they start again, and all I can say is I wish I’d been at this show, where high spirits prevailed.

With an album this solid, about all you can do is wish it also contained some of Walker’s other great tunes. I’ve never been a fan of “Mr. Bojangles,” but I would have loved to hear the electric “North Cumberland Blues,” “Pissin’ in the Wind,” “L.A. Freeway,” the hard rocking “Lone Wolf,” and the unbearably lovely “Eastern Avenue River Railway Blues.” From his folk years to the present, he has bequeathed us some of the finest performances you’ll ever hear. The irony is that there probably isn’t a single redneck asshole in the U.S. of A. who believes “Up Against the Wall” is directed at him. I’ll bet they all sing along to it in honky tonks from Littlestown to Luckenbach. But hey, my pals and I used to get really wasted and sing along to The Modern Lovers’ “I’m Straight.” Loved the damn tune. Oh well. Maybe if they’d called it “Up Against the Wall, Pothead Mother.” Nah. We’d have still loved it.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text