Jerry Jeff Walker in a New Key
“I got a real bad sore throat and the rest is history”
By Doug Freeman,
1:45PM, Mon. Mar. 26, 2018
Celebrating birthday No. 76 with his annual Texas Bash on Saturday night at the Paramount Theatre, Jerry Jeff Walker shuffled onstage gingerly and took a seat alongside his band. If the Texas troubadour has slowed with age and last year’s fight against throat cancer, the hometown audience proved determined to bolster the seminal singer-songwriter.
A standing ovation followed by a spontaneous round of “Happy Birthday” from the crowd set a celebratory tone even before Walker launched the performance by leading “Laying My Life on the Line.”
“We’re going to just weave our way through stories and songs here. You know the drill,” he laughed in a noticeably huskier voice.
Although the quintet remained seated throughout the show, and Walker admitted reworking songs into different keys to accommodate his new vocal range, the rowdy house reveled in the summit nonetheless. Over the two-hour, 19-song set, which included a 20-minute intermission, Walker returned that enthusiasm even if his voice didn’t always cooperate. His band, anchored by Lloyd Maines on pedal steel and Chris Gage on guitar, upheld the points that faltered, most notably on the first-set close of Guy Clark’s “L.A. Freeway” that roiled into a blowout jam.
The initial portion of the show leaned on cuts from Walker’s new album, It’s About Time, including the beautifully autobiographical “I Always Thought I Was Going to Live in California.” Predictably, familiar hits roused the audience to its feet, especially “Mr. Bojangles” with Gage on accordion and second-set opener “Gettin’ By.” The crowd roared harmony to Gary P. Nunn’s iconic “London Homesick Blues” and Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Redneck Mother,” and Walker’s son Django emerged to join in for a couple of songs, including “Texas on My Mind.”
While the marquee raconteur only fleetingly acknowledged last year’s health issues (“I got a real bad sore throat and the rest is history”), his return to the live arena so soon after treatment is a testament to his determination at maintaining a life onstage. As for the audience, the singer’s presence alone provided enough fodder to rekindle the ¡Viva Terlingua!/Luckenbach spirit of Austin’s Seventies heyday that Jerry Jeff Walker helped forge.