News of Otsego County

Jerry Jeff Walker

Our ‘Mr. Bojangles’ Jerry Jeff Walker, Oneonta Original, 1942-2020
 Jerry Jeff Walker, Oneonta Original, 1942-2020

Our ‘Mr. Bojangles’

Jerry Jeff Walker at his last Oneonta performance, on Aug. 14, 2010, at the Oneonta Theatre. At the concert, he was presented with his OHS “Wall of Distinction” plaque, as he had been unable to attend that induction ceremony. (Jim Kevlin/

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

ONEONTA – With the passing of “Mr. Bojangles” creator Jerry Jeff Walker, Doug Decker thinks it’s time to honor Oneonta’s most famous son.

“It’s time,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how important he was to the western, gonzo and country scene. They revered him.”

Walker – Oneonta’s own Ron Crosby, before he took his stage name and found fame with his 1968 classic – died Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, at age 78, after a three-year battle with throat cancer.

When he heard the news of Walker’s passing, Decker started a GoFundMe campaign, hoping to raise $20,000 needed for a memorial bandstand in Muller Plaza.

“The city doesn’t have the money in the budget for it, but someone suggested GoFundMe,” he said.

A fan of Jerry Jeff’s music for years, Decker even taught Walker’s sister, Cheryl Harder, how to play “Mr. Bojangles,” now an American classic, on the guitar when he was teaching at the Eighth Note.

He first met Walker in the early ’80s, when Nick Lambros came into the music store “He said Jerry Jeff was coming to the Diana restaurant to give a concert, and he needed some gear,” he said. “I told him I could provide it – if he got me a ticket. It was invite-only, so Nick said, ‘You’re invited!’”

It was “the best concert I ever saw,” said Decker, and after that saw Jerry Jeff concerts whenever he could, including when he played at the Oneonta Theatre in 2010.

A longtime radio personality at WCDO, Decker also interviewed the star frequently.

The 2010 show was a rare sell-out for the theatre, and while Walker may have brought
the hits, Oneonta had something more in store for him.

“Jerry Jeff didn’t come to his induction into the OHS Wall of Fame,” said his former coach, Tony Drago. “So at intermission, Ron Brazier went backstage, and then on stage to present him with his award!”

Long before Walker was the country music icon, he was a member of the Class of 1960, playing on Drago’s 1959-60 record-breaking basketball team – undefeated, untied.

“He was one of my nice boys,” said Drago. “He was 6-foot-1 and a good shooter; he could score 11 or 12 points in a game.”

In addition to sports, he also played in a local band, The Tones. “My husband played with him before we were married,” said Oneonta’s Cecelia Russell, whose late husband was also a Jerry, and also a member of The Tones. “I never got to meet him, but whenever he was in town, they’d get together.”

Walker came from a musical family; his grandparents played for square dances and his mother, Alma, played piano.

“Our grandmother gave him his first guitar,” said sister Cheryl.

“I only met him one time,” said fabled local DJ Chuck D’Imperio. “But I told him that my father, Don, and his Aunt Norma both played in the same orchestra, The Bards of Swing. He got a big charge out of that!”

After high school, Walker moved to New York City, where he played in folk clubs and busked on the sidewalk. “We always hear the word ‘troubadour,’ but Jerry Jeff was a real-life one,” said D’Imperio. “He truly was a free spirit.”

His sister agreed. “He was 15 years older than me, but one time when he came home to visit my parents, he had long hair,” she said. “I was 7 or 8 years old, and I remember walking down Main Street with him, feeling so proud of my brother, with his long hair. I thought it was the coolest thing – and my parents were walking behind us! They didn’t like it.”

“When he came back to Oneonta, it didn’t matter if he was Jerry Jeff or Ron,” said Mike Syron, a fellow basketball player. “He was always a great guy.”

Walker later moved to Texas, where he became one of the “grandfathers” of the Austin music scene. His annual “birthday party” concert at the Paramount Theatre and at Gruene Hall was a major event in country music, featuring local and national recording artists for a night of songs and stories.

In 2012, he held a major fundraiser for President Obama’s reelection at Austin City Limits.
But he never forgot his coach, and the two kept in touch. “He’d call me whenever Duke was playing basketball,” said Drago. “We’d critique the game together.”

Drago’s son, Charlie, lived in San Antonio, and went to Walker’s shows whenever he could. “When my dad would come visit, we’d all play golf, then go see Jerry Jeff play at night,” he said. “I was at the last show he ever did at Gruene Hall. We had tickets for his birthday bash, but he canceled the show.”

“I always wanted to go to the shows he did at his house in Belize,” said Decker. “I kept saying, ‘next year, next year.’”

Walker was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2017 and released his final album, “It’s About Time” in 2018.

Walker was cremated and no funeral service is planned, but Harder said that a tribute concert is in the early planning stages.

“His music and his storytelling will live on for generations,” said Harder. “I can always put on a CD and hear his voice. He’s gone, but he’s not really gone.”

Jerry Jeff Walker, 78, ‘Mr. Bojangles’ Creator; On Historic OHS Team


Jerry Jeff Walker, 78,

‘Mr. Bojangles’ Creator;

On Historic OHS Team

Jerry Jeff Walker hoists his OHS Wall of Distinction plaque, awarded to him during his last local performance, Aug. 14, 2010, at the Oneonta Theatre. ( file photo)
A publicity shot of Jerry Jeff in his heyday.

ONEONTA – Jerry Jeff Walker, the Oneonta native who found country music stardom with his 1968 hit “Mr. Bojangles,” has died after a three-year battle with throat cancer, according to reports.

Born Ronald Clyde Crosby on March 16, 1942, in Oneonta, was a member of OHS Coach Tony Drago’s unbeaten, untied 1959-60 varsity basketball team.  He also formed his first band locally, The Tones. He graduated in 1960 and moved to New York City, then to Austin.

HOMETOWN History May 29, 2020


May 29, 2020

135 Years Ago

Home & Vicinity – A few nights ago a fair damsel who was coming out of one of our churches was approached by a young man who requested the pleasure of seeing “her home.” The young lady replied,” “No, sir; if you want to go home with me you must go with me to church, sit with me during the exercises and thus show yourself worthy of my company!”
Sensible girl, that! If others would follow her example, the young men who loaf around the streets until service is nearly over and then station themselves near the church door, and when the ladies appear ask to go home with them, would soon become more familiar with the inside of the churches than at present.

May 1885

130 Years Ago

The street railway company has made arrangements to handle two thousand passengers on Decoration Day between West End and Wilber Park. The observation car will run only from the Windsor Hotel to the park; all other cars will run through as usual. Cars will leave the West End every half hour and the Windsor Hotel and Wilber Park every fifteen minutes.
The graduates of the Oneonta Normal School are from the first able to command very comfortable salaries.
Two members of the class of 1890 have already secured excellent positions. F.H. Lane, whose thesis is titled “The Jesuits,” goes to Babylon, Long Island at a salary of $1,000 per year, while one of the lady graduates has been secured by the Normal College of the City of New York where she will be teacher in the model department.

May 1890

125 Years Ago

Patrons who attended the sell-out performance of McIntyre & Heath’s “The Ham Tree,” a musical comedy, on Monday evening at the Oneonta Theatre, were unanimous in their verdict that it was the best of Manager George Roberts’ excellent shows. It was no place for a philosopher who wanted to do any serious work. But, for any human being who likes to laugh, it was the inner shrine. If there are any funnier comedians in the world than McIntyre & Heath they had better be locked up, or they might face a charge of manslaughter for tickling people to death.
The songs were good, the dancing clever, the show girls pretty, the costumes clean and bright and not a line in the show that would make a Quaker blush. The situations in which the busted down minstrels found themselves were the product of a mastermind and the dialogue of the two minstrels were put over in a way that would make imitators look awfully sick. Theatre lovers are grateful to Mr. Roberts for his nerve in securing an attraction like this for a city of this size.

May 1895

90 Years Ago

Professor Robert D. McKenzie of the University of Washington maintains that Nordic supremacy is not caused by racial differences, but rather by differences in culture and training. A good many people might disagree with him. However, the dissenters from McKenzie’s view might be persuaded differently by reading newspaper accounts of the marathon race at Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The marathon race is generally regarded as calling for distinctly Nordic strength and endurance. However, the race was won by a brown-skinned Algerian, with a dark-skinned Chilean second and two yellow-skinned Japanese fourth and sixth, while the white race had to be content with third and fifth places. The winner was trained as a dispatch runner for French troops – a fact that supports the professor’s theory that almost any race, with the same training as whites, can do what whites can.

May 1930

30 Years Ago

Pepsi is trading soda for vodka, McDonald’s is bringing
the golden arches across the iron curtain, and Thomas Scholet, an Oneonta businessman believes any size company can make a Soviet business connection. “Soviet Business Connections” is the name of the umbrella organization Scholet set up to facilitate commercial, cultural and recreational exchange between the super powers. Scholet himself is doing business with the Soviets, having recently entered into a joint venture with a Moscow-based organization called Soviet International Tourist Services. Scholet and his partners put together here in the U.S. to travel to the Soviet Union and the Moscow office organizes groups in the Soviet Union to tour in America. Scholet plans to lead 150 business travelers to the Soviet Union this year.

May 1990

20 Years Ago

Health insurance companies will have to settle claims faster and face higher penalties for failure to pay claims on time under the terms of legislation sponsored by State Senator James L. Seward. The measure passed unanimously on May 16. “We need to toughen the 1997 prompt payment laws because compliance isn’t what it should be,” Seward said. The legislation requires insurers to pay claims filed electronically within 30 days instead of 45. The bill also declares that failure to settle claims in a timely manner constitutes an unfair claims settlement practice,,, subjecting HMOs and insurers to additional penalties.
The bill requires that all health insurance contracts include a dispute resolution mechanism. “When a company agrees to cover medical procedures, it must pay policyholders and providers on time,” Seward said. The bill also prohibits HMOs and insurers from denying care that had been previously authorized. “I certainly hope the Assembly will support our effort to improve the claims settlement and payment process in New York on behalf of patients and providers,” Seward added.

May 2000

15 Years Ago

Jason West, the New Paltz Village Mayor who challenged New York law by attempting to marry gay couples will face trial, New York State’s highest court has ruled. Mayor West will face 24 misdemeanor counts of violating the state’s domestic relations law by marrying couples without marriage licenses last year. West’s defiance of a law that state officials say forbids gay marriage has made New Paltz a flashpoint in the national gay marriage debate. The New York State Court of Appeals refused West’s request to hear the case first, avoiding the usual process of hearing cases in town, county and state appellate courts before they are considered by the state’s highest court. West had sought a “leave application” because he argued the case was unique, novel and critical to the state. The Appellate Court issued its ruling following a teleconference.

May 2005

10 Years Ago

Oneonta native Jerry Jeff “Mr. Bojangles” Walker will be back in town in early August to visit his mother. And while here, he plans to play his first local concert in a half-dozen years Saturday, Aug. 14, at the by-then newly refurbished Oneonta Theatre.

May 28, 2010

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