Most people who know me know that I am a huge fan of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, ever since I first heard the lush minor hit they made when I was 13 years old called “Buy For Me The Rain.” I have made it my mission to let people know there’s a lot more to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band than “Mr. Bojangles.”
“Bojangles,” of course, is their most popular song, their first mega-top-10 song, and the song that still gets played all the time on the oldies stations. And so, when Jerry Jeff Walker — who wrote “Mr. Bojangles” — died the other day, it was a death in the Nitty Gritty Dirt family.
It never has been my favorite NGDB song, although it has a fond place in my heart as the door that opened them to wider recognition. Repetition sometimes diminishes the power of a song, and I’ve heard “Mr. Bojangles” so many times that it’s hard to recall the wonder of hearing the story for the first time — “I met a man, Bojangles, and he’d dance for you …”
But even after 50 years of endless replays, a few lines in the middle stab me in the heart every time:
He spoke through tears of 15 years how his dog and him traveled about. The dog up and died — he up and died. After 20 years he still grieves.
See? Just typing those words again, my eyes teared up and I felt a little lump in my throat. What a powerful image.
In 29 words he tells what happened, how deeply he loved that dog, and how the loss of the dog affected the man. I nominate that image for the Hall of Fame of powerful emotional lyrics.
Rest in peace, Mr. Walker.