Jerry Jeff Walker's "Viva Terlingua" remains fresh and vital after all these years.
The 1973 album brought a new sound to aspiring Southern hipsters like me, making Austin as cool as San Francisco and New York.
Recorded with the impromptu Lost Gonzo Band, Walker's insouciant album defied both the refined Nashville sound and progressive rock pretensions. The feeling of a bunch of guys jamming on a front porch derived from a deceptive artistry
With era-defining standards like "London Homesick Blues," "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mothers," "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train" and "Wheel," the album set the stage for Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Jimmy Buffett.
Walker, who followed the country tradition of career-destructive drinking, drug-use and not showing up for concerts, died Friday at age 78 of throat cancer. Long sober, he kept performing and recording, inspiring younger singer-songwriters striving for artistic independence.
His good-ole-boy persona hid the sensitive performer who wrote one of the era's most beloved songs, "Mr. Bojangles," a poignant portrait of an aging street performer Walker said he met in the New Orleans drunk tank.
Walker and the Gonzo Band's performance of Clark's "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train" shows artistic depths reached with little rehearsal.
The novelty "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mothers," hastily finished by Ray Wylie Hubbard for the album, consciously answers Merle Haggard's political anthem "Okie From Muscogee." As with Haggard's song, listeners interpreted "Redneck Mothers" on different levels, from satire to a perverse ironic pride.
"Viva Terlingua's" most masterful work, "London Homesick Blues" was written and sung by Gary P. Nunn, a member of the band.
Telling the story of a Texan in London feeling homesick for his native state, the song has the authority of a short story or film, evoking the essence of both places.
The band's rowdy honky-tonk performance, with Walker singing harmony, provides effective Texas-flavored counterpoint to the wistful, gloomy portrayal of London.
Walker was one of those American originals who made a lasting influence. For me and others of my generation, "Viva Terlingua" will always bring back that time when our youth was almost gone and we didn't want the music to end.