Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Mr. Bojangles

I admit that the part when the dog “up and died” it hits me.”Mr. Bojangles,” written by country music artist Jerry Jeff Walker.

It was based on a homeless man Jerry Walker met in a New Orleans jail. The man referred to himself as “Mr. Bojangles” and regaled Walker with various stories about his life and then created a depressing mood in the cell when he talked about his dog, who had died. When one of the other men requested for someone to cheer everyone up, “Mr. Bojangles” hopped up and performed a tap dance.

“Mr. Bojangles” was the nickname used by Bill Robinson, a black tap dancer who appeared in many movies in the 1930s, including with Shirley Temple in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. After Robinson’s success, many black street dancers became known as “Bojangles.”

The song peaked at #9 in the Billboard 100 and #2 in Canada in 1971.

Some of the many artists to record this song include Bob Dylan, Harry Nilsson, John Denver, Nina Simone, Sammy Davis Jr., and Neil Diamond.

 

From Songfacts

This was written and originally released by the singer/songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, who wrote the song in the mid-’60s and recorded it in 1968. Walker left his home in upstate New York and traveled the country playing music. He spent some time in New Orleans, where one day he was a bit tipsy and made a public display trying to convince a young lady that love, at first sight, was real. This landed him in jail, where his cellmate was an older black man who made a living as a street dancer and told Walker all about his life.

In his book Gypsy Songman, Walker tells the story: “One of the guys in the cell jumped up and said, ‘Come on, Bojangles. Give us a little dance.’ ‘Bojangles’ wasn’t so much a name as a category of itinerant street entertainer known back as far as the previous century. The old man said, ‘Yes, Hell yes.’ He jumped up and started clapping a rhythm, and he began to dance. I spent much of that long holiday weekend talking to the old man, hearing about the tough blows life had dealt him, telling him my own dreams.” 

Walker moved on to Texas, where he sat down to write: “And here it came, just sort of tumbling out, one straight shot down the length of that yellow pad. On a night when the rest of the country was listening to The Beatles, I was writing a 6/8 waltz about an old man and hope. It was a love song. In a lot of ways, Mr. Bojangles is a composite. He’s a little bit of several people I met for only moments of a passing life. He’s all those I met once and will never see again and will never forget.”

Walker wrote another verse to the song but didn’t perform it because he couldn’t fit it all in. This verse was about the three wives the man in jail told him about.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band version starts with a spoken intro called “Uncle Charlie And His Dog Teddy.”

Jerry Jeff Walker told American Songwriter Magazine May/June 1988 that the success of this showed that songs needn’t conform to rules. He explained: “‘Bojangles’ broke all the rules. It was too long, was 6/9 time, about an old drunk and a dead dog. They had so many reasons why it didn’t fit anything. It would have never been a song if I had been living in Nashville and tried to take it through there. I recorded it in New York. I’ve always had my record deals through New York or L.A.”

According to Jerry Jeff Walker’s confrere Todd Snider, Jerry Jeff was known for a time as “Mr. Blowjangles” because of his raging cocaine habit. Todd quotes Jerry Jeff as saying: “A line of cocaine will make a new man out of you – and he’ll want some too.”

Mr. Bojangles

I knew a man, Bojangles and he danced for you
In worn out shoes
Silver hair, a ragged shirt and baggy pants
The old soft shoe
He jumped so high
He jumped so high
Then he’d lightly touch down
I met him in a cell in New Orleans, I was
Down and out
He looked to me to be the eyes of age
As he spoke right out
He talked of life
He talked of life
He laughed, clicked his heels and stepped
He said his name, Bojangles and he danced a lick
Across the cell
He grabbed his pants, a better stance
Oh, he jumped so high
Then he clicked his heels
He let go a laugh
He let go a laugh
Pushed back his clothes all around
Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles
Dance
He danced for those in minstrel shows and county fairs
Throughout the south
He spoke with tears of fifteen years how his dog and him
Traveled about
The dog up and died
He up and died
After twenty years he still grieves
He said I dance now at every chance in honky tonks
For drinks and tips
But most the time I spend behind these county bars
He said I drinks a bit
He shook his head
And as he shook his head
I heard someone ask him please
Please
Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles
Dance

Author: badfinger20

Guitar, Bass, song writer,

14 thoughts on “Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Mr. Bojangles”

      1. I just listened to Neil’s version…I liked it much better than I would have thought because I’m so accustomed to the Nitty Gritty…. verison. I always liked Neil’s voice…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. When you reviewed him the other day…you know much more about him but from what I know I’m the same as you…I didn’t like the direction he went in the mid-seventies or so.

        Liked by 1 person

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