Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Jerry Jeff

Summer's nights in Texas City were usually thick with heat and fireflies. Mosquitos, too, if there was rain, recently, and there usually had been. One such night, and into the early hours of morning, found Mike Titus, Bobby Hendrix, and me drinking beer in my pick-up, parked in front of the library, on the cruise. We were listening to Waylon, and Willie, and Jerry Jeff, like always, when the subject of Luckenbach came up. Jerry Jeff was always talking about Luckenbach—he was big friends with Hondo Crouch, the Imagineer who owned it, and had recorded "Viva Terlingua" there—and Waylon had made a song about it that we were all very impressed by. It seemed like the epicenter of everything—next to Austin, of course.

It was nearly August, and we were feeling a little jaded, and a little disgusted by the scene; sorta bored with everything. About 4 am, it was decided that we were gonna meet up at Mike's at 7, and head up to Luckenbach.

Bobby never showed. We waited till 8 to call, and his mother said he was sleeping, and that she couldn't wake him up. We didn't wait.

Luckenback is located a little ways off Hwy. 290, in the hill country, about 80 miles due west from Austin. Near Johnson City, if you know the territory. Neither of us had ever been there, though it's not all that far from Cherokee, which is my home town.

Took us about 6 hours to make it there, so we rolled in about 3 pm. It was dusty, and hot. Lots of grasshoppers, working real hard at becoming locusts. There were two buildings, that I can remember, a post office and a general store. We didn't see the dance hall. There wasn't a soul around.

We walked into the store, which looked something like the pictures from Jerry Jeff's record jacket. Npbody there, either, except an old lady with stringy hair, perched on a stool behind the counter. She was reading a romance novel, but set it down when we walked over. "Howdy, how 'y'all?", she said, sounding interested in thr response. We tipped our hats, said we were doing pretty well. Made a little small talk.

Finally, I asked, "Has Jerry Jeff been around?"

No, she said, she didn't know anyone by that name—she knew someone once named Jacky Joe, but no Jerry Jeff.

"What about Waylon?"

She scrunched her eyes. "No, I don't think—Oh, you mean that big-shot singer? What would he be doin here?"

As we walked away, we could hear her laughing to herself. "Lord, I had all his money, I would'n be nowheres near this ol place."

We didn't know that Hondo had died, the year before. Place was sort of in limbo, I guess, But we'd believed if we played our cards right, we'd run into Jerry Jeff, and/or some of the boys from Lost Gonzo Band—or Waylon or Willie, at least—just hanging around. Picking guitar, on the porch. Like on the record jacket. Well, maybe we didn't completely believe that—but we sure thought we'd find more than just bugs and stringy hair and romance novels.

We headed back to Austin. I'd heard Jerry Jeff lived somewhere near Convict Hill, southwest of town. We'd just cruise around and ask, listen for him playing—no one sounds like Jerry Jeff. We did party in town a few nights, and had a pretty good time. On the third day, we found Jerry Jeff's car.

It was at a filling station right next to convict hill, where 71 West makes the turn to Llano. A '57 Chevy, I believe it was. And the sign on the windshield, big as life, said: FOR SALE BY JERRY JEFF WALKER.

The guy in the station said Jerry Jeff had dropped the car by that very morning. Said he didn't know where he lived, though it was nearby, and that he would be stopping by again some time, though he wasn't sure when. "You never know, with that feller," the man laughed.

We were running low of money, but did the only sensible thing we knew to do. We camped in the parking lot of an empty building across the street, and we waited. Two days, and Jerry Jeff never showed. Beginning of the third day, Mike tried to turn his truck on for a little AC—cause it was hot—and all we heard was the solenoid clicking. The damn starter was out, which cost us forty dollars, which was most of our cash. The guy at the station lent us some tools, so we replaced the thing that evening, when it cooled down. Around midnight, Jerry Jeff still hadn't showed. After gorging ourselves at Whataburger, we weren't sure if we had enough gas to make it, but we headed home.

We made it as far as Alvin, before the truck limped to the gas pump of a convenience store, around 5 am. We had fifty cents between us, and we were emptying out Lone Star bottles so that we could return the empties for gas (we still had nearly two cases of beer on ice—at least our priorities were right). We'd poured out a couple of six-packs when this old guy walking by started laughing like hell. He asked just what in hell we thought we were doing, and we explained our dilemma. Our trek to find Jerry Jeff. The dust, the heat, the grasshoppers. The '57 Chevy. The starter. He handed us five dollars. "Will that get you home?" he asked.

We offered him the rest of our beer, but he declined, but did give us his address, so we could mail him the money (which Mike did, the following week). He said he didn't drink Lone Star, and he didn't know who Jerry Jeff Walker was, but figured he must be pretty important, for us to go to all that trouble. And, of course, to us, he was. We may have been stupid and naive, but we loved Jerry Jeff, with hearts that were relatively pure.

We were back on the cruise that evening, a Saturday. By 2 or so, we were at the parking lot again with Bobby, drinking beer and complaining, about the sticky heat, the mosquitos, and the waning cruise.

It's Jerry Jeff's birthday, celebrated in Austin by a night at the Paramount, and another at Gruene Hall. Wish we were there.

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