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Mr. Bojangles

by

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

"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."
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 cell mate 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."
Some of the many artists to record this song include Bob Dylan, Harry Nilsson, John Denver, Sammy Davis Jr. and Neil Diamond.
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."
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
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Comments (11):

On February 14th 1971, "Mr. Bojangles" by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band peaked at #9 (for 3 weeks) on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart on November 15th at position #92 and spent 19 weeks on the Top 100...
It reached #2 on the Canadian RPM Top Singles chart...
As stated above it was composed by Jerry Jeff Walker; his original version peaked at #77 on the Top 100 in 1969 (his home town is upstate New York is Oneonta)...
In 1966 Jackson Browne was a member of the band...
And in 1978 the band released "In For The Night" under their new name 'The Dirt Band'.
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
"I knew a man Bojangles and he danced for you...." Beautiful song; with its melancholy tune, descriptively sad lyrics, just puts out emotions that everyone's experienced. That's why it's always been so popular.
- Camille, Toronto, OH
When he sings "the dog up and died" , I always get a tear in my eye. Love this masterpiece.
- PAUL, Detroit, MI
The standard Nitty Gritty Dirt Band release has notable fuzz distortion on the edges of vocals. Good rendition, but not so good studio engineering.

I concur that this song is about a white guy in jail using the pseudonym, not "the original" black Bojangles.
- Jim, Pleasant Hill, CA
Little known fact. Jerry did not write Mr. Bojangles. It was written by a transient (then called bum or hobo) who used to sit on the "Drag" close to UT playing his guitar and singing it. Jerry heard it and played it but when it came time to put it on his album, the transient had disappeared so Jerry took credit. I got this from someone who worked very closely on the album.
- Jo, Austin, TX
New Orleans jails were segregated back in those days; the dancer Mr. Walker met was Caucasian.
- Bart, New Milford, NJ
I thing the comment writer meant 6/8 time. There's no such thing as 6/9 time.
- Dave, Cullman, AL
Does anyone know the lyrics of the missing 6th verse of Mr. Bojangles? If not, is there a when to contact the artist to see if he would reveal the details?
- Ed, Leland, NC
No matter who records this song it sounds good. I've never heard a version that I didn't like. I always recommend this song to any young musician who wants to get noticed.
- Garry, Anchorage, AK
This version is getting a lot of airplay on our local country-and-western radio station. Thanks for listing it; it is splendid.
- Mark, Lancaster, OH
Jim Stafford also did a version of this song
- KARL, AKRON, , OH
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