Together Again Forever

By Earl Casey

A warm Saturday shuffled toward late shade comfortable in the Texas Hill Country. Under the rising full moon, there was something new nestled under the live oaks behind the old bar and general store.

On that October evening, Jerry Jeff Walker’s son, Django, and Hondo Crouch’s younger daughter, Cris Crouch Graham, pulled away a drape covering the bronze statue, startling the wide-eyed gray cat that had been hiding beneath the cloth.

Susan Walker was watching from a distance, remembering the gentle nudge she felt in the middle of the night soon after Jerry Jeff passed, and the vision that emerged, and the one that sculptor Clete Shields created. For Susan, this was a creative process that she describes as “flowers for her scars”.  

Susan wore elegance instead of grief, her dark eyes never blinked, certain it was all going to work. She could sense the magic…And there it was.

Jerry Jeff and Hondo perched knee to knee on a bench, rascals exchanging radiant grins. An aura crackled around them. Jerry Jeff and Hondo are back together in Luckenbach, Texas, and they’re staying.

A few steps away, there’s a rural mailbox with Hondo’s sign “Luckenbach Texas Pop. 3.”  Now, make that 5.

Such a commotion for a tiny spot. The unveiling of a new bronze monument, reuniting two Texas icons whose soul-deep friendship helped ignite Texas’ declaration of music independence.  Almost half a century ago, Jerry Jeff recorded his legendary “¡Viva Terlingua!” album in Luckenbach’s dancehall. Lone Star Music nodded, “…the Jerry Jeff Walker most fans know and love was born fully grown in that Texas ghost town in the summer of 1973.” 

Hondo Crouch was the self-declared imagineer who personified the Luckenbach pastoral wisdom that Jerry Jeff idealized and their friendship transformed him. From that point, his bond with Texas was eternal, their friendship, deeply profound. When Hondo died in 1976, Jerry Jeff’s broken heart produced “A Man Must Carry On,” a double-album dedicated to Hondo.

Fans and friends circled the unveiling, cellphones raised high to record the moment in one-hand salutes to these two Texas cultural icons. These weren’t strangers, they sang all of Jerry Jeff’s songs in their sleep and intended to sing loudly later at the concert. Songs that had become the playlist of each life standing there.

Susan told the fans, “There was a lot that happened between those two men. And a friendship formed that was more than special, it was eternal. When they met, Hondo had just bought Luckenbach, and shortly thereafter Jerry Jeff recorded “¡Viva Terlingua!” in the dancehall, a year later Jerry and I were married in the bar here with Hondo as our best man. There were so many days and nights spent here during that time, with Jerry Jeff picking and singing under the trees right here, watching Hondo spin his magic.”

The Jerry Jeff memorial concert at Luckenbach the year before had produced ticket sales, sponsorships, and headline performers who donated their talents. All proceeds were directed toward creation of the statue.

A veteran Philadelphia artist, sculptor Clete Shields, reveres his medium and its timelessness.  “That’s bronze. You could pull it up after 4,000 years beneath the Aegean, it would look just like that.” Shields senses exactly where it will smooth shiny with the years, the touch of thousands of hands, polished by all those rumps and jeans.  “The bench. The shoulders, when all those countless arms drape across those shoulders. The hands.”    

Jerry Jeff sang that Austin bootmaker Charlie Dunn “never put a mark in his boot.”  In Luckenbach, check Jerry Jeff’s left boot sole. There, the bold signature CLETE in capital letters, 2022, and the foundry’s casting mark. Clete Shields ran his sculptor’s hands gently across two lives to fashion a melody of bronze. Those eternal smiles, the just-right profile of Jerry Jeff’s forever nose. “I hope you enjoy this,” and he paused. “...Forever.”  

It was Shields who called Susan to suggest that some proper words be engraved on the bench.  Susan found those words in Jerry Jeff’s “A Man Must Carry On” liner notes. 

“In times like these
It is with personal pride
I can say
I knew a man
Whose own security
Gave him the freedom
To enjoy life
With its simple

Susan remembered the now-faded photo that Jerry Jeff kept in his room since the 1970s through the day he died in October 2020. Hondo’s picture with his handwriting and signature.

“Somehow I think
of you too much

Hondo Crouch was a whittler. He would enjoy that their words would be “carved” upon that bench. Hondo would often rest on a bench like that with a small pocket knife, a perfect scrap of wood, and animals and spoons and jewelry would appear in his gnarled hands. One was a simple, elegant wooden cross Hondo whittled and gave to Susan on her wedding day. It was hanging on a chain near her heart at the unveiling.

Within minutes of the statue’s unveiling, it was obvious that there was a new phenomenon. A landmark, a destination, a delight. To sit in the shade on that bench beside Jerry Jeff and Hondo and pass the time up close. To see their grins again, the hats pushed back, strong left fingers on the guitar frets, the joy and mischief in their eyes that Susan Walker conceived would be magic.

The bronze became a same-day instant magnet. “Here, sit on that side, I’ll sit here. Mister, could you take our picture please. Hold my beer…wait, let me just keep it here.”

And here they come, and they wander around casually then dart to the bench for a picture.  There will be weddings performed at that spot, babies balanced on the bench, new loves memorialized, old loves warmed, hands held.  A longneck spilled every now and then.
Songs sung, spirited and proud, amid clusters of hats, boots and beers, or in a lonesome soulful solo.

A full moon began to rise, curious. In its own sweet time, it began to peer over the live oaks, drawn by the sounds of yesterday calling new young voices of the gentle Texas night. The recorded voice of Hondo Crouch was heard again amid the trees and gentle lights, the spell of Hondo reciting his poem, “Luckenbach Moon.”

“Nothing much happened in Luckenbach this month
Except that the potato chip man came by
And then there was the moon.
We try to tell folks who come here to look at our town
What a big mean moon we have
But nobody’ll believe it.
Last night it showed off, the greatest ever.
It just hung there daring you to look at it
Making silhouettes into things
And things came alive.”

What came alive next was the concert where words dance in songs. Django Walker loped onto the bandstand platform, a towering presence whose first chord called a generational audible. The Austin music fusion survivors of the 1970s edged aside to make room for younger songwriters and voices to emerge, yet the night held true to the spirit of Jerry Jeff Walker.

Django called the downbeat for Jerry Jeff’s veteran band, who played the entire darn night, Chris Gage, Steve Samuel and Brad Fordham. Django had chosen a lineup of talent and friends he knew from the road, presenting them to a crowd hoarse from decades of Jerry Jeff concerts. Django’s first song, an anthem of life recorded inside Luckenbach’s dance hall in 1973, as Jerry Jeff Walker sang aloud what he’d been living.  

“Just gettin' by on gettin' by’s my stock in trade
Livin’ it day to day
Pickin' up the pieces wherever they fall
Just letting it roll, lettin’ the high times carry the low
Just living my life easy come, easy go.”

Django, just like his father, was a master introducing an array of incredible new talent. Django brought on the Nashville singer-songwriter, 26-year-old William Beckmann, with his “Bourbon Whiskey,” a heartbreak song. Beckmann followed with a few by Ray Price, Jerry Jeff, then into Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting For A Train” and instantly the bandstand filled as stunning young voices flowed to the mikes.

Then, Jamie Lin Wilson from D’Hanis Texas near San Antonio, told the fans, “Jerry Jeff songs were in my brain since birth.”  She immediately took Jerry Jeff’s “Blue Mood” soaring with introspective heart, confiding, “…a little voice inside me asked/are you all you thought you’d be?”

A bit of Jerry Jeff history walked onstage. Billy Jim Baker, who wrote “Contrary to Ordinary,” the title song of Jerry Jeff’s 1978 album. Baker is a professional clown and songwriter, and once persuaded both Jerry Jeff and his friend-in-mischief, Texas writer Bud Shrake, to perform together in a circus while wearing full clown costumes and makeup. 

Tim Flannery, singing his tribute to Jerry Jeff “Last Of The Old Dogs,” was emotion wrapped in song. Flannery then delivered with the late Chris Wall’s “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight.”

While all this was underway, Tom Scott from Columbus, Ohio, was sitting on a bench away from the stage so he could smoke cigars with John, his friend and neighbor. Scott won the “who knew Jerry Jeff when” medallion for the evening.  In early 1963, he was in Marine training when he found 21-year-old Jerry Jeff playing a bar in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Strumming guitar with a folded matchbook cover instead of a pick, Scott recalled. “Broke. He didn’t have a nickel.”

Wade Bowen chose “I Love You,” Jerry Jeff’s love song to Susan, “because it was the favorite song of my dad.” Bowen said the night’s singers and songwriters were talking about which songs they wanted to play and he made a beeline to claim that one.

Steve Earle ambled on stage with a record of his own. Earle had played the 2021 memorial concert for Jerry Jeff, the bronze dedication concert underway that night, and in 2022 had released an entire album in dedication, “Jerry Jeff.”

As he tuned for “Mr.Bojangles,” he told the concert fans, “I’ve been doing this song ever since I was 14 years old. Played it on my guitar until I was 19 years old, the year I met Jerry Jeff.  Jerry Jeff was, by far, the best performer I ever saw.”

Steve Earle’s selection of Jerry Jeff songs that night ranged across “Gypsy Songman,” “Charlie Dunn,” “Hill Country Rain” and an exquisite “Mr. Bojangles,” assuming Steve Earle’s okay with being termed exquisite. Earle offered precise words sung precisely. Earthy, crisp and certain, with a voice sparkled with soft little rasps, growls, whispers, mutters, asides and amens.

Later, much later, after the music bowed to the silence, after the quick hiss of longnecks opening had faded, the fans folded their lawn chairs, danced a last shuffle across the gravel tripping on moonlight, magic and music, and Luckenbach emptied. It was only then that the door to Wade Bowen’s tour bus opened and a chuckling procession began to wind toward the bronze bench.

There, those young performers and their guitars filtered onto benches and boxes they arrayed around the bronze monument to friendship. They serenaded Hondo and Jerry Jeff with their love songs, drinking songs, Texas songs and quiet songs of beauty. There, in the glow of amber lights strung between the trees, under the Luckenbach Moon.

There, the whisper of Hondo. “Scare me.”