A STORY TO BE TOLD: THE PATRICK TOURVILLE INTERVIEW

AN INTRODUCTION

Jerry Jeff Walker and Patrick Tourville, 2011 (uncredited photo)

Jerry Jeff Walker and Patrick Tourville, 2011 (uncredited photo)

This is the story of two men – two visionaries – and how their lives have intersected, not only with each other but, also with those of us who can appreciate people who are unafraid to “buck the system” for a principle they believe in. Both are steadfast and unwavering in their commitment to doing the right thing and making things better.

The first, an upstate New Yorker named Ronald Crosby, became Jerry Jeff Walker in 1966, embarking on a fifty year (and counting) career of musical and personal highs and lows that can only be described as “legendary.” During his early busking days, Walker landed in a New Orleans jail cell with a down-on-his-luck drunken tap dancer known as Bojangles; Jerry Jeff turned the experience into one of the most recognized songs of the last half-century, “Mister Bojangles.” That experience and that song has colored Jerry Jeff’s career ever since. However, it was the decision to make Austin, Texas his home base that thrust Walker into the forefront of the outlaw country movement, along with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Ray Benson’s Asleep At the Wheel. Suddenly, the wayward troubadour found himself on the major label treadmill, cranking out an album (or two) a year for MCA and, later, Elektra, throughout the ’70s and early ’80s. During this time, an angel named Susan came into his life, grounding and stabilizing the wild life Walker had led for most of his adult life. As the grind of being a major label recording artist began to take its toll, Jerry Jeff, with Susan’s blessing, walked away from the insanity in 1982. In 1986, Jerry Jeff and Susan Walker formed Tried and True Music, an independent label dedicated to releasing new music from Jerry Jeff, on their own terms. Always being a man who believed in causes and, looking for a way to give back, the couple eventually founded the Tried and True Foundation, which is a reflection of their commitment to the fostering of young musicians’ talents.

Jerry Jeff Walker onstage (uncredited photo)

Jerry Jeff Walker onstage (uncredited photo)

Those final few sentences lead us, quite naturally, to the second visionary: Filmmaker Patrick Tourville. Patrick was introduced to the music of Jerry Jeff Walker through his first MCA Records album and that record’s lead track, “Hill Country Rain.” A couple decades later, with Patrick already a well-respected commercial director, he was contacted by a large telecom conglomerate to produce a spot to sell their company to the Texas audience; as Tourville pitched his concepts to a room of suits, he found that he had a divided audience – half of the Board loved the idea, the other half weren’t completely sold. Eventually, the company’s president (an old friend of Patrick’s) suggested Patrick approach Jerry Jeff and ask him to appear in the commercial. Tourville contacted Susan (who has been Jerry Jeff’s manager for quite some time) with the proposal; when it came time to talk money, Patrick said that he knew the company had set aside a certain amount of funding to go to Walker; Susan countered with, “I think they have this to offer, so let’s meet in the middle and be finished.” From that short phone conversation, a friendship and a true kinship of hearts and minds developed. As Patrick became more involved with societal and political issues, he began seeking out projects that would truly uplift, rather than simply promote. The real Jerry Jeff Walker story is much deeper than a simple retelling of the career of a sometimes out-of-control singer/songwriter; at the heart of Jerry Jeff’s tale is a story of redemption and salvation, a story of a man wanting to do better and, above all else, a love story. These are the things that brought a well-respected filmmaker named Patrick Tourville to direct OK BUCKAROOS. The following interview was conducted via e-mail and fleshed out via several phone conversations with Patrick. But, first…

A REVIEW: OK BUCKAROOS

(PUBLIK PICTURES/TRIED AND TRUE MUSIC (121 minutes; Unrated); 2014)

JJWALKER POSTER 250MG WEB

OK BUCKAROOS is a straight-forward biographical sketch of one of the founding engineers of what has become known as “Outlaw Country,” Jerry Jeff Walker. Director Patrick Tourville, thankfully, doesn’t spend too much time dwelling on some of Jerry Jeff’s more widely publicized proclivities, highlighting the under-publicized family man and champion of the underdog aspects of his life that make him a much more interesting and uplifting subject... I mean, if you wanna see a musician self-explode, you can catch that any night of the week on ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT or VH1’s BEHIND THE MUSIC. Along the way, however, we do get to see some of those wild stage performances and antics that Walker was so famous for, through archival footage from his Gonzo heyday. Through interviews with Jerry Jeff and his wife of 41 years, Susan, as well as friends and fellow musicians, we get a true vision of the creative and influential mark that Walker has left on popular American music.

Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker and Kris Kristofferson on the set of THE TEXAS CONNECTION, 1992 (publicity photo)

Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker and Kris Kristofferson on the set of THE TEXAS CONNECTION, 1992 (publicity photo)

Interspersed with those manic snippets (and later, more laid back, elder statesman performances) of Jerry Jeff onstage, with friends such as Bob Livingstone and Gary P Nunn and the Lost Gonzo Band or with legends like Willie Nelson, are also intimate solo acoustic performances – reminiscences, really – from the man himself, giving new depth and insight into the song and the songwriter. Archival interviews with Walker, Guy Clark, Jimmy Buffett and Kris Kristofferson and new musings and stories from singer/songwriters influenced by Jerry Jeff like Todd Snider and Bruce Robison and from old friends like Ray Wylie Hubbard (who wrote that song about the “Redneck Mother”). The eagle-eyed will recognize David Bromberg, iconic Austin musician Joe Ely and others among the mass of humanity onstage with Jerry Jeff and, variably, the Interchangeable Dance Band or the Lost Gonzo Band from some of those early live clips.

Patrick Tourville with Ray Wylie Hubbard (publicity still)

Patrick Tourville with Ray Wylie Hubbard (publicity still)

Patrick Tourville has gone above and beyond with OK BUCKAROOS, digging deep and hitting the right nerves to bring out the story and the man behind some of the greatest American music written in the past fifty-plus years. Being a fan of Jerry Jeff Walker since my brother played RIDIN’ HIGH for me back in 1975, this film has certainly given me a new appreciation for his music and for who he has become over those passing years. OK BUCKAROOS should be required viewing for anyone interested in music or a career in music; the film offers valuable life and business lessons from a man who has looked at life from the bottom of the pile and from the top of the heap. As a cautionary tale or as a redemptive love story, the documentary works on enough levels to keep even non-fans interested. By the way, there are several bonus music-only videos (“Mister Bojangles,” “Hill Country Rain” and others), from live shows in 1982 and 2009… they’re great additions to the package. OK BUCKAROOS is available here and at all the usual locations.

AN INTERVIEW

Patrick Tourville (publicity photo)

Patrick Tourville (publicity photo)

THE MULE: Patrick, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about the Jerry Jeff Walker documentary, OK BUCKAROOS. Despite some moderate successes in the ’70s, Jerry Jeff Walker isn’t exactly a household name. So, how did you come to direct and co-write a documentary about the man? What initially drew you to the project?

PATRICK: I won’t guess at your age, but assume your location. If you were “of age” in the early seventies and living in Texas, Jerry Jeff was huge. So, my household included Jerry Jeff, along with my Rolling Stones and my sister’s Beatles; so, it’s one of those “you had to be there” stories. However, something “household wise” was happening or all the fat cats from LA would not have descended on the Austin scene, en masse.

I was lucky. There are two songs that are seminal in my early (transistor) radio experience: “ …Satisfaction” and “Hill Country Rain.”

THE MULE: While Jerry Jeff certainly isn’t a recluse, he is a man who doesn’t go out of his way to draw attention to himself. How was he convinced that his was a story that needed to be told? And, equally as important, how did you convince him that you were the person to tell that story?

PATRICK: Susan… PERIOD! I had done some commercial work with the Walkers years earlier. Then, I found myself with five cameras and a crane on July 4th, 2009, at Dell Diamond for a Kellie Pickler show. JJ was on that stage and I kept rolling. The rest is history… Thanks to Susan for trusting me with the family… LOL.

Patrick Tourville with Susan and Jerry Jeff Walker, 2011 (uncredited photo)

Patrick Tourville with Susan and Jerry Jeff Walker, 2011 (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: As you researched your subject and interviewed him, his family, his friends and bandmates, were you surprised by anything you learned or by anything you were told?

PATRICK: Yes… what a truly decent, loving and hard core family man he is. And, with his incredible wife, Susan, they beat the rock and roll odds… they are still together. Do you know how cool that is?!!!

THE MULE: He’s very much a “songwriter’s songwriter,” as exemplified by the number of great songwriters who appear in OK BUCKAROOS, extolling his virtues. After filming the documentary, what insights into, not only Jerry Jeff’s music, but his psyche, as well, did you glean from the experience? In your opinion, what do you think makes him and, really, all great troubadours tick?

PATRICK: When I interviewed Bruce Robison for the film, off camera he told me that without Susan, JJ would still be playing in a bus station for tips. I related the story to JJ and his response was, “He is right and I would have no problem with that.” Need I say more?

Jerry Jeff Walker, circa mid-1970s (photo credit: SCOTT NEWTON)

Jerry Jeff Walker, circa mid-1970s (photo credit: SCOTT NEWTON)

THE MULE: At any time, did you find yourself second guessing your decision to make OK BUCKAROOS? If so, why and what kept you going?

PATRICK: OMG… Yes! It was the rear end of the process that did me in… the business, the licensing, the marketing. For all filmmakers out there: Do not take refuge in the creative process… find rest in the creative process, but don’t expect that bliss to translate into commercial success.

THE MULE: Let’s delve into your history and background a bit. How did you get into the movie and documentary game?

PATRICK: Go to my website, publikpictures.com. It’s all there.

THE MULE: OK BUCKAROOS is your first feature. What advice can you give to first time documentarians or film-makers in general?

PATRICK: Do your film with enough passion to sustain what will be huge waves of opposition to your “dream.” I think it’s called a tsunami… LOL… of questioning, doubt and otherwise negative influence on your story.

OK BUCKAROOS executive producers Beau Ross and Daniel Trube with Patrick Tourville (uncredited photo)

OK BUCKAROOS executive producers Beau Ross and Daniel Trube with Patrick Tourville (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: Do you prefer to work on documentaries like this or would you like to try your hand at a more traditional scripted movie? Are there any other people that you would be interested in helming a documentary about?

PATRICK: Good question. Yes and yes. Film-making came to me as an inspiration very young. I won my first national film award at age seventeen and got some money from PBS to remake it. I think everybody at that age wants to make the Great American Movie, which is, you know… America. It was worth it, though. Ultimately, I became a very successful commercial director, made a lot of money, doing what I do, from a craft standpoint but… at the same time, evolved emotionally, spiritually and politically and, the more that I looked at my successful commercial work, the more I realized it was about real stories, it was about real people as opposed to displaying shrimp on a grill or milk being poured on a peach or Tide being poured into a washing machine. So, when I decided to leave the marketing world, documentaries just felt like a natural thing to do; I just wanted to talk about stories… That’s not to say that I would not – given the right circumstances – engage in a narrative feature and all that entails but, right now, I’m very comfortable in a documentary format. I mean, a narrative? I would still be tempted to cut to archive footage.

The last part of the question is… For whatever reason, I have a rich history in music. I did a lot of music videos with those early southern California rockers… a lot of those guys are friends of mine: Jackson Browne and Little Feat and Joe Walsh. So, music just seems to keep following me around and, so, would I want to do another music documentary? Yeah… Maybe. Based on the experience with Jerry Jeff, I’d rather do some other socially important or politically important things. I am in sort of a holding pattern, developing a film on Eugene McDaniels, who was a black pop artist in the late ’60s who performed a song called “A Hundred Pounds of Clay.” He became this sort of pop icon, as a black man with a huge white female audience. Long story short, by the time the ’60s had ended, he was a full-blown radical and had written a song called “Compared To What” that Les McCann recorded; it’s a Vietnam… sort of an anti-Vietnam rant. He passed away, unexpectedly, a few years ago. Eugene is considered by many – including the Roots’ Questlove – to be the Godfather of Hip-Hop… his was a soulful spirit that went from light to dark and found his way back to the light. So, we’re working with maybe developing a film there. That embraces both things. It’s a music thing, it’s a political thing. I’m also working on a project that will take me to Senegal to explore the Hip-Hop scene there so, I guess I’m stuck with music. That’s the bottom line… I’m stuck with music.

I was a big fan of Godard – Jean-Luc Godard – who sort of pushed that envelop to its limit in terms of authorship and aesthetics and, basically, said, “you don’t need to put your name on the film, you just need to help change the world.” I’m sorta stuck in that.

Patrick Tourville, Jerry Jeff Walker and OK BUCKAROOS executive producer Marty Garvin (publicity still)

Patrick Tourville, Jerry Jeff Walker and OK BUCKAROOS executive producer Marty Garvin (publicity still)

THE MULE: When can we expect to see finished product for these projects?

PATRICK: I don’t know about finished product. Eugene McDaniels is on the back burner; Senegal and its music scene is on the front burner. I’m supposed to leave for West Africa on the 22nd of this month (May) for ten days… I don’t know, man. What can I say? Here’s the answer to that: If you’re doing this stuff, you never know. You never know when you can expect finished product. You know it’s a year from now… if then. That’s the problem with making a documentary. I do believe in the written word; I do not approach anything without scripting. Obviously, with a documentary, the script gets written at the final edit, in terms of something that you would turn in as a script; but, you have to start with writers, you have to start with a structure, you have to start with three acts and, you have to define those acts and you have to determine what scenes are relevant and salient to those acts. You have to figure out classic Greek storytelling. But, as you get into it and you research it and, then, you’ve got people telling you what you should do, ’cause they heard things… it evolves. But, at the end of the day, if you wrote the written word right, you’ll be happy to see that it’s pretty close to what you originally wrote down.

It doesn’t always happen that way, but if you don’t go in with a preconceived notion, you’re in trouble… you’re in big trouble. You have to have scaffolding in place, you have to have a structure in place, you have to know… I’ll tell you what, you don’t shoot anything unless you know what the log line is; you gotta know in the elevator pitch what this is about. So, as you’re discovering and you’re getting influenced and you have people telling you, “What about this? What about that?,” you’ve got that structure to fall back on. You’ve got to have that. That’s my most important recommendation to any… ANY filmmaker. You know, cinema verite, I get it… you’re gonna follow someone around for three years or four years… that’s cool but, if you’re trying to do a narrative piece, via the documentary platform, don’t think that you don’t have to have something written down before you turn on the cameras.

THE MULE: Thanks for spending a little bit of time with the Mule. And, thanks for telling Jerry Jeff Walker’s story.


100 GREATEST ALBUMS OF ALL TIME (ACCORDING TO ME), NUMBER 98

If you’re here looking for a Jann Wenner/ROLLING STONE/Rock and Roll Hall of Fame style affirmation of how great Bruce Springsteen is, move on… there’s nothing here for you; Springsteen’s indecipherable vocal grunts have never appealed to me and – like Kurt Cobain’s – his lyrics are a tick (well, okay… several ticks) below that “Friday” girl (Rebecca Black). So, with that out of the way, I can pretty much guarantee that this list will not look like any other such list. Why? Okay, while there are albums that are obviously classics, landmark releases or “must hears,” most of those don’t manage to meet my stringent requirements for this list. Do I like Miles’ BITCHES BREW, Dylan’s HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED or the Floyd’s DARK SIDE OF THE MOON? Absolutely! And, just for the record, I do actually like a lot of Nirvana’s stuff, IN UTERO being my favorite. But, and here’s the major prerequisite for this list, how often do I listen to them? Not as often as I listen to the records that made the cut and, to these ears, that’s what counts. So, there you go… that is my stringent requirement: How often do I listen to the album and, to a lesser extent, how vehement am I about forcing said album on everyone else with whom I come into contact. A few minor things to consider (or not): There are no live albums (that’s a completely different list); these are all full-length releases (no EPs or singles); every album on this list is an official release (no bootlegs or “promotional only” items); “Greatest Hits,” “Best of… ” and singles collections are strictly verboten.

Ask me again next week and this list will probably look quite different; in fact, it’s already changed significantly since I decided to do a list. I started at 20 (in line with my list of favorite live albums). The list quickly ballooned to almost a hundred before I started whittling it back down to 50. I then found myself adding, deleting and substituting the other nearly 50 albums, so… what’s a music lover to do? The answer was obvious: Make the list a firm Top 100, regardless of the massive undertaking. If you wanna call this a “guilty pleasures” list, if that’ll help you sleep better at night… that’s okay with me. What I hope to accomplish with this list is to get you to take a closer look at some albums you may have crossed off after a spin or two or to get you to check out something that you may have never even been familiar with. It ain’t rocket surgery, kids; it’s just me telling you what I like and, why – maybe – you should like the stuff (or at least give a listen), too. With that said, and heading from the bottom of my humble list to the top of the heap, here’s…

(98) JERRY JEFF WALKER: RIDIN’ HIGH

(MCA RECORDS; 1975)

Ridin' High 1975

RIDIN’ HIGH was the fourth MCA release from upstart country artist Jerry Jeff Walker, the man who may forever be best known as the author of the classic tear-jerker, “Mister Bojangles.” My brother liked Jerry Jeff’s music, which was sometimes traditional to a fault, especially the live VIVA TERLINGUA, released two years before RIDIN’ HIGH; I, however, was a hard-headed 16 year old who, the year before, had quite stupidly purged my record collection of everything that wasn’t the hardest of rock (the one exception being anything by Frank Zappa). One day, my brother handed me a stack of MCA releases, a copy of this record included; I’d heard enough Jerry Jeff to know what to expect but, I was feeling expansive once more toward certain types of music and thought, “Okay… just the first song. That way I can say that I at least tried to listen to some country music.” It took me a whole lotta years before I opened my arms (and mind) wide enough to allow country music a little corner of my music room… the one exception being Jerry Jeff Walker’s RIDIN’ HIGH. I listened to the album all the way through that first day and for several days after that, until I’m sure that everybody around me was sick of it; it had achieved a vaunted status amongst Alice Cooper, the Who, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and all the rest. And, now, some 40 years later, it sits at number 98 as one of the greatest albums of all time.

Guy Clark, Dave Perkins and Jerry Jeff Walker (uncredited photo)

Guy Clark, Dave Perkins and Jerry Jeff Walker (uncredited photo)

Jerry Jeff took his Lost Gonzo brethren, mixed in some Nashville veterans and recorded what is, arguably, the best album of his career. The first song on that album is “Public Domain,” written by the bass-playing Gonzo, Bob Livingston. The song is sort of a Texan’s (while Jerry Jeff hailed from upstate New York, Livingston was Texas born and bred) take on New Orleans jazz, with acoustic bass and a ragtime piano. Deep down, this is a protest song (against the government; against the music industry; against the return policy at the local Woolworth’s; against… something): “Don’t be concerned if the song sounds familiar/Don’t be concerned if it all seems the same/Just be concerned that your policies will kill you/And it’s all just public domain.” Don’t let that bother you too much… just enjoy that progressive cosmic cowboy groove. “Pick Up the Tempo” is a more rockin’ Texas stomp from Willie Nelson. It’s closer to what we’ve come to expect from the Lost Gonzo Band when they back Walker. Jerry Jeff gets sentimental with Guy Clark’s “Like a Coat From the Cold.” The cracking, world-weary voice and sparse accompaniment make the song all the more effective. “I Love You” is more of the same, but much more personal, as the track was penned by Walker himself. It features a really nice bass line and one of those pedal steel parts that just makes you feel so lonely. Side one finishes with “Night Rider’s Lament,” a real live cowboy song by Michael Burton, with a pretty fiddle solo and Jerry Jeff’s yodeling… sorta.

Jerry Jeff Walker with Lost Gonzos, circa 1973 (photo credit: Steve Knagg)

Jerry Jeff Walker with Lost Gonzos, circa 1973 (photo credit: Steve Knagg)

On to side two and “Goodbye Easy Street,” a Texas waltz with a lilting melody, written by another backing Gonzo, guitarist John Inmon. The waltz estimation is heightened by a bouncy bass line and augmented by some nice harmonica and a touch of banjo; toss in some very Beatle-esque (no… really!) backing vocals and you have another winner on an album full of ’em. “Pot Can’t Call the Kettle Black” has kind of a weird Irish reel feel to it. I could actually envision this as one of those quirky tunes that Faces were so adept at; the piano could come straight out of Ian McLagan’s playbook and the number has that easy rolling feel that would have suited Rod quite well. It is definitely one of the better fast tunes here with equally impressive vocals from Jerry Jeff; to top things off, there’s a unique harmony break with guitar and pedal steel. Jesse Winchester’s “Mississippi, You’re On My Mind” is kind of a Texarkana cowboy blues, with some fine guitar pickin’ and great backing vocals. I’ve never been a big fan of Winchester… maybe it just took Jerry Jeff and the Gonzos to open my mind a bit. Another Lost Gonzo Band/“London Homesick Blues” type of tune, “Jaded Lover,” is country to the bone, but with a meaty progressive outlaw marrow. The Chuck Pyle tune holds up amazingly well and would probably be a hit if it were released today. Finally… it’s the reason we’re here, the song we all came to hear: Jerry Jeff Walker’s very own “Pissin’ In the Wind.” The song trumps “Friends In Low Places” and “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” by at least a decade. The word play comes fast and furious, with lines like “I called this Guy,” and “this Nunn called me up,” and “some Gonzo buddies would like to play,” references to Guy Clark and Gary Nunn and his Lost Gonzo cohorts. Even if the rest of RIDIN’ HIGH wasn’t as over-the-top good as it is, this song alone would be worth the price of admission.

Willie Nelson, Jack Rodgers and Jerry Jeff Walker (uncredited photo)

Willie Nelson, Jack Rodgers and Jerry Jeff Walker (uncredited photo)

This particular set of songs and this particular group of players, along with one of the best voices in any genre of music, make this record indispensable and one of my greatest albums of all time. I’ve got a feeling that my brother is looking down on me and saying, “I told you so!” To which, I can only smile and say, “I love you, too.”

As far as I can tell, the latest edition of RIDIN’ HIGH comes from Australia’s Raven Records and was released in 2012. It’s packaged as WALKER’S COLLECTIBLES/RIDIN’ HIGH… PLUS, with Jerry Jeff’s previous release, WALKER’S COLLECTIBLES, as a two CD set featuring six bonus cuts. You can check it out and order it here: www.ravenrecords.com.au.