♫ Mr. Bojangles ♫ (Redux)

I realize that I only played this one in May of last year, so about 14 months ago, and I typically try not to redux a song I have played within the past year, but I’ll offer no apologies for this one tonight.  I am admittedly feeling low, feeling that not only the U.S., but much of the world is on a destructive trajectory and that humans are too self-focused to do anything about it.  My last shred of hope for the world seems to be turning to ash.  All evening, I have had this song in my head, and when I listened, watched Sammy Davis Jr., the man who I consider the ultimate entertainer …

At any rate … enough of my dourness!  When I played this song last year, my friend Jack from the UK informed me that Neil Diamond had also covered it, so in addition to my two original covers, I have added a third!  My favourite was and remains Sammy Davis Jr.’s though.

As a child, I was a fan of such musicians as Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr.  Because of my father’s work and contacts, I met people who most kids growing up in the 50s and 60s didn’t get to meet, and Sammy Davis was one such.  Having met him ‘up close and personal’ at around age 8 or 9, he was one of my favourites of the time.

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.

According to Walker …

“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.

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.”

Sammy Davis, Jr. made this song a part of his stage shows and live performances for nearly two decades.  Mr. Davis’ version is not the one that hit the charts, but I include it here because … Mr. Davis is an entertainer in every sense of the word, and because … I like it, it brings back memories.

The version that charted, reaching #9 in the U.S. and #2 in Canada is the one by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, released in 1970, and I include that one as well. Listen to one, listen to both … whatever makes you smile today.  The lyrics are slightly different between versions, so I am including the lyrics only for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band version.

Mr. Bojangles
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

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 touched down

Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles

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 lightly slapped his leg instead

He said the name Bojangles and he danced a lick
Across the cell
He grabbed his pants for a better stance
He jumped so high
He clicked his heels

He let go a laugh
He let go a laugh
Shook back his clothes all around

Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles

We danced for those at minstrel shows and county fairs
Throughout the south
We spoke in tears of fifteen years
How his dog and him
They travelled about

His dog up and died
He up and died
After twenty years he still grieves

They said I dance now at every chance and honky tonks
For drinks and tips
But most the time I spend behind these county bars
Cause I drinks a bit

He shook his head and as he shook his head
I heard someone ask please

Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles

Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles
Mr Bojangles

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Jerry Jeff Walker
Mr. Bojangles lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner Chappell Music, Inc

39 thoughts on “♫ Mr. Bojangles ♫ (Redux)

  1. I really enjoyed Sammy’s version, he puts so much heart into every performance and makes the song his own. Neil’s not bad, but this song doesn’t suit him. Thanks for introducing a new song i’ve never heard before ❤


  2. Oh wow! You met The Man. Now there was a performer. His live version of Mr Bojangles is one of the all time classics, glad you’ve included it Jill.
    I go for the Jerry Jeff Walker version, but that for the nostalgia. Hearing it as a teen on the radio and the feeling never goes away. The line about the dog still cracks me up. In some quarters of music there are arguments Mr Walker’s song is based on another, but you get that all the time, yeah?
    Good choice Jill

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you liked it! I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of Jerry Jeff Walker or his version. I think Sammy Davis Jr. knocks this one out of the ballpark, but then I just like his style, so that’s part of it for me.

      Liked by 1 person

          • I think he was mostly southern and country based, so maybe not The Village scene. I did have his first album and there were a lot of country influences, but with a lot of protest and ‘hippie/folk rebel vibe.

            I makes money, money don’t make me
            That’s the way I am and it’s plain to see
            Get right for yourself
            They can’t put you on a shelf
            Live and let live
            You know it’s plain enough
            There ain’t a dollar in the world
            Can make me change my stuff

            I met lots of men who told me when
            They finally make their first million
            They’re gonna live like kings
            Gonna try everything
            They’re gonna flatter pretty women
            If they know how to do it
            Why not get to it
            Instead of waiting all your life
            ‘Cause life is only doing
            What you think is worth pursuing
            Instead of waiting all the time


            If you find yourself waiting
            And you know you’re hesitating
            Get your butt off the ground
            It ain’t your money or your honey
            And you know it’s kind of funny
            When it’s all boiled down
            If you want to be the man
            And you know you certainly can
            Then do it, do it, do it, do it, do it
            Clothes don’t make the man
            Money won’t help you stand
            Any truer than you’re doin’
            So you’ll never find the endin’
            Of sittin’ and pretending
            You’re gonna do it sometime
            You keep knocking on wood
            Doing exactly what you should
            Trying to save enough dimes
            Build ’em up higher
            So you can retire, to your castle in the blue
            But you find it’s all behind and it’s probably slipped your mind
            And you’re too pooped to toot

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Jill. Thank you for filling in the history of one of my favorite songs. It makes the song even sweeter to know the truth behind it. Hugs

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  5. I’ve no idea how I heard it, as they haven’t had the slightest hint of a hit record here, but I’ve always loved the NGDB version of this song. I was a big fan of Neil Diamond in his early days but for some reason his version just didn’t seem right – too far away from the Jerry Jeff Walker country original, I guess, and that original is great. Never been a Sammy Davis Jr fan – that style of music has never appealed to me. I can appreciate his skill, but I don’t like it when smoothness oozes all over a song!

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  6. Interesting timing, Jill. I’m currently ghostwriting a book for an older gentleman. Bill Robinson–Bojangles–attended this man’s Bar Mitzvah in 1948, as a guest of a family friend, and taught the young Jewish boy how to tap dance.

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