Jesse Winchester

Jesse Winchester Biography

If you listen to many of the songs Jesse Winchester has written in his professional career, now nearing four decades, you'll hear most of the elements of what's become known as "Americana" – detailed, empathetic stories of everyday people set to music incorporating folk, country, bluegrass, blues and gospel instrumentation.

How ironic, then, that a musician with such a strong sense of personal and musical roots should make the life changing decision to leave his Memphis home in 1967 and resettle in Canada in defiance of his draft notice, a.k.a. an invitation to fight in Vietnam.

Born on the army base – another irony – in Bossier City, La., where his father was stationed, Jesse was mostly raised in Memphis, where the Winchester name was well-established in local politics and society. There were ten years of piano lessons ahead, playing guitar in high school bands, and attendance at Williams College in Massachusetts, where Jesse made the first dramatic change in his life. During a year of studies overseas, he joined a rock band in Munich, Germany, and toured there before and after his 1966 graduation.

But in the mid-Sixties, graduating from college almost inevitably led to military service, and Jesse soon received his draft notice back in Memphis. Aware of the consequences, he bought a one-way ticket to Montreal and fly north with his guitar and a few hundred dollars.

After a few years of playing piano in Canadian bars and teaching himself to write songs, Jesse met Robbie Robertson, lead guitarist and main writer for The Band, the legendary quintet of former Dylan backing musicians, "through a friend of a friend." Robertson produced Jesse's self-titled debut album, enlisting fellow Band-mate Levon Helm on drums and mandolin and whiz-kid musician Todd Rundgren as engineer. That first album was released with the most low-key packaging possible – no lyrics and a gatefold cover with the same photo of Jesse on all four panels, resembling a 19th Century "Wanted Dead or Alive" poster.

Fortunately, Jesse's songs spoke for themselves. That first album included reputation-building original compositions like the homesick "Yankee Lady" (covered by Tim Hardin, Brewer & Shipley, and Matthews' Southern Comfort"), "Biloxi" (Jimmy Buffett, Tom Rush, Ted Hawkins), "Brand New Tennessee Waltz" (The Everly Brothers, Patti Page, Ronnie Hawkins) and the rollicking "Payday" (Elvis Costello, Alex Taylor).

Although his inability to tour the US hampered his career until President Carter declared amnesty for draft defiers in 1977, Winchester remained based in Canada, writing and recording great songs that solidified his critical acclaim and popularity among other artists. Jesse's "Rhumba Girl" was a pop hit for Nicolette Larson, "Well-a-Wiggy" reached the R&B charts in a version by the Weather Girls, and Michael Martin Murphey had a Top 10 country single with "I'm Gonna Miss You, Girl," which Jesse finally recorded for his new Love Filling Station CD. Reba McIntyre and Wynonna Judd have been among the most regular outlets for his songs. Jesse even had his own Top 40 hit with "Say What" in 1981.

After releasing seven albums between 1970 and 1981, Jesse took some time off to recharge, living on the royalties from his songs. He broke cover again with 1988's Humour Me, which was followed by another long wait for 1999's Gentleman of Leisure. In 2002, Jesse and his new wife finally relocated back to the States, in Virginia. While Winchester has maintained an active touring schedule during much of his career, his return to the recording studio to cut Love Filling Station after a nine-year absence was inspired by that most romantic of reasons: "My wife kept bugging me."

Jesse Winchester Bio from Discogs

American singer, musician and songwriter, born May 17, 1944 in Bossier City, Louisiana.

He died on the morning of April 11, 2014, at his home in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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