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Jesse Winchester 1944-2014

Jesse WinchesterJesse Winchester died today, April 11, five weeks short of his 70th birthday, at his home in Charlottesville, Virginia. He had been suffering from oesophageal cancer. The most soulful of singer-songwriters, he was held in high esteem by his peers. When some of them tried to lighten the burden of his long illness by making an album of his songs, the cast included Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett, Allen Toussaint, Rosanne Cash, Vince Gill, Jimmy Buffett, Elvis Costello, James Taylor and Rodney Crowell.

His first solo album, Jesse Winchester, was a very hip one to own back in 1970. Produced by Robbie Robertson for Albert Grossman’s Bearsville label and released on the poorly distributed Ampex imprint, it contained beautifully unadorned versions of such fine songs as “Payday”, “The Brand New Tennessee Waltz”, “Quiet About It” and “Rosy Shy”, and a gatefold cover featuring the same stark sepia portrait repeated on each of the four surfaces. It was followed by Third Down, 110 to Go, then Learn to Love It, and Let the Rough Side Drag, each of which brought more great songs, like “Isn’t That So?”, “All of Your Stories”, “Mississippi, You’re on My Mind”, “Defying Gravity”, and “It Takes More Than a Hammer and Nails to Make a House a Home”. Amos Garrett’s guitar was heavily featured, notably on the wonderful cover of Russell Smith’s classic “Third-Rate Romance”.

Born in Lousiana and brought up in Memphis, Tennessee, Winchester fled the draft in 1967, fetching up in Montreal, where his career began. Not until Jimmy Carter declared an amnesty 10 years later was he able to perform in the US. Here’s how he sounded then, singing “Yankee Lady” at the Bijou Cafe in Philadelphia that year. And here are some words of his, written at the start of his exile, that seem specially appropriate: “Have all of your passionate violins / Play a tune for a Tennessee kid / Who’s feeling like leaving another town / With no place to go if he did / But they’ll catch you wherever you’re hid…”

* The photograph of Jesse Winchester is from the cover of Third Down, 110 to Go and was taken by Henri Dupond.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. andrew #

    Recycled. You should feel ashamed.

    April 11, 2014
    • Why? I don’t feel any differently than I did when I first posted it after the original erroneous reports of his death. Cpuld you be a little more explicit about what makes that shameful?

      April 11, 2014
    • Phil Shaw #

      Third-rate comment, low-rent point of view.

      April 13, 2014
  2. Stewart Joseph #

    His first album is a classic. I was listening to it today. Here’s a link to a live version (audio only) of Yankee Lady.

    April 11, 2014
    • Stewart Joseph #

      RW: Apologies. I missed the link to Yankee Lady in your obit. Maybe worth saying twice.

      April 11, 2014
  3. richardjamesstephens #

    Sorry to hear about Jesse’s passing – just a few thoughts: I too loved that first album, especially the mad idea of having the same photo on all 4 sides of a gatefold sleeve! I recall a review at the time saying the album seemed like the natural extension of the Band’s track ‘King Harvest’ – and I couldn’t disagree with that. Just happened to listen to ‘Black Dog’ the other day, and marvelled at the arrangement and the drumming. RIP.

    April 12, 2014
  4. Dick A #

    Very sad. A great artist. My favourite song from recent years is “Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding” from Love Filling Station. This can be best viewed on YouTube on Jesse Winchester on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle show. Just watch the girls in the audience and especially Neko Case. They all get it. The record is just as good.

    April 15, 2014
  5. Fred Shuster #

    In my mind, I can still hear Charlie Gillett on “Honky Tonk” intro-ing Jesse’s “The Brand New Tennessee Waltz.” I also liked Iain Mattthews’ version from Matthews’ Southern Comfort’s debut album.

    April 22, 2014

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