Jesse Winchester 1944-2014
April 20, 2014 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester passed away at his Virginia home on April 11 after a battle with cancer. Born and raised in the US South, Winchester brought his incredible talents north to Quebec's Eastern Townships in 1967 as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. He wrote and sang about his choice in 1977's Nothing But a Breeze: “Me I want to live with my feet in Dixie and my head in the cool blue north.”
Winchester boasted that he was the fifth cousin of Robert E. Lee and that his father served in the second World War but he chose instead to renounce his family's militaristic tradition and "spend his time gardening". Despite having been pardoned in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter, Jesse remained in his adopted home for many more years, before settling in Virginia in 2002. posted by rocket88 (16 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Fans of The Band owe it to themselves to check out Winchester's self titled 1970 debut. It's got Robbie and Levon and that same warm country boogie sound and damn if Brand New Tennessee Waltz isn't one of my favorite songs of all time.

R.I.P. Jesse, you really deserved to be much better known.
posted by saul wright at 2:40 PM on April 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


Such sad news. Hope you're still doing the rhumba wherever you are, Jesse.
posted by TwoStride at 3:10 PM on April 20, 2014


currently rolling a joint comprised of nothing but twigs + seeds
posted by philip-random at 3:14 PM on April 20, 2014

i found a copy of the best of for 8 bucks, and i hadn't heard him before, and i was mad at how long i went before i heard him. fits that 70s singer songwrter sweet spot, humble, smart, great writing, and his voice!
posted by PinkMoose at 3:21 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I first became aware of Jesse Winchester as the writer of the beautiful "My Songbird", which Emmylou Harris recorded on Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town and performed often in concert.

I think the write-up borders on mischaracterizing Winchester's Vietnam issue and understates the impact that Winchester's decision to leave the USA to avoid the draft had on his career -- his avoidance of the draft was a major reason (possibly the biggest reason) behind his obscurity in the USA, as he was unable to tour or promote in this country during his most productive recording period.
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:42 PM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was just listening on Grooveshark to Wear Me Out from his 2009 album "Love Filling Station" and I saw an RIP note.

posted by surplus at 4:09 PM on April 20, 2014

"Nothing but a Breeze" and "Black Dog" could not be more different.

Here's Babe Ruth's over-the-top cover of "Black Dog" from 1973.

posted by Herodios at 4:17 PM on April 20, 2014

"Jesse Winchester sings 'Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding' and slays Elvis Costello and Neko Case"

posted by Knappster at 4:48 PM on April 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Dang, missed the very first YouTube link.
posted by Knappster at 4:49 PM on April 20, 2014

Jesse, Bonnie, and Emmylou
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:12 PM on April 20, 2014

The town that he lived in for the last decade of his life is Charlottesville, my small town (population 40,000). Oddly, nobody seemed to know that he lived here. I know a lot of people in the local music scene—all genres, all ages—and when I asked about him on Facebook and in person in the few days after his death, not one person said that they knew he lived here. I don't know what that means, but there it is.
posted by waldo at 5:44 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite of his is Biloxi, written when he was still a criminal in his own country---full of sweet melancholy and yearning. Jimmy Buffet did a fine version of it, but Jesse's is the one to hear. I saw Jesse open for Jimmy on his first tour of the U.S. after Carter's amnesty of war resisters, and he was an amazing live performer.

Such poetry will live on, but he will be missed.
posted by birdhaus at 5:45 PM on April 20, 2014

I grew up hearing him on the radio all the time and being perpetually confused about whether he was Canadian or American. It was years and years before I heard about the whole draft-dodger thing and realized where my confusion came from.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:05 PM on April 20, 2014

Really a good lyricist. From whimsical and silly to wrenchingly poignant.

"If my mama catches us doin' the rhumba, my mama will just a-pitch a fit?"

The contrasts in the sounds there. From the um-um-um to the pi-fi. It's like a drum fill.

Just having fun with english.
posted by Trochanter at 8:13 PM on April 20, 2014

I got his first two records to review when they came out. Not my favorite kind of music, but he was very good at it. Had forgotten about him for years... apparently even the people where he lived had as well. (I prefer his second album, once he got away from The Band – it's much more low key, and seems about perfect to me.)

Allen Toussaint also was a fan. What a contrast there is between his songs Black Dog and Rhumba Man. He looks completely out of place on the big stage with Jimmy Buffett, but he certainly earned the right to be there.
posted by LeLiLo at 8:31 PM on April 20, 2014

Mike Regenstreif is a music journalist who covers the folk world extensively and was a long-time friend of Jesse Winchester. His obituary is on his Folk Roots/Folk Branches blog.
posted by mikel at 8:19 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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