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Jesse Winchester

For the Canadian ice hockey player, see Jesse Winchester (ice hockey).
Jesse Winchester
Winchester in 2011
Background information
Birth name James Ridout Winchester
Born (1944-05-17)May 17, 1944
Bossier City, Louisiana, U.S.
Origin Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
Died April 11, 2014(2014-04-11) (aged 69)
Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.
Genres Country, country rock, folk
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, producer
Instruments Vocals, guitar, keyboards
Years active Circa 1961 – 2014 (his death)
Labels Appleseed, Bearsville, Stony Plain, Ampex, Victor, Sugar Hill, Great Big Island, Wounded Bird, Blue Plate

James Ridout "Jesse" Winchester (May 17, 1944 – April 11, 2014) was an American musician and songwriter who was born and raised in the southern United States. Opposed to the Vietnam War, he moved to Canada in 1967, where he began his career as a solo artist. His highest charting recordings were of his own tunes, "Yankee Lady" in 1970 and "Say What" in 1981. He became a Canadian citizen in 1973, gained amnesty in the U.S. in 1977 and resettled there in 2002.[1]

Winchester was probably best known as a songwriter, with his works being recorded by many notable artists, including Patti Page, Elvis Costello, Jimmy Buffett, Joan Baez, Anne Murray, Reba McEntire, The Everly Brothers and Emmylou Harris.[2][3] A number of these recordings have had success on various charts.[4]


Early life

Born at Barksdale Army Air Field near Bossier City, Louisiana, Winchester was raised in northern Mississippi and the city of Memphis, Tennessee. Jesse (Jimmy in high school) received several honors while attending Christian Brothers High School. Graduating in 1962, he was a merit finalist, National Honor Society member and the salutatorian of the graduating class. He attended Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, graduating in 1966. Upon receiving his draft notice the following year, Winchester moved to Montreal, Canada, to avoid military service.[5] "I was so offended by someone's coming up to me and presuming to tell me who I should kill and what my life was worth," he told Rolling Stone in 1977.[6]

Winchester had begun playing guitar in bands while still a high school student. He also played in Germany during college study abroad and after graduation. Upon arriving in Quebec in 1967, he joined a local band, Les Astronautes. At this time, he also began writing songs that he performed as a solo artist at the Montreal Folk Workshop and numerous other coffee houses throughout eastern Canada, adding impetus to a revival in folk music that was taking place across Canada. Under the auspices of The Band's Robbie Robertson, another Canadian, Winchester began his recording career in 1970 with his self-titled album, released on the Ampex label.[7]


Winchester released several albums during the 1970s. Due to his status as a draft resister, he was unable to tour in the United States. As a result, he became recognized primarily as a songwriter. His best known songs include "Yankee Lady", "The Brand New Tennessee Waltz", "Mississippi, You're on My Mind", "A Showman's Life", and "Biloxi".[5] These and others have been recorded by numerous artists, including Jerry Jeff Walker, George Strait, Gary Allan, Patti Page, Elvis Costello, Jimmy Buffett, Joan Baez, Anne Murray, Reba McEntire, The Everly Brothers, Wynona Judd, The Weather Girls, New Grass Revival, Fairport Convention, Tim Hardin, Emmylou Harris, Ronnie Hawkins, Nicolette Larsen, Ted Hawkins, Ian Matthews, Colleen Peterson, Tom Rush, Brewer & Shipley, Raffi, Skydiggers and Wilson Pickett.[citation needed]

File:Jesse Winchester cropped.PNG
Winchester at the 2011 Blue Highways festival in Utrecht, The Netherlands

In 1974, Winchester often performed at the Hotel Le Chatelet in Morin Heights, Quebec, run by several Tennesseans who had come to Canada in 1972. David "Butch" McDade and Jeff "Stick" Davis moved to Quebec to become part of Jesse Winchester and the Rhythm Aces. Winchester was the first to record the songs "Third Rate Romance" and "The End is Not in Sight", both written by Russell Smith. Smith traveled to Montreal to assist in the recording of the Learn to Love It album at Studio Six. Later Smith, Davis and McDade became the original members of The Amazing Rhythm Aces.

Upon his election in 1976, President Jimmy Carter declared he would grant amnesty to draft evaders, except those who had deserted or had become citizens of another country. Winchester had by this time become a Canadian citizen, but Barry Bozeman, his manager at the time, was able to convince Carter on Winchester's behalf to broaden the amnesty.

Winchester's first appearance in the U.S. thereafter was a sold out performance in Burlington, Vermont, on April 21, 1977. Rolling Stone magazine covered the event coining the phrase "the Greatest Voice of the Decade" to describe Winchester's vocal style.

Later career

He was nominated for the Best Country Male Vocalist award at the Juno Awards of 1990. In 2002, Winchester moved back to the United States, settling in Virginia. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 2007.[8] Winchester has continued to record and perform throughout the United States and Canada, releasing his tenth studio album, Love Filling Station, in 2009.[9]

In 2011, Winchester was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and underwent treatment for the next couple of months. Winchester was later given a clean bill of health from his doctor and resumed his tour.[10]

Quiet About It, a tribute record to Winchester, was released in 2012, featuring James Taylor, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams and Rosanne Cash.

In April 2014, it was revealed that Winchester was "gravely ill" and receiving hospice care at his home.[11] He died on the morning of April 11, 2014, at his home in Charlottesville, Virginia[12][13] from bladder cancer.[14]

In September 2014, Winchester’s final CD, A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble was released, with liner notes from his friend Jimmy Buffett. Rolling Stone called it "a gentle collection of playful songs about love, memory and gratitude that amounts to one of the most moving, triumphant albums of Winchester's 45 year career."[15]



Year Album Chart Positions
1970 Jesse Winchester 26
1972 Third Down, 110 to Go 34 193
1974 Learn to Love It
1976 Let the Rough Side Drag 210
1977 Nothing But a Breeze 115
Live at the Bijou Cafe
1978 A Touch on the Rainy Side 156
1981 Talk Memphis 188
1988 Humour Me
1989 The Best of Jesse Winchester
1999 Anthology
1999 Gentleman of Leisure
2001 Live From Mountain Stage
2005 Live
2009 Love Filling Station
2014 A Reasonable Amount Of Trouble


Year Single Chart Positions Album
1970 "Yankee Lady" 20 8 Jesse Winchester
1973 "Isn't That So" 34 21 Third Down, 110 to Go
1976 "Let the Rough Side Drag" 42 Let the Rough Side Drag
1977 "Nothing but a Breeze" 72 86 Nothing but a Breeze
1978 "Sassy" 45 A Touch on the Rainy Side
1979 "A Touch on the Rainy Side" 42
1981 "Say What" 23 13 32 Talk Memphis
1989 "Want to Mean Something to You" 50 Humour Me
"Well-a-Wiggy" 68


Year Album Song
2003 Beautiful: A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot "Sundown"


  1. ^ "Jesse Winchester: Still doing the Rhumba". Retrieved 2012-08-24. 
  2. ^ "Jesse Winchester profile at". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2012-08-24. 
  3. ^ "CANOE - JAM! Music - Pop Encyclopedia - Winchester, Jesse". Retrieved 2012-08-24. 
  4. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Jesse Winchester profile at". AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-08-24. 
  5. ^ a b "Jesse Winchester dies of cancer". Toronto Star, 14 April 2014, E2.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Jesse Winchester". Retrieved 2012-08-24. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Jesse Winchester's Studio". Retrieved 2014-04-11. 
  11. ^ "Songwriter/performer Jesse Winchester is gravely ill". 2014-04-07. Retrieved 2014-04-11. 
  12. ^ Tearson, Michael (April 11, 2014). "Jesse Winchester Passes". Sing Out!. 
  13. ^ Mehr, Bob (April 11, 2014). "Memphis-bred songwriter Jesse Winchester dies". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved April 11, 2014. 
  14. ^ Browne, David (11 April) "Jesse Winchester Dead at 69, Singer-Songwriter Became Anti-War Icon," Rolling Stone (New York) 11 April 2014 at 1:55 est.
  15. ^

External links

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