Proudly Canadian: Jesse Winchester


Jesse Winchester, whose real name is James Ridout Winchester is an American musician and songwriter who was born and raised in the southern United States. To avoid the Vietnam War draft he moved to Canada in 1967, which is where and when 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. Canada still feels like we can lay claim to Jesse, and especially Montrealers as Canadian radio supported him with airplay,  breaking his singles in that market.

Winchester is 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. A number of these recordings have had success on various charts.

Born in 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, Quebec to avoid military service.

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 in coffee houses throughout eastern Canada. Under the auspices of The Band's Robbie Robertson, Winchester began his recording career in 1970 with his self-titled album, released on the Ampex label.

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". These and others have been recorded by numerous artists, including 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.

Quiet About It: A Tribute To Jesse WinchesterQuiet About It: A Tribute To Jesse WinchesterIn 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 Russel 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 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. 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. Winchester has continued to record and perform throughout the United States and Canada, releasing his tenth studio album, Love Filling Station, in 2009.

In 2011, Winchester was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and had to undergo treatment for the next couple of months. Winchester has since been given the all clear from his doctor and resumed his tour. A new CD was put together for Winchester with his fellow artists paying tribute to this great songwriter.

Winchester had this to say of the CD tribute on Mailboat Records, “When I was sick last year, fixing to die, some friends decided to make a CD of various artists performing my songs. Jimmy Buffett wrote me around Christmastime with the news. I struggled out of my chair and did a little boogaloo around the livingroom. I guess I wasn'tthat sick. The CD, "Quiet About It", has just been released by Mailboat Records. It was produced by Mac McAnally, with liner notes by Bill Flanagan, cover photo by Rodney Bursiel, and cover design by Jeri Heiden. Mike Ramos made things happen. Here are the artists with the songs they recorded:
Payday - James Taylor
Biloxi - Rosanne Cash
Gentleman of Leisure - Jimmy Buffett
I Wave Bye Bye - Allen Toussaint
Talk Memphis - Vince Gill
Defying Gravity - Mac McAnally
Brand New Tennessee Waltz - Lyle Lovett
Mississippi You're On My Mind - Lucinda Williams
Dangerous Fun - Rodney Crowell (featuring EmmyLou Harris and Vince Gill)
Rhumba Man - Little Feat
Quiet About It - Elvis Costello
That's quite a list.

The songs are available on iTunes now, physical CDs can be pre-ordered on the Mailboatweb site.

Yankee Lady

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