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Jesse Winchester

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Jesse Winchester
Winchester in 2011
Background information
Birth nameJames Ridout Winchester Jr.
Born(1944-05-17)May 17, 1944
Bossier City, Louisiana, U.S.
OriginMemphis, Tennessee, U.S.
DiedApril 11, 2014(2014-04-11) (aged 69)
Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.
GenresCountry, country rock, folk
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter, producer
Instrument(s)Vocals, guitar, keyboards
Years activeCirca 1961 – 2014 (his death)
LabelsAppleseed, Bearsville, Stony Plain, Ampex, Victor, Sugar Hill, Great Big Island, Wounded Bird, Blue Plate, Warner Brothers

James Ridout "Jesse" Winchester Jr. (May 17, 1944 – April 11, 2014) was an American-Canadian musician and songwriter. He was born and raised in the southern United States. Opposed to the Vietnam War, he moved to Canada in 1967 to avoid being drafted into the US military while the US engaged in the Vietnam War and began his career as a solo artist. His highest-charting recordings were of his own songs, "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 in Memphis, Tennessee in 2002.[1]

Winchester was best known as a songwriter. His songs were recorded by many notable artists, including Patti Page, Elvis Costello, Jimmy Buffett, Joan Baez, Jerry Garcia, Anne Murray, The Weather Girls, Reba McEntire, the Everly Brothers, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, George Strait, Gary Allan, Willie Nelson, Jennifer Warnes, The Mavericks and Michael Stanley.[2][3] A number of these recordings achieved positions on various charts.[4]


Early life[edit]

Winchester was born at Barksdale Army Air Field, near Bossier City, Louisiana, United States, and raised in northern Mississippi through age 12, when his family relocated to Memphis, Tennessee.[5] Winchester was one of three children born to James Ridout Winchester Sr. (1917–1962) and Frances Ellyn Manire Winchester (1920–2010). In 1952, a heart attack left his father unable to farm. Through his father's side, he is part of the Lee family of Virginia (Henry Lee II and Richard Henry Lee were two of his 4th-great-grandfathers). He graduated from Christian Brothers High School in Memphis in 1962 as a merit finalist, a National Honor Society member and the salutatorian of his class. He graduated from Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, in 1966. Upon receiving his draft notice the following year, Winchester moved to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, to avoid being drafted into the US military while the US was involved in a war with Vietnam.[6] "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 magazine in 1977.[7]

Winchester began playing guitar in bands while still in high school. He played in Germany during college study abroad and after graduation. Upon arriving in Quebec in 1967, he joined a local band, Les Astronautes. He also began writing songs, which he performed as a solo artist at the Montreal Folk Workshop and at coffeehouses 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 a self-titled album released on the Ampex label.[8]


"Winchester's first LP was apolitical on the surface and not without its conservative tendencies, but its brooding lyricism and barely contained ferment reflected the force of will it took for him to flee this country."

Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981)[9]

Winchester released several albums during the 1970s. Because of his status as a draft-evader, entailing that he was subject to arrest had he entered the country, he was unable to tour in the United States, and 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","Biloxi", "That's a Touch I Like", and "Every Word You Say".[6] These and others have been recorded by numerous artists. His 1970 recording of his song "Black Dog" preceded the release of Led Zeppelin's different song of the same name by a year.[10]

In 1974, Winchester often performed at the Hotel Le Chatelet in Morin Heights, Quebec, run by several expatriate 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 album Learn to Love It at Studio Six. Smith, Davis and McDade later were original members of the Amazing Rhythm Aces.[citation needed]

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 then become a Canadian citizen, but Barry Bozeman, his manager at the time, convinced Carter on Winchester's behalf to broaden the amnesty.[11]

Winchester's first appearance in the U.S. was a sold-out performance in Burlington, Vermont, on April 21, 1977. On June 10 he appeared alongside Little Feat, Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt on Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special.[12]

In 1981, he had his first (and only) Top 40 U.S. hit single, "Say What". (No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100). The single was from his Bearsville Records album release, "Talk Memphis".

"I'm Gonna Miss You, Girl", written by Winchester, was recorded by American country music artist Michael Martin Murphey and released in October 1987, as the lead single from the album River of Time. The song peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and at number 4 on the Canadian RPM Country Tracks chart. The version recorded by Murphy omits the somewhat sadder second part of the song. Winchester's version is on his album Love Filling Station.[citation needed]

Later career[edit]

Winchester was nominated for the Best Country Male Vocalist award at the Juno Awards of 1990. In 2002, he moved back to the United States, settling in Memphis with his girlfriend, Cindy. That year, his song "Step by Step", from the album Let the Rough Side Drag, was used as background music for the montage that ended the first season of the television program The Wire.[13] He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 2007.[14] Winchester continued to record and perform throughout the United States and Canada, releasing his tenth studio album, Love Filling Station, in 2009.[15]

Winchester at the 2011 Blue Highways festival in Utrecht, the Netherlands

In 2011, Winchester was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and underwent treatment for the next couple of months. He was later given a clean bill of health from his doctor and resumed touring.[16] Quiet About It, a tribute record to Winchester, was released in 2012, featuring James Taylor, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Rosanne Cash and Jimmy Buffett, who spearheaded the project, among others.[17]

In April 2014, it was revealed that Winchester was gravely ill and receiving hospice care at his home, in Charlottesville, Virginia.[18] He died there on the morning of April 11, 2014, aged 69, from bladder cancer. He is survived by his wife, Cindy and three children from a previous marriage: James, Alice and Marcus Lee.[19][20][21][22]

Winchester's final CD, A Reasonable Amount of Trouble, was released in September 2014, with liner notes by his friend Jimmy Buffett. It was nominated for two Grammy awards. 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."[23]



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" 81 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". TheSpec.com. Archived from the original on 2012-09-11. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
  2. ^ "Jesse Winchester profile". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 2017-07-05. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
  3. ^ "CANOE – JAM! Music – Pop Encyclopedia – Winchester, Jesse". Jam.canoe.ca. Archived from the original on July 12, 2012. Retrieved 2012-08-24.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  4. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Jesse Winchester profile". AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
  5. ^ "Crossroads to Freedom Interview : Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee" (PDF). Jessewinchester.com. November 19, 2010. Retrieved October 19, 2021.
  6. ^ a b "Jesse Winchester dies of cancer". Toronto Star, 14 April 2014, E2.
  7. ^ Notice of death of Jesse Winchester Archived 2015-01-02 at the Wayback Machine, rollingstone.com; accessed November 19, 2015.
  8. ^ Profile, discogs.com; accessed November 19, 2015.
  9. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: W". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved 2021-12-24.
  10. ^ "Jesse Winchester: Jesse Winchester". AllMusic. Retrieved 2021-12-24.
  11. ^ Green, Susan (19 April 2014). "Winchester's imprint 'in the hills of old Vermont'". Burlington Free Press. USA Today Network. Retrieved 2016-09-15.
  12. ^ ""The Midnight Special" Episode #5.23 (TV Episode 1977)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  13. ^ "Saying goodbye to The Wire over and over again Archived 2015-12-08 at the Wayback Machine, gawker.com; accessed November 29, 2015.
  14. ^ "Jesse Winchester". Appleseedmusic.com. Archived from the original on 2011-08-11. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
  15. ^ "Jesse Winchester - Love Filling Station (CD, Album)". Discogs.com. 2009-04-21. Retrieved 2017-01-15.
  16. ^ "Jesse Winchester's Studio". Jessewinchester.com. Archived from the original on 2014-06-01. Retrieved 2014-04-11.
  17. ^ Deming, Mark. "Quiet About It: A Tribute To Jesse Winchester Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 2017-01-23.
  18. ^ "Songwriter/performer Jesse Winchester is gravely ill". Usatoday.com. 2014-04-07. Retrieved 2014-04-11.
  19. ^ Tearson, Michael (April 11, 2014). "Jesse Winchester Passes". Sing Out!. Archived from the original on April 13, 2014. Retrieved April 11, 2014.
  20. ^ Mehr, Bob (April 11, 2014). "Memphis-bred songwriter Jesse Winchester dies". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved April 11, 2014.
  21. ^ Browne, David (April 11) "Jesse Winchester Dead at 69, Singer-Songwriter Became Anti-War Icon" Rolling Stone (New York), April 11, 2014.
  22. ^ Notice of death of Jesse Winchester Archived 2015-01-02 at the Wayback Machine, rollingstone.com; accessed November 19, 2015.
  23. ^ "Jesse Winchester's chilling dissertation on dying", rollingstone.com; accessed November 19, 2015.

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