My first recollection of Jesse Winchester was seeing his picture on the back of a Billboard magazine in the 1970s. I had not thought about him since until seeing him last month on Spectacle: Elvis Costello with … on Sundance Channel. My loss. He brought the house down (and tears to eyes of Neko Case) with “Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding,” a track from his latest release, Love Filling Station.
Winchester was born in Louisiana in 1944 and 22 years later, upon his graduation from college, he received his draft notice. He decided the Vietnam War was not for him and he split to Canada. As he explained it to Costello, “he hung around hippies and played coffee houses where you had to write your own songs to fit in.” In 1970, his music caught the ear of The Band’s Robbie Robertson and he produced Winchester’s critically acclaimed first record. He went on to release a number of records in the early 70s, and is best known for the tunes “Yankee Lady” and “Brand New Tennessee Waltz.” When Bob Dylan was asked who he thought, other than himself, was the greatest living songwriter, he said Jesse Winchester.
Songs by Jesse Winchester covered by other artists would fill a good-sized songbook. “Rhumba Man” was covered by Jimmy Buffett on his new album, and Winchester’s tunes have also been covered by Patti Page, Elvis Costello, Joan Baez, Anne Murray and Reba McEntire. On Love Filling Station, Jesse reclaims “Oh What A Thrill,” which was a hit for the Mavericks.
Winchester was nice enough to answer a few questions for us about his past, his present and his future:
30DaysOut: Tell us how you got your start in music? Were you influenced by the Memphis scene and its musicians?
JW: I seem to have been a musician from birth. I was very much influenced by Memphis music – gospel, blues, country. I loved the great radio station, WDIA, and also Dewey Phillips, the best disc jockey ever.