Jesse Winchester was one of Canada's most well known draft dodgers, a man who both performed his own songs and wrote them for other musicians, a man described by so many as decent, sweet, kind and gentlemanly. When he died in April, there was an outpouring of affection and reminiscence. Rewind presents an hour of stories and songs about Jesse Winchester, a man that Rolling Stone magazine called the greatest voice of the decade.
Jesse Winchester, Draft Dodger, Singer, Songwriter, Performer.
Jesse Winchester died in April 11th, and at the time perhaps you heard one of his songs or maybe his lovely Southern accent. On this broadcast Rewind wanted to bring you more. More songs and more stories from this singer songwriter who had deep roots in the southern United States, but embraced Montreal as home.
PHOTO [right]: Jesse Winchester. (AP/Jamie Martin)
America's Draft Dodgers
We started with a piece from the program CBC Radio program Identities that sets the scene for Jesse Winchester's arrival in Canada. Between 1966 and 1973, 30,000 draft dodgers came to Canada to seek refuge.
Winchester not only spoke French, he even wrote French songs like Pourquoi M'aimes- tu pas Winchester lived happily in his new country. But his roots in Memphis were deep and its influence on him unmistakable. He talked about them in the CBC Radio program Touch the Earth in 1975.
Winchester mentioned in the interview that it was quite a shock dealing with cold and snow for the first time. So much so that he wrote a song about it. It's called, what else? Snow.
In 1970, Winchester got a big break when he met Robbie Robertson of The Band, who were getting attention for their album Music from Big Pink. Robertson ended up producing
Winchester's debut album. Winchester released several albums during the 1970s. But because he was a draft resister, he was unable to tour in the United States. He turned to songwriting and became known as a top notch writer. Songs like Payday, Biloxi and Rhumba Man were recorded by everyone from the Everly Brothers to Jimmy Buffet, Emmylou Harris to Lucinda Williams.
When Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1977, he granted amnesty to all draft evaders unless they had deserted or become citizens of another country. Jesse Winchester had taken out Canadian citizenship in 1972, but his manager convinced Carter to expand the amnesty. He was able to go home to Memphis for the first time in ten years. When Winchester performed in concert in the U.S. for the first time, the reaction was rapturous. The magazine Rolling Stone covered the event and said that his was "the Greatest Voice of the Decade."
Winchester may have been touring in the U.S., but his home was still Canada. Michael Enright talked to him in 1999. Winchester moved to Virginia with his second wife Cindy in 2002.
A Shy Performer
Jesse was not only a great singer and songwriter, he had a deep and abiding love of words. As he told one interviewer, he couldn't even sit down to eat a meal without reading. For a performer who was as shy as Jesse Winchester, it could be tough to perform in public. The next clip was with Ralph Benmergui in 1989. Jesse Winchester died in April this year.
Songs played on the program:
That's What Makes You Strong
Pourquoi M'aimes- tu pas
The Brand New Tennessee Waltz
Mississippi You're on My Mind
Laisse Les Bons Temps Rouler
Isn't That So
Looking for a Miracle Mississippi
You're on My Mind (Lucinda Williams- only on Sirius XM edition)