By Kristi Kates
When asked what the audience can look forward to at his upcoming City
Opera House show in Traverse City, singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester is
either the humblest of performers, or merely the soul of brevity.
(Itll be) me, playing my guitar and singing. Doesnt sound like much,
does it? he says.
But his vocals and guitar are precisely what people show up to hear.
He started getting recognition for his distinctive style around 1968; by
1970, his recordings were getting recognized, as were those of some of his
songs by several of his famous peers.
Winchesters 40 years worth of songs have been reinterpreted, revamped,
and re-recorded by a number of names youre sure to recognize, including
the likes of Elvis Costello, Jimmy Buffett, Reba McEntire, Patti Page, and
Hes known for capturing detailed stories and character/situation studies
in his songs, from Biloxi to Yankee Lady, Brand New Tennessee Waltz
to Payday. His homage to pot, Twigs and Seeds was a cult hit with
folkies in the mid-70s, as was Songbird, covered by Emmy Lou Harris.
Winchesters own favorite picks among covers of his songs are delivered
I like Wilson Picketts version of Isnt That So? and Ed Bruces
version of Evil Angel, he declares.
BACK IN THE U.S.A.
Born in Louisiana, raised in Mississippi and Tennessee, and finding
himself in college in Massachusetts (he graduated in the late 60s),
Winchester famously resisted the draft during the Vietnam War by moving to
Canada. He joined a local band in his new homeland of Quebec, started
writing songs that hed perform as a solo artist, and began recording in
1970 with his eponymous debut album. He became a Canadian citizen in 1973.
Would he have made the the same choice today, under the current president,
to avoid the draft?
I dont know, he demurs, but whatever government is in place doesnt
have much to do with it. I moved to Canada because I did not believe in
the war in Vietnam.
Winchesters career was affected by his choice, to some degree. As he
wasnt able to tour in the United States until amnesty had been given to
draft resisters in the late 70s. He became known more for his songwriting
than for his performing, hence his songs being discovered and recorded by
Now living in the U.S. once again, Winchester - a resident of Virginia -
has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from ASCAP (The American Society
of Composers, Artists, and Publishers), and released a brand new album
called Love Filling Station in 2009, a set seasoned with bluegrass,
country, and folk influences, nine new originals and three covers in all.
Today, hes continuing to write and perform, which he says hell be
focusing on for this spring, summer, and beyond.
Im writing another record between shows, he says, thats pretty much
my plan for spring and summer. Fall and winter, too.
Jesse Winchester (with special guest NEeMA) will be appearing at the City
Opera House on Saturday, April 9 at 8 p.m. Tickets $25/$15 at
cityoperahouse.org, or by telephoning 231-941-8082.