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All Music Guide:
Jesse Winchester was the music world's most prominent Vietnam War draft evader, though his renown came from a body of wry, closely observed songs. After growing up in Memphis, Winchester received his draft notice in 1967 and moved to Montreal, Canada, rather than serve in the military. In 1969, he met Robbie Robertson of the Band, who helped launch his recording career. In the same way that James Taylor's history of mental instability and drug abuse served as a subtext for his early music, Winchester's exile lent real-life poignancy to songs like "Yankee Lady," which appeared on his debut album, Jesse Winchester (1970). He became a Canadian citizen in 1973.
Despite critical acclaim, his inability to tour in the U.S. prevented him from taking his place among the major singer/songwriters of the early '70s, but he made a series of impressive albums -- Third Down, 110 to Go (August 1972), Learn to Love It (August 1974), Let the Rough Side Drag (June 1976), and Nothing But a Breeze (March 1977) -- before President Jimmy Carter instituted an amnesty that finally allowed him to play in his homeland. By that time, the singer/songwriter boom had passed, though Winchester continued to record (A Touch on the Rainy Side [July 1978], Talk Memphis [February 1981], Humour Me ) and even scored a Top 40 hit with "Say What" in 1981.
His most prominently covered songs include "Yankee Lady" (Brewer & Shipley), "The Brand New Tennessee Waltz" (Joan Baez, Ian Matthews), "Biloxi" (Tom Rush, Jimmy Buffett), "Mississippi, You're on My Mind" (Jerry Jeff Walker, Stoney Edwards [for a Top 40 country hit]), "Defying Gravity" (Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris), "Rhumba Girl" (Nicolette Larson [for a pop chart entry]), "Well-A-Wiggy" (the Weather Girls [for an R&B chart entry]), and "I'm Gonna Miss You, Girl" (Michael Martin Murphey [for a Top Ten country hit]). In 1999, Winchester returned from a long recording hiatus with the new album Gentleman of Leisure. An active live performer, Winchester released his first live album in 24 years with 2001's Jesse Winchester Live at Mountain Stage. Another live album, simply titled Live, followed in 2005. A new studio album, Love Filling Station, was released on Appleseed Recordings in 2009.
Jesse Winchester (born James Ridout Winchester; May 17, 1944) 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.
Winchester is probably most well 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. 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. However, 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.
In 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 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.