Last week I paid brief tribute to the late Jesse Winchester. His song “Evil Angel” had been going around in my head. When I finally figured out what song it was, I wanted to share it with readers who might be unfamiliar with Jesse’s work or remind fans of it. He was a gifted singer and songwriter deep in the American grain.
This past Thursday I was delighted to hear from Jesse’s widow, Cindy Winchester. Cindy wrote:
I’m Jesse’s widow and I enjoyed your post! And you are correct, Jesse did indeed speak a beautiful American English. Such a brilliant, thoughtful man.
I grew up in Iowa and I met Jesse through his Memphis high school sweetheart in 2000. Susan also spoke in a similar manner.
I asked Cindy if I could post her message and followed up with a question about Jesse’s song “I Wave Bye-Bye.” As a father of three daughters, I had thought on the basis of no knowledge whatsoever that it must have been addressed to his daughter, Alice. I told Cindy that the song reduced me to jelly. Cindy responded:
Of course you may post my message. But obviously I’m not a master of the written word.
The song that he wrote for Alice, his daughter, is “It Takes a Young Girl.” Sorry that it isn’t the one you thought! So many, many people feel the same as you about “I Wave Bye Bye.”
Have you heard the last record he did that was released posthumously? It was nominated for two Grammies in 2015. Many people consider it his best work, and it was produced by Mac McAnnaly.
He has three children too. James is in California and Alice and Marcus Lee are in Ontario. I’m lucky to have them all remaining in my life.
Best regards to you.
Below is “I Wave Bye Bye,” the last song on Jesse’s third from the last recording, the beautiful Gentleman of Leisure.
Love Filling Station was Jesse’s penultimate recording, also great. Below he performs one of that set’s highlights — “Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding” — live before an audience including the astounded Elvis Costello. Please give it a listen.
Jesse’s last recording was the posthumously released A Reasonable Amount of Trouble. As Cindy suggests, it is a moving set with the end in sight.
I find the occasionally offbeat gospel thread in Jesse’s work to be deeply touching. Before we take our leave of the late Mr. Winchester, I ask you to listen to Jesse performing Martha Carson’s “I Can’t Stand Up Alone” with a little help from Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris in 1977 (video below). It was a hit for Clyde McPhatter in Jesse’s formative years. I do believe Jesse gets to the heart of the song and makes it his own. Quotable quote: “You need the touch of a mighty hand.”
Jesse’s final three recordings are full of highlights and grace notes. I wouldn’t want to have to choose a best among them. They all reflect the man’s art and heart. Thanks to Cindy Winchester for giving me reason to revisit Jesse’s work this morning.