BIOGRAPHY   -  DISCOGRAPHY

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After an eleven-year hiatus from the studio, singer/songwriter Jesse Winchester is back with his second album for Sugar Hill, Gentleman of Leisure. Produced in Nashville by Jerry Douglas, the collaboration renewed the artist’s enthusiasm for recording that had been abandoned in 1988 after the release of his critically acclaimed project Humour Me.

“You’ve heard the story a thousand times before. It happened to me. I took stock and thought, ‘The only thing making money for me in this business is songwriting,’” said Winchester. “I don’t make any (money) from records and what little I did make from performing wasn’t usually worth the aggravation.”

Though he recorded prolifically between 1970 and 1981, Winchester had enough of performing and recording after the 1988 album. Disgusted, burned-out and drinking too much, he decided to focus on the craft that had already brought him success with such artists as Elvis Costello, Joan Baez, The Everly Brothers, Jimmy Buffett, Waylon Jennings, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris -- all who delved into his treasure chest of songs.

As the nineties went by, his songs continued to find success - primarily in Nashville. Winchester says that during that decade, “Reba McEntire made a lot of money for me. I placed a couple of cuts on Wynonna’s album. Emmylou Harris did some of my tunes too. I made enough money to keep myself going and make my alimony payments.”

But as he continued writing songs, the desire to cut some of his own material was nagging at him. “I guess guilt had a lot to do with it,” he laughs. “I just felt like I should do it. And even from a financial standpoint, even though my records have not sold a lot, they’ve always functioned as glorified demos. So from that point of view, it made sense for me to get back in the studio.” And since Winchester owed Sugar Hill an album anyway, he got in touch with Barry Poss, who put him in the studio with the right producer.

With Jerry Douglas at the production helm, recording Gentleman of Leisure was so positive that Winchester was “sort of blue” when the process was over. “Jerry is very decisive which is what you need in the studio. He has a strong mind and qualities you want in a friend and a colleague. I’m ready to make another album. You really can’t do it all by yourself, which is what I’ve been trying to do. These sessions helped me get my head back on straight.”

Musicians on Gentleman of Leisure include Byron House, John Gardner, Bryan Sutton, Mike Henderson, and Steve Cropper, whom Winchester had pretty much idolized since his teenage years in Memphis grooving to the sounds of Booker T. & The MG’s. Jerry Douglas’ superlative Dobro and lap steel work is featured on several tracks, and Vince Gill appears as a guest vocalist on “Just Because I’m In Love With You.” The legendary Fairfield Four joined Winchester on the gospel number, “Wander My Way Home,” and the experience was “too good to be true.”

The album offers laid-back rock songs like “Club Manhattan,” Sweet Little Shoe” and the title track. Slow dancers will enjoy wistful ballads “No Pride At All” and “Then I Wave Bye Bye.” And Winchester’s Nashville success flavors the songs “Sweet Lovin’ Daddy,” “Evil Angel” and “Freewheeler,” and the super cool tune “Just Like New,” a brilliant song about Elvis which Wynonna used on her album Tell Me Why.

Although Winchester recorded the album in Nashville, the Memphis native continues to live in Quebec province outside of Montreal. He is perhaps the most well known American to have chosen Canadian exile over being drafted for the Vietnam War in 1967. He soon began playing the piano in Montreal cafes and writing songs. Though he had left Tennessee, his songs had the unmistakably southern feel that combined the best of country with rhythm and blues.

Fellow Canadian Robbie Robertson took an interest in Winchester’s career, helping him land a record deal with the Bearsville label and produced his self - titled debut album. Aided by the drum and mandolin work of Levon Helm and the engineering of Todd Rundgren, the album signaled the emergence of a sensitive and literate tunesmith that invoked the tone of the 70s, having an impact on listeners and musicians alike.

After established a highly regarded run of albums in the ‘70s with Bearsville, Winchester moved to Sugar Hill Records and released Humour Me, which Stereo Review termed, “a delight from start to finish” (May 1989), while People Magazine noted that comparisons between Winchester and James Taylor “aren’t out of line,” and that he “certainly seems too obscure for a performer of his talent.” (Feb. 1989.)

With the release of Gentleman of Leisure, Winchester is enthusiastic, back on track and back on the road with a wealth of music that illustrates his twenty plus years as a prolific songwriter and singer. If you aren’t familiar with Jesse Winchester, it’s never too late to start.

Album Discography

1999      Gentleman of Leisure (Sugar Hill)
1989      The Best of Jesse Winchester (Rhino)
1988      Humour Me (Sugar Hill)
1981      Talk Memphis (Bearsville)
1978      A Touch on the Rainy Side (Bearsville)
1977      Nothing But a Breeze (Bearsville)
1976      Let the Rough Side Drag (Bearsville)
1975      Live at the Bijou Café (Bearsville)
1974      Learn to Love It (Bearsville)
1972      Third Down, 110 to Go (Bearsville)
1970      Jesse Winchester (Bearsville)

Visit the Jesse Winchester web site.

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