Ladies and Gentlemen, For Your Listening Pleasure…

I have to admit when I started liking Jesse Winchester it was for all the wrong reasons.  His album, Nothing But A Breeze, contains a song that references drug use and at that time I was fully compliant in that area.  It garnished a lot of airplay on the FM station we used to listen to, and we bought the album thinking that there would be more of the same on it.  Kind of like a Cheech and Chong in lyrical form or perhaps even a Steve Martin type format.  What we got was a classic album with the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Nicollette Larson and Anne Murray in accompaniment that I was not to fully appreciate until some time later.

Jesse seems to be that kind of an entertainer.  One that sneaks up on you, tugs on your heart strings and pulls you right back on your sensibilities.  As our ears matured we delved into earlier efforts and found that Jesse had released four albums previous to the gem we had “discovered”, Let the Rough Side Drag, Learn to Love It, 3rd Down and 110 To Go and his self titled debut album, Jesse Winchester.  What we found was a virtual treasure trove of music that soothed our souls and struck a emotional chord that hearkened back to the days of southern charm and chivalry, the likes that we had never heard before. With 5 albums under his belt I started to wonder, “Why hadn’t I been exposed to Jesse before?”  We started thinking we were “music elitists”, knowing something that none of our other associates had even heard about, let alone came to appreciate as much as we had.  Jesse’s music was something to be savored… something to wrap your ears around and make your own.  Most of the music being listened to was more or less soundtrack stuff… back ground music against the mundane pursuits of life.  It didn’t elevate you to the plane Jesse’s songs did.

But ofcourse, as I have stated previously… I am a hopeless romantic and Jesse’s music caters the love struck or lovelorn.  Nothing But a Breeze contained songs that other artists recorded, but didn’t carry the emotion that was conveyed by the songwriter himself.  As I studied his catalog it became more apparent that Jesse was an acquired taste, and I started to resent others for not seeing his poetic verse and smooth delivery as clearly as I did. 

Then came the release of, Talk Memphis in ’81 and things seemed to come around to my way of thinking.  The song, Say What, became the biggest single of Jesse’s repertoire to date and garnished nationwide airplay.  Finally, I thought,  Jesse will get the recognition he deserves.  My tastes would become vindicated and I would have the pleasure of muted “I told you so’s” to any and all who would listen to him.  But soon the listening faded and it was seven years before Jesse recorded another album.

In that time frame my tastes travelled to other artists, but Jesse’s music was always on my mind.  I discovered Humour Me quite by accident.  I was at a record store thumbing through various selections looking for something new, by chance checked under “W” and there was a single copy with Jesse’s picture staring back at me in black and white.  I snapped it up immediately and rushed home to play it.  With renewed interest I dug up all the old music and the timeless efforts of this Dixieland troubadour flooded back to my senses like a friend from home catching me up on the latest town gossip.

About that time I had read a book called “Written On My Soul” by Bill Flanagan.  It contained conversations with Rock’s greatest songwriters.  Tom Petty, Neil Young, Bob Dylan… I was particularly taken by what Dylan said on the subject of great songwriters.  He said, “Are you going to include Jesse Winchester?  You can’t write about the greatest and not mention him.”  In that moment I came to appreciate Dylan all the more because of his equating Jesse to his level.  But the author said in his side note that he had to limit himself, which only caused me to wonder why… and resent the fact that Jesse was still relatively unknown.

By 1996 I had purchased my first PC and discovered the world at my fingertips.  One of the first topics I began to search out was Jesse Winchester.  By that time nearly 8 more years had passed and I wondered if Jesse was still around.  Curiously enough, there were some in the music industry that knew his whereabouts, one even forwarded one of my inquiries to Jesse and it wasn’t long before we were e-mailing each other on a regular basis. 

By 1999, 11 years after my trip to the music store,  Jesse released another album, Gentleman of Leisure and began touring again.  I was fortunate to see him in Greenville at a small night club that seated maybe 300 people.  The club owner introduced several people in the audience, other songwriters and people in the music industry.  People that understood and appreciated the man I had been a fan of for over twenty years.  Earlier on, one of my friends questioned whether I was actually in contact with Jesse, thinking perhaps I was writing to an agent or some aide instead.  But I managed to meet him after his performance and when I introduced myself Jesse recognized my name immediately.  As we stepped out of the theatre into the main lobby there was a line of perhaps fifty people waiting to get an autograph and I was privy to each and every conversation Jesse had with his fans.  One woman in line must have had 10 albums plus a stack of CD’s that she asked Jesse to sign and he patiently did each one then thanked her for buying them.  I was in awe… not only was I standing next to this man who had unbeknownst to me touched so many other people with his abilities but his grace and mannerisms belied the common perception of celebrity.  Jesse was truly touched by all the adoration of his fans, greeting one and all with geniune warmth and humility.

I’m still in contact with Jesse through e-mail.  I have seen him perform two other times, once in Iowa City (my hometown) and once in Tennessee.  At the world renown Bluebird Cafe in Nashville they don’t have an emcee, entertainers just introduce themselves and begin their set.  Jesse’s introduction was simply, “Ladies and gentlemen,  for your listening pleasure…” and the audience applauded in response.  Each time I managed to greet him back stage to re-assure him of my approval and each time Jesse thanked me for my efforts in travelling across country (approx. 900 miles, 1200 miles and 900 miles, respectfully) to see him, knowing that I hail from the Sunshine State. 

I can’t seem to get him to come to S.W. Florida… but I’m working on it.




9 Responses to “Ladies and Gentlemen, For Your Listening Pleasure…”

  1. pistolpete Says:

    I was just reflecting on Kris Kristopherson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” in my post this afternoon. Wasn’t he married to Jesse Winchester at one time. I know I once had an 8-track of Waylon & Willie & 2 others (I believe Jesse was one). Know anything about this?

  2. chrisfiore5 Says:

    I’m thinking you mean Jesse Colter… wasn’t the album “The Outlaws”?

    Kris is another great songwriter and that tune you mention is a classic…


  3. Cyndi Says:

    Actually Jessie Coulter was married to Waylon Jennings. The have a son, Shooter, that played in “Walk the Line” as his father. They were (Waylon and Jessie) married until his death from complications of diabetes.

    Kris Kristofferson was once married to Rita Coolidge.

    Have a great day.

  4. chrisfiore5 Says:

    thank you, sis for clarifying that, memory had partially served…

  5. freevolition Says:

    Well, I have to confess I hadn’t heard of Jesse Winchester until now, so I just now give him a listen on Pandora’s Box. Have you ever heard of Pandora’s Box?
    I listen to it almost every day while working. You can set up web radio stations to your personal preference and they will play artists of your choice, along with other artists that have similar characterstics. I’ve become aware of quite a number of new (and not so new) artists through Pandora. I have quite an eclectic mix of stations set up on my Pandora. So far the only genre that I’ve found they don’t offer is classical (bummer). So anyway I heard a sample by Jesse titled ‘Yankee Lady’. Yeah, I like! So thank you very much for the tip!
    By the way, since you’ve mentioned Bob Dylan, I have to say that he is not only one of the greatest songwriters EVER (in my humble opinion), but he is also a great person. No, I’ve never met him personally, but everything I’ve seen, heard, or read about the man has really impressed me.
    Now please excuse me while I body surf on some earthy melodic tunes. 😛

  6. freevolition Says:

    Wwish they had an edit feature in wordpress

    gave, not give… oh well, I should always proofread before submitting. heh

  7. freevolition Says:

    Strike 2! Sheesh!

  8. dame Says:

    I hunted him down on iTunes. Seems I’ll love him. Thanks for the enlightenment. =)

  9. seamonster02 Says:

    I only have the one CD of Jesse “Gentleman of Leisure” – I couldn’t pick a favorite if I tried. I’m better off saying I don’t like “Club Manhattan” or “Just like New”. Really don’t get time to run down to Best Buy to shop for music but when I do he is one of the people I look for to see if there is anything new. I do love the song “No Pride at All”…it’s playing now. You could always send me a disc of the other songs of Jesse’s that you think I’d like. 🙂

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