From the Twangzine Archives – Jessie Winchester The Gentleman of Leisure talks about songwriting
The Gentleman of Leisure talks about songwriting
by Jeff Wall
“Writing a song is pretty easy, it comes quickly. It’s the editing that’s hard and takes a long time. I have to sing it over and over and over again, literally hundreds of times to make sure that it all makes sense and flows so that it doesn’t sound poetic or artificial, and instead hopefully it sounds like somebody talking to you. I try to write commercial songs, with more or less success. I’m trying to make a living instead of making any great artistic statement. However, It makes me feel wonderful when people come up to me and tell me how much my songs have meant to them.”
Jesse Winchester is a quiet little fellow with graying hair. He exudes humility and gentleness unlike anyone I have ever met before. Prior to meeting him, I had been warned to be careful and not spook him as I am excessively big and loud. Jesse had fled the United States and moved to Toronto, Canada to avoid the draft. It was a decision which he believed deeply in, but which would have serious consequences. As a result, for many years, he was not allowed back into the United States or his native Mississippi. He was unable to tour the States until the draft dodgers received a Presidential Pardon. Regardless of your opinion concerning the politics involved. You have to respect someone for following his beliefs. Knowing that he followed his heart and fled to Canada, leaving behind everything and everyone he loved gives his classic song “Mississippi Your on my Mind” a much deeper meaning.
Running into Jesse Winchester for the first time, backstage at Merlefest, Jesse told us, “I am looking forward to meeting Jim Lauderdale, that was my main goal of attending Merlefest. I already know Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, and a lot of these other people. They played on my record. But Jim Lauderale wrote that song that Patty Loveless and George Jones did, “You Don’t Even Miss Me”. That was the first I had ever heard of him, That song was so Country. I put my Cd player on repeat on that song and played it over and over and over. It was the most country thing I had heard in a long time. I knew that whoever had wrote it was a real Country writer, so I knew I wanted to meet him.”
Jesse Winchester mainly makes his living as a songwriter instead of as a performer. That’s not saying he’s not a good performer, it’s just those songs of his. They get to you. My favorite tunes of his always seem to be the more spiritual numbers. “I’ve never thought Gospel writers wrote good gospel songs. It’s the Ralph and Carter Stanley type Gospel tunes that have always struck a chord with me. A man who can write songs about drinking and killing, then turn around and do something like White Dove or Rank Stranger. That’s what I respond to.”
“I’m going to get myself in trouble with the religious people, and I don’t want to do that, but I think you’ve just got to be an ordinary person. People who think they know all the answers put me off. If you stop wondering and thinking about things, you kind of lose it. You lose your sense of humor, your sense of awe and mystery, and really what God is all about. He will not be proved. He said that himself.”
” I don’t belong to any one particular church. I tend to favor the ones that shout at me for emotional reasons. I like emotions. I like emotions going into that sort of thing.. When I hear something like a Hank Williams gospel song, it seems to me a little bit more to me, to know that someone has hurt like that, that you’ve got to that point in your life where there is no place else.”
When asked about performing and other people covering his songs, Jesse said. ” I don’t do other people’s songs unless I feel as if I could have written them. I love having other people do my songs, it’s such a great ego boost. It’s a little hard to be objective about my songs musically speaking, I’m so close to it, I can’t tell whether if I like it musically or not, I can’t get back far enough from it so I really can. The reason I made this last album, Gentleman of Leisure, was, I had told myself I wouldn’t bother again, but I had these tunes that other people had done over the last ten years or so, and I just wanted my own versions to be heard because a lot of times the feeling wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. That’s really what moved me to do it. I’m glad I did it, I’m having the time of my life, I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had before. It’s one of the greatest blessings there is. The first greatest blessing is having parents that love you. The second is having something to do that you enjoy. I’m truly blessed.”
Jesse Winchester is working on a new album right now. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another twelve years to hear it.