Pat Blythe – Seems Like Only Yesterday….
Jesse Winchester, a performer, singer, song writer, a gentle man who influenced many….a man who’s music touched many and a man who is greatly missed. “Jesse Winchester was so talented a singer and songwriter that Bob Dylan said of him, “You can’t talk about the best songwriters and not include him.” His songs, overflowing with images and emotions from his own life, were recorded by singers such as Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Joan Baez, Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor and Emmylou Harris.”
This past Saturday I attended the Seems Like Only Yesterday, A Tribute to Jesse Winchester at Hugh’s Room. Invited by Sandy Graham, whose brother Don Graham was one of the featured performers. I’ll admit, I was reticent to go as I had never been a “regular” listener of Winchester’s songs although there were many that were familiar to me. Rock ‘n roll was where I had been when I was growing up. After not following the GPS properly and getting so turned around, Sandy and I finally arrived just in time to be early. The show wasn’t starting until 8pm although we had been told 7pm. Ah well, we settled in to enjoy dinner (the chicken pesto was lovely) and we chatted with Don until show time. Many thanks once again to Jane Harbury for the tickets.
James Ridout “Jesse” Winchester was an “air force brat”. Born at Barksdale Army Air Field near Bossier City, Louisiana, he was raised in Mississippi, and Memphis, Tennessee. Interestingly, Winchester also became a draft dodger during the Vietnam war, a war he strongly disagreed with, and moved to Montreal, Canada in 1967. “I was so offended by someone’s coming up to me and presuming to tell me who I should kill and what my life was worth,” he told Rolling Stone Magazine in 1977. The first band he joined upon his arrival in Montreal was Les Astronautes. He also performed as a solo artist at the Montreal Folk Workshop and coffeehouses throughout eastern Canada becoming an integral part of the Canadian folk music revival. In 1970, he began his recording career under the auspices of the Band’s Robbie Robertson, who also connected Winchester with Albert Grossman, the Band’s and Dylan‘s manager. Robertson says, “When the record came out, it was received with open arms, and many recording artists covered his songs. Jesse’s music stands up today as good as it did then, and I am so proud to have been a part of it.” Winchester recorded 10 albums in 19 years.
Shama Ling Dong Ding – Jesse Winchester
Winchester became a Canadian citizen in 1973 and was pardoned by then President, Jimmy Carter in 1977. He was finally able to tour the U.S., and his first appearance in Burlington, Vermont was a sold-out event. Winchester finally relocated back to the U.S. and settled in Virginia for good in 2002. Just shy of his 70th birthday, Winchester died April 11, 2014 from bladder cancer. Another one fallen to this incredibly invasive, dastardly disease.
Jesse Winchester first performed at Hugh’s Room in 2001 as the opening act for a brand new space. Since his death, a memorial concert has been held in his honour, on or very near the date of his passing. Saturday’s event was a sell out…. standing room only. Winchester’s entire family also arrived en mass, having come up from the U.S., including both his widow and ex-wife. His son Lee Winchester performed, with a voice reminiscent of his dad’s but also with just a touch of Jim Croce. Apparently he has inherited Jesse’s quirky sense of humour, asking everyone if they were “ready to rock”? Performers included guitarist Bob Cohen (Jesse’s original guitar player), followed by Don Graham, Rebecca Campbell, Fergus Hambleton, Terry Jones (Perth County Conspiracy), David Woodhead, Suzy Vinnick, Alistair Bradley, Blair Packham and host Bill McKetrick.
Rhumba Girl – Nicolette Larson
Although not a complete list of every performance, here are a few…. Vinnick did a fabulous rendition of “Rhumba Girl” (originally written as Rhumba Man). Campbell performed “Let The Rough Side Drag, Let The Smooth Side Show”. Campbell’s voice is clear, strong, honest and pitch perfect….and she does the most amazing harmonies (as well as play a mean tamborine). Don Graham is a great story teller and being a Montrealer, he knew Jesse well and was a close friend. Graham’s performance of “Yankee Lady” was fun and had the audience quietly humming along. Hambleton sat at the piano and sang “Shama Ling Dong Ding”. Lee Winchester, at the age of 32, noted he himself was “was creeping into the chronology of his father’s career, discovering his music as it relates to stuff.” The fact that he looked and sounded like his dad was “unintentional” but his wife found his beard “sexy” so he was keeping it. He closed the show with the song his dad always closed with, “You Can’t Stand Up Alone”, and included the funny little dances his dad use to do.
L-R – Blair Packham, Bill McKetrick, Terry Jones (head turned), Don Graham, Lee Winchester, David Woodhead (peeking out from behind), Bob Cohen, Alistair Bradley Rebecca Campbell, Fergus Hambleton, Suzy Vinnick
I am so very glad I decided to go. The heart and soul felt in the room was so evident, emanating from so many people who knew Winchester intimately. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday night. Winchester’s songs “reflected the man he was, quite spoken, with a most genteel, courtly nature, but with a rascally streak that surfaced from time to time.”
You Can’t Stand Up Alone – Jesse Winchester with Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris
According to Blair Packham, many years ago when he asked Jesse Winchester how he writes his lyrics, Winchester responded, “I just say what I have to say and I don’t say anything else”.
Note: I was not intending on shooting this show so the phone camera had to do. Group shot by Pat Blythe, A Girl With A Camera “The Picture Taker”
Rolling Stone Magazine, Wikipedia, CBC, The Globe and Mail, Sing Out, YouTube
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In “real” life Pat Blythe has spent the past 32 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry. After an extended absence Pat is now heading back to the GTA clubs, immersing herself in the local music scene, tasting what’s on offer, talking to people and writing once again — sharing her passions and her deep love of music. Together for 34 years, Pat also workedalongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who shot much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, Plateau, Buzzsaw, Hellfield….) as well as national and international acts, Currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, Pat is currently compiling a photographic history of the local GTA music scene from 1975 to 1985. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance!