Veteran singer/songwriter Jesse Winchester died on Friday after a long battle with cancer . He was 69. Although he's not a household name, he was a highly respected songwriter and performer in his own right. Here are nine reasons why you should know Winchester.
1. Early in his career, he was embraced by Robbie Robertson, who helped him record his acclaimed debut.
In 1967, the Louisiana native fled the U.S. for Canada in order to dodge the draft. There, Robbie Robertson of the Band took him under his wing and helped Winchester record his self-titled 1970 debut album. Robertson produced, played guitar and co-wrote the song "Snow" on the album, and recruited his fellow Band-mate Levon Helm to play drums and mandolin. Todd Rundgren served as the album's engineer. Although it failed to chart in the U.S., where it was released on the fledgling Ampex label, it reached No. 26 in Canada and went on to have a lasting impact. Today, it's considered a classic by many. Joan Baez, Tom Rush, Ian Matthews and Tim Hardin all recorded covers of songs featured on his debut.
2. He couldn't tour the U.S., so he became an oft-covered, noted songwriter.
Since he was classified as a draft dodger, Winchester couldn't tour in the U.S., so he primarily became known as a songwriter. A diverse and impressive list of artists have covered his songs over the years, including Baez and the Everly Brothers ("The Brand New Tennessee Waltz"), Jimmy Buffett ("Biloxi" and "Defying Gravity") and others.
Perhaps a testament to Winchester's songwriting talent is the fact that covers of his songs showed up on a number of different charts. Nicolette Larson's version of "Rhumba Girl" made the Hot 100 in 1979. On the Country Singles chart, Stoney Edwards' version of "Mississippi You're On My Mind" climbed to No. 20 in 1975, while Michael Martin Murphy's version of "I'm Gonna Miss You, Girl" reached No. 3 in 1987. The Weather Girls even cracked the Hot R&B Chart in 1985 with his "Well-A-Wiggy" in 1985, a few years after they had a major hit with "It's Raining Men."
3. He used his real-life drama in his songs.
One of his best-known songs, "Yankee Lady," was informed his situation as an American who fled to Canada to avoid the draft. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter granted Winchester amnesty.
4. He had a hit with one of his own songs...at least in Canada.
Winchester's "Say What" reached No. 32 in on Billboard's Hot 100, but was more successful in Canada. There it reached No. 23 on the pop chart, and No. 13 on the AC list.
5. His greatness was recognized by at least one music supervisor.
His song "Step by Step" was featured in a 2002 episode of HBO's "The Wire" and was included on the show's soundtrack alongside songs by Tom Waits, the Neville Brothers, Paul Weller and Solomon Burke.
6. He's moved at least one fellow singer/songwriter to tears on TV.
In 2009, Winchester was featured on Elvis Costello's TV show "Spectacle" where he performed his "Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding" as Costello, Sheryl Crow, Ron Sexsmith and Neko Case looked on. By the end of the clip, you can see tears streaming down Case's face.
7. When news of his battle with cancer of the esophagus became public, artists rallied around him to record a tribute album.
Released in 2012 on Jimmy Buffett's Mailboat Records, "Quiet About It: A Tribute To Jesse Winchester" featured an incredible lineup of talent covering his best known songs. Artists featured on the album include James Taylor, Roseanne Cash, Buffett, Allen Toussaint, Vince Gill, Mac McAnally (who also produced the set), Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Little Feat and Elvis Costello.
8. His fellow artists sung his praises with words, too.
When premature news of his death leaked before he actually passed away, Joan Baez wrote on Facebook, " RIP Jesse Winchester. As underrated a singer as Chet Baker. As underrated a guitarist as Willie Nelson. A man who held the audience in the palm of his hand without moving an inch. One of the best songwriters on earth."
9. Even in the face of a devastating illness, he kept his sense of humor.
When Winchester announced the news of the tribute album on his website, he wrote, "When I was sick last year, fixing to die, some friends decided to make a CD of various artists performing my songs. Jimmy Buffett wrote me around Christmastime with the news. I struggled out of my chair and did a little boogaloo around the livingroom. I guess I wasn't that sick."