I recently contributed a post to the Star Maker Machine blog on American-turned-Canadian artist Jesse Winchester. This week´s theme there (Winter Wonderland) gave me the welcome opportunity to showcase his exquisite ditty Snow, a song from Winchester´s eponymous debut from 1970. An impressive album, produced by Robbie Robertson and engineered by Todd Rundgren. I also put up a short and sweet acoustic demo of that track, found on a boot called Early Demos. And as there are plenty more treasures to be found on that disc, here we go.
I didn´t manage to find out when these demos were recorded exactly, but it must have been during the late sixties, when draft dodger Winchester had already left his native Memphis for the colder climes of Montreal. The liner notes to Jesse Winchester mention him working up some demos in ´69 at U.S. Army deserter Chuck Gray´s home studio in Ottawa. A friend of Jesse´s girlfriend at the time allegedly passed these on to Robertson. The 29 songs on Early Demos could very well stem from that session. If so, it´s no wonder that the Band guitarist was smitten by them.
Eight of these intimate snapshots of a budding talent, featuring just guitar and vocals, would later end up in full-band versions on that famed debut. It´s nice to hear that they work just as well in a simple acoustic setting - which goes for all great pop songs I suppose. Take Black Dog for instance, probably my fave Winchester composition. This demo manages to sound just as ominous and dark, even with just a sole acoustic guitar for accompaniment. "I don't know the black dog's name, when I call him he won't come... How'd I get this black dog, Lord, I never wanted one... Black dog don't believe in sin, think of where the black dog's been, think of where he's been... today." And the innocent version of Brand New Tennessee Waltz is arguably every inch as good as its better-known cousin. "So have all your passionate violins play a tune for a Tennessee kid... who's feeling like leaving another town, with no place to go if he did."
From the songs that didn´t make the cut for the first album for some reason, a few were left on the shelf to figure on the fine follow-up Third Down, 110 To Go (´72). Of these, I´m especially enamoured of Silly Heart, which reminds me of Buddy Holly somehow. The doper´s lament Twigs And Seeds had to wait even longer for its first official appearance, on Live At The Bijou Cafe (´77). "Twigs and seeds, twigs and seeds... and they sure don't deliver the punch that this ole head needs..."
Jesse Winchester is still gigging and making albums - all at his own pace - as we speak by the way. Check him out at his own site here. Oh, and don´t forget to buy that first album if you don´t own it already.
Jesse Winchester - Black Dog (demo) MP3
Jesse Winchester - Brand New Tennessee Waltz (demo) MP3
Jesse Winchester - Silly Heart (demo) MP3
Jesse Winchester- Twigs And Seeds (demo) MP3