TORONTO — Folksinger Jesse Winchester, an American-born songwriter who established himself in Montreal after dodging the Vietnam War draft, has died of cancer.
He was 69.
His death was announced on his official Facebook page Friday.
“Friends, our sweet Jesse died peacefully in his sleep this morning,” read the update. “Bless his loving heart.”
Winchester was born in Louisiana and raised around the American south, but didn’t begin his music career in earnest until moving to Quebec in 1967.
There, he began performing solo in coffee houses around Montreal and the East Coast, earning a reputation for his wry country-folk.
He was a protege of the Band’s Robbie Robertson, who produced and played guitar on Winchester’s self-titled debut album and brought Band-mate Levon Helm along to play drums and mandolin.
Winchester’s second album, 1972’s Third Down, 110 to Go featured a few tracks produced by Todd Rundgren. Winchester continued to release material at a steady clip until 1981’s Talk Memphis set off a seven-year break from recording — even though that album contained Winchester’s biggest U.S. hit, “Say What.”
Although large-scale mainstream success mostly eluded Winchester, his songs were covered by an array of luminaries including Elvis Costello, Anne Murray, Wynona Judd, Emmylou Harris, the Everly Brothers and Joan Baez.
Some of his best-loved songs include Yankee Lady, Biloxi, The Brand New Tennessee Waltz and Mississippi, You’re On My Mind.
After living in Canada for decades, Winchester moved back to the U.S. early last decade.
Winchester was nominated for three Juno Awards, including country male vocalist of the year in 1990 and, most recently, best roots and traditional album for “Gentleman of Leisure” in 2000.
In September 2012, artists including James Taylor, Lucinda Williams, Vince Gill and Jimmy Buffett performed covers of Winchester’s tunes for a tribute album called Quiet About It.
Winchester reportedly managed to record a final album called A Reasonable Amount of Trouble, due out this summer.