Chuck Cleaver of Wussy carries a torch for Jesse Winchester

Chuck Cleaver and Jesse Winchester

Chuck Cleaver and Jesse Winchester

The recommendation from Chuck Cleaver: “This past Valentine’s weekend I was given Jesse Winchester’s eponymous debut album. We’d just seen the Elvis Costello show on cable not more than a week earlier where Jesse sang Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding (from his latest album Love Filling Station) & Brand New Tennessee Waltz (from the first one) and had Elvis slack-jawed and Neko Case tearing up and I’d mentioned that I’d had his debut album as a kid but misplaced or sold it somewhere along the way. So flash forward a week and here it is again and, although I’m hearing it with different ears, I’m enjoying it just as much if not more.

The first time I owned it was when I was around 13 – 14 years old, right along 1973 – 74. It came out in early 1971 and I remember reading a review in one of my older brother’s music mags, maybe in Rolling Stone, probably in Creem, and they mentioned that Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm from The Band (cue sunbeams through the clouds) were on it and that’s all it took. As soon as I had enough mowing money I rode into Wilmington, Ohio with my parents on grocery night and had them drop me off at the Hallmark Cards store. The woman that owned it had a son that looked a lot like the Droopy Dog member of the Hudson Brothers and he ran a small record shop in one corner. A lot of times he had to order the stuff I wanted but I remember this one was in stock and that was that.

As I’ve always been a sad bastard, upon first listen I immediately took to the ballads, especially Biloxi & Brand New Tennessee Waltz but I can also remember thinking Payday, with it’s ramshackle Robbie Robertson guitar solo that kind of echoed the one he’d unleashed 10 years earlier in Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks version of Who Do You Love was pretty cool as was the amazing mess that is The Nudge. And Black Dog (not a Zep cover) just plain scared the shit out of me.

But like I said, the slow ones are the ones that kill me more often than not and this record’s no exception. Biloxi, with it’s pretty girls splashing naked in the water and swimming in the sea and the couple in Brand New Tennessee Waltz waltzing on air down Victorian stairs. Crimony. They both had me longing for something that I was only vaguely aware of. The kinds of songs that make you want to be in them, all young, bearded and scruffy with barefooted girls unencumbered in gauzy dresses, shady green meadows, front and back porches and watermelon and sweet iced tea and all that other shit. Along with every other record that’s kicked my ass, it seemed to be something that very well could exist somewhere along the line if I made it past adolescence and out of the small town I came from. These kinds of records gave me promise, something to look forward to.

So now it’s 35 or so years on and a lot of that stuff either happened, sort of happened, didn’t happen or probably never will. I mean, it’s not like Jesse Winchester or any other songwriter can actually conjure this shit up. It’ll either happen to you or it won’t and I’m not sure how much sense it makes to dwell on such things. But as I listened to this record last evening while washing the dishes the same songs hit me pretty much the same way, proving that I’m either a fucking idiot or that maybe there’s still something to look forward to. I’m banking on the latter.”

The Source: Rock Torch exclusive, 3/9/10

More on: Chuck Cleaver and Wussy
(Editor’s note: Chuck Cleaver formerly fronted the Cincinnati indie outfit, The Ass Ponys, but he has hit his stride with Wussy, which he currently leads with Lisa Walker. Wussy’s records have been praised by Rolling Stone, Spin and NPR and they have 2 albums on Robert Christgau’s Best of the Decade list (Funeral Dress and Left for Dead). They are finishing a new record, but you can check them on tour now. Spy the tour dates here and buy their CDs here.)

More on: Jesse Winchester

Buy the album Chuck recommended here:

Jesse Winchester
Jesse Winchester

Or hear a song from the album here: