Jesse Winchester Bands The Early Years


Jesse Winchester Band:  Left to right: Bob Cohen on Guitar; Gregory Geddes on Sax/Keyboards; Jesse; Jesse Winchester; Paul Booth on Bass; N.D. Smart II on Drums.




The Churchkeys

Jesse Winchester spent his last 30 plus years as a solo performing act, so sometimes his bands from his early formative years of performing are forgotten.  In a 1971 interview, Jesse estimated he had been in 9 to 10 bands during his high school and college days. One of Jesse's high school buddies, Mason Schumacher recalls Jesse's first high school band, "We had a band the fall of '61 to spring of '62.  The name of our band was 'The Churchkeys,' in honor of an appliance used a great deal by various members of the group. There was Jesse on guitar/vocals, Teddy Paige on lead guitar, Rand May and me on background vocals, David Lowery on rhythm guitar, Joe Wolf on bass, and John Rodman on drums (replaced later by Eddie Robinson).... Played a lot of CYOs.... Jesse was so talented that he could show each member what to do!"  The band's name was later changed to The Jesters.

The Night Sounds

After high school, Jesse enrolled in Williams College in Massachusetts where he also played in college bar bands. In a 1970 Rolling Stone interview Jesse remembered playing the college circuit in Massachusetts, "... we were playing for fraternity dances … Taj Mahal used to work that same circuit.” 

During his junior year of college, Winchester went to Germany for the purpose of studying German and Philosophy.  In reality he spent most of his time as a lead guitarist and lead singer in a German band called The Night Sounds that toured in Germany and Holland. In a 2007 interview Jesse remembered his days in Europe. "I went to Germany for a year, to the University of Munich, and I didn't study there either. I had a wonderful time. I got a job playing guitar with this band of German fellows, and we went all over the country that way. To tell you the truth, I think I learned more German doing that than I would have in the school, because I saw all the other American students there, and they were all hanging out together, talking English to each other all the time, whereas I was out there speaking working-class German. I didn't learn what I was supposed to be learning, but it was OK. We played the Top Hat club in Hamburg, Germany, where the Beatles played. They were long gone, but it was still happening. I really felt like a Bohemian."

les Astronauts

Jesse's first band in Canada was a French Canadian group called les Astronauts. He often mentioned this first group in articles about his early days in Canada. "I was very well accepted by the French Community. The band did mainly French numbers, you know that intense Aznavour stuff. I was the exotic part of the show. I'd come up and sing 'Papa's Got A Brand New Bag.' The band played some real peculiar gigs … boy, did I see the wilds! I suppose it was good in a way, but I got awfully depressed."

Jesse put up with the loneliness of being the only English speaking member of the band, but he eventually reached his limit when the manager of the group insisted that the group wear astronaut costumes.  Despite the steady $100 a week pay, unheard of in those days, Jesse was not wearing a costume.

John Cold Water Group

After his stint in les Astronauts, Jesse formed an R&B group called the John Cold Water Group with musicians he had met while on the road with les Astronauts. The group primarily played at clubs in Quebec. According to Jesse, "We played a little too jazzy and little too loud for the commercial jobs that we got, though, and finally had to break up because we couldn’t make any money at it. We played rhythm ’n’ blues, you know, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, and Ray Charles. I was singing and playing guitar, and we had some really good musicians in that band..." 

Jesse Winchester Band

After John Cold Water Group and a subsequent short-lived psychedelic band split up, Jesse tired of the constraints of life in a band.  He worked as a single for quite a while, and, during this time, he began writing songs because the clubs he was playing in expected that. Of course singing his own original songs eventually led to his recording of his critically acclaimed first album, "Jesse Winchester."  Supporting a debut album made the use of backing musicians a necessity. 

A 1969 Montreal Gazette article listed one of the first Jesse Winchester Band incarnations, which included Jean Charbonneau on bass, Ken Pearson on piano, and Guy Black on drums. Pearson and Black also played on the first album.

Jesse Winchester & The Wallbangers

After the release of his second album Third Down, 110 To Go, Jesse's then-current band adopted the name The Wallbangers.  The name was derived from playing at fellow Tennessean Barry Bozeman's Châtelet Hotel in Morin Heights, Quebec. Bozeman and a group of Americans ran the Hotel. Bozeman stated, "... we offered country music and Harvey Wallbangers to our new Canadian friends."

The Wallbangers band was comprised of Steve Deady on lead guitar, Stuart Wright on rhythm guitar, David 'Butch' McDade on drums and Jeff 'Stick' Davis on bass.  Steve Deady recalled, "We played gigs around Montreal and made one epic Winnebago trip all the way to Vancouver and back, playing at colleges along the way. This was the tour where we subbed for a then-unknown Bruce Springsteen, who had canceled as opening act for Paul Butterfield in Vancouver. Stuart and I amicably left the band during the recording of "Learn To Love It," as Jesse couldn’t afford to keep a five-piece after the label support money was exhausted."

Jesse Winchester & The Rhythm Aces

After The Wallbangers, Steve Deady joined ex-Wallbanger Wright in the newly formed the Stuart Wright Band, and they even opened for Jesse at several Canadian gigs. McDade and Davis continued as Jesse's rhythm section, and they adopted the name The Rhythm Aces. They also worked with Jesse on the recording of "Learn To Love It" during which Butch McDade introduced Jesse to another native of Tennessee, songwriter Russell Smith who had previously been in a band with McDade & Davis before they moved to Canada. Jesse was impressed with two of Smith's songs and recorded them for the album. In a very unusual move, Jesse let drummer McDade take the lead vocal on Smith's "Third Rate Romance."  Jesse took the lead on Smith's other contribution to the album, "The End Is Not In Sight." 

Shortly after the album was recorded, Smith, McDade and Davis headed back to Tennessee and formed The Amazing Rhythm Aces along with Barry ‘Byrd’ Burton, and two others. The Amazing Rhythm Aces had a rather large hit with their own version of Smith’s “Third Rate Romance,” this time with Smith on lead vocals.  Their first album also featured Smith's "The End Is Not In Sight," and a song written by ex-Wallbanger Stuart Wright.

Jesse Winchester & Midnight Bus

Jesse’s longest lived band was Midnight Bus, which was named after his song of the same name on the “Third Down and 110 To Go" album.  The Midnight Bus band primarily consisted of Bob Cohen on guitar, Marty Harris on bass, Ron Dann on pedal steel, and drummer Dave Lewis, who had replaced original Midnight Bus drummer Chris Castle.  Bob Cohen recalled there were times when he was busy with other musical projects and famed guitarists Albert Lee, or Mike 'Pepe' Francis, or John Till would replace him at some gigs. Also, Jody Maphis, son of Joe Maphis, would occasionally sub on drums.  In this ad from 1977 we see the Stuart Wright Group opening for Jesse Winchester & Midnight Bus when Jesse made his way back to Tennessee in 1977.  

Midnight Bus played with Jesse from 1975 through 1977 and played on his albums "Let The Rough Side Drag," "Nothing But A Breeze," and "Live At The Bijou Cafe." They also backed him on his first tour of the States in 1977 which has since spawned a lot of bootleg recordings.  In a 1976 interview Jesse gave this band high praise, "This is by far the best band I’ve had, and they all have their own musical lives, so I imagine that it’ll be the longest lasting. I have no intention of changing. They all write music themselves and they play with other people, so they’re not gonna get bored.”

Jesse Winchester Band

Midnight Bus guitarist, Bob Cohen was also a member of Jesse's last known band, the Jesse Winchester Band, pictured above in 1978. Other members of the band were Paul Booth on bass, Greg Geddes on sax and keyboards, and drummer N.D. Smart II, who had earlier appeared on "Third Down, 110 To Go." 

Jesse took this band into studios in Montreal and L.A. to record a new album. However, after completion of the recording, he was dissatisfied with the effort and scrapped the project.  Bob Cohen noted that several of the songs were later recorded for Jesse's the 1981 Talk Memphis album.



Jesse Winchester Bands by years

  • Memphis, Tennessee
    • Rock & Roll bands in high school starting in 1961. His first band was The Churchkeys.
      • Jesse Winchester - Guitar & vocals
      • Teddy Paige - Lead Guitar
      • Rand May - Background vocals
      • Mason Schumacher - Background vocals
      • David Lowery - Rhythm Guitar
      • Joe Wolf - Bass
      • John Rodman/Eddie Robinson - Drums
  • Williamstown, Massachusetts
    • College bar bands from 1963 to 1966. 
      • Jesse Winchester - Guitar
  • Munich, Germany - Junior year of college
    • The Night Sounds - German Band 1964-65
      • Jesse Winchester - Guitar & Lead Vocals
  • Canada
    • les Astronauts -French Canadian Band 1967
      • Jesse Winchester - Rhythm Guitar & some Lead Vocals
    • John Cold Water Group - R&B 1967
      • Jesse Winchester - Guitar & Vocals
    • Jesse Winchester Band - 1969
      • Jean Charbonneau - Bass
      • Guy Black - Drums
      • Ken Pearson - Piano
    • Jesse Winchester & The Wallbangers (1) - 1973
      • Steve Deady - Guitar & Bass
      • Stuart Wright - Rhythm Guitar
      • David “Butch” McDade – Drums
      • Michael Caron - Soundman
    • Jesse Winchester & The Wallbangers (2) - 1973
      • Steve Deady - Lead Guitar
      • Stuart Wright - Rhythm Guitar
      • Jeff 'Stick' Davis - Bass
      • David 'Butch' McDade – Drums
      • Michael Caron - Soundman
    • Jesse Winchester & Rhythm Aces - 1974
      • Jeff 'Stick' Davis - Bass
      • David 'Butch' McDade – Drums
      • Michael Caron - Soundman
    • Jesse Winchester & Midnight Bus - 1975-77
      • Bob Cohen - Guitar
      • Marty Harris - Bass
      • Ron Dann - Pedal Steel
      • Chris Castle - Drums 1975
      • Dave Lewis - Drums 1976-77
      • Albert Lee - Guitar (occasionally subbed)
      • John Till - Guitar (occasionally subbed)
    • Jesse Winchester Band - 1978
      • Bob Cohen - Guitar
      • Paul Booth - Bass
      • Greg Geddes - Sax, Keyboards
      • N.D. Smart II - Drums

Greg Geddes, N.D. Smart, Jesse, Bob Cohen, & Paul Booth



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