Jesse F McRae
Telling you about some of my influences seems to be as good a way as any of providing insight into what my book is all about, because what are any of us if not the product of our influences?
I’ve been a lot of things in the seventy-plus years I’ve been circling the sun – and in my book I own up to many of them – but if I were asked to define myself as any one thing, “songwriter” would be the truest answer I could give. Regardless of how I was earning my living or what was going on in my chaotic and nomadic life at any given time, for more than fifty years I have been a songwriter. So let me tell you a little about some of my influences.
I was born in Vancouver, Canada, back when you could hear Artie Shaw and the Dorsey Brothers and Glen Miller on AM radio. From my pre-teens onward, music drew the majority of my attention. Artists like Jimmie Rodgers, Gene Vincent, Bill Haley and his Comets, Perry Como, Little Richard, Mario Lanza, Elvis Presley, Rosemary Clooney, Rusty Draper, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sonny James, Gail Garnett, Lonny Donegan, Johnny Cash, Julie London, Cowboy Copus, Kitty Wells, The Big Bopper, Jackie Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis, Joe Pass, Bill Evans, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.
I could go on and on and I will in just a minute, but there were also influences other than music: life, love, lust, joy, and pain; too few rational choices, too many marriages, too many fractured relationships. Everyone who ever loved me – some forever, some for just a moment, some only until they got to know me, some who burned a bridge before I could flic my own Bic or flip my own Zippo. Well over a hundred addresses in forty years – no lie! And the road – more than anything – the road.
And Peggy Lee, Brooke Benton, Nina Simone, Solomon Burke, Waylon, and Merle in small BYOB clubs. Larger venues with Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Ike & Tina Turner, Jose Feliciano, Smokey & the Miracles, Ray Charles, James Brown. Sharing a wall and some conversation backstage with Janis Joplin while she waited to go on stage. I still swear Glen Campbell opened that show, but I can’t find any record of him doing so.
Buffalo, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit in the big snow of '72. Eleven hundred non-stop miles in twenty-two hours in January of ’76, from Port Alberni on Vancouver Island to Fort Nelson in northern B.C. Arriving with just enough time to set up and play, then playing six solo hours a night for the next three weeks. Forty degrees below zero outside – four walls and one TV channel, off the air before midnight. No love in that town for this cowboy at that time. Who says hell doesn't freeze?
Solo bar gigs in Vancouver, Horseshoe Bay, Squamish, Whistler, Sechelt, Roberts Creek, Powell River, Lund, Courtenay, Comox, Campbell River, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Duncan, Victoria, Sooke, Tsawwassen, Ladner, Point Roberts, White Rock, Cloverdale, Whalley, Newton, Surrey, New Westminster, Port Moody, Coquitlam, Haney, Pitt Meadows, Aldergrove, Langley, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Chilliwack Lake, Harrison, Hope, Spuzzum, Yale, Lytton, Lillooet, Cache Creek, Ashcroft, Clinton, 70 Mile House, 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, Quesnel, Bella Coola, Rupert, Smithers, Burns Lake, Prince George, Dawson Creek, Yellowknife, Peace River, Grande Prairie, Edmonton, Calgary, Fort Macleod, Fernie, Banff, Jasper, Windermere, Fairmont, Radium, Golden, Revelstoke, Kimberley, Cranbrook, Creston, Salmo, Rossland, Trail, Castlegar, Nelson, Slocan, Kaslo, Silverton, New Denver, Nakusp, Lumby, Vernon, Enderby, Salmon Arm, Sicamous, Chase, Monte Creek, Kamloops, Blue River, Savona, Logan Lake, Merritt, Princeton, Keremeos, Osoyoos, Oliver, Penticton, Naramata, Summerland, Peachland, Kelowna, Rutland, Midway, Greenwood, Grand Forks, Republic.
Duo and band gigs in many of those places, plus Spokane, Couer d'Alene, Boise, Livingston, Kalispel, Whitefish, Fort Collins, Taos, Eagles Nest, Red River, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Monahans, Fort Stockton, Odessa, Lubbock, Abilene, San Diego, El Cajon, Jamul, Boulevard, and a whole lot more.
Hangin’ with Hoyt Axton. Hosting "Country Road" for CBC radio and interviewing Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Ed Bruce, Doc Watson, and others.
Picking, writing, wandering, wondering, and searching through the Rocky Mountains and from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf of Mexico. B.C., Alberta, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, South Dakota, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida.
The Pacific Ocean – even when I've been far away in miles and years its sounds, smells, moods, mysteries, creatures, contrasts, textures, power, and rhythms have moved in me; its voice has called me. Paradoxically, the farther away I’ve traveled and the longer I’ve been gone, the more at sea I’ve become.
Vancouver – Long & McQuade, Bud's Good Eats, MB and NightHawk and Mulvaney. Point Roberts – Fat Willie's Cafe, the Cannery, Jeff George (RIP), and Tom Parriott (RIP). The Sunshine Coast – the late Bob Carpenter and “Gypsy Boy,” BJ Hall, the story of Billy Black and the Bounty Hunter. Grand Forks – John Muir, Harvey Matheson, the Longhorn, the world’s friendliest amateur pharmacist, the pig roast twelve miles up-river from town and next-day complaints from townies that our music was too loud!
My first taste of Texas – two of us in this particular shard of memory – dazed, loaded, exhausted, and falling in love; forty-eight non-stop, non-sleep hours from Port Townsend, Washington all the crazy way to Dallas, Texas. Cresting a hill on Route 66 and dropping softly east into the otherworldly beauty of a Tucumcari Sunrise. Returning to the northwest; to heaven in Cannon Beach, Oregon and hell in Ilwaco, Washington.
Back to Texas – Monahans, Odessa, Abilene, Lubbock and Coldwater Country where Lone Star longnecks cost a dime and Margaritas went for thirty cents every Wednesday on “Crash & Burn” night. Where we opened for George Thorogood and Joe Ely the night Joe rode a white stallion up the stairs onto the stage – and then picked with Mr. Thorogood around a table at the old Stubbs Bar-B-Q until the sun came up, back before Mister Stubbs moved to Austin. Sunday afternoons sitting in with Henry Lester and the Original Drugstore Cowboys, some of whom had played with Bob Wills back in the day.
1984 – Wyoming and the Tetons and a fireplace in the old ranch house ten miles outside of Big Horn; just me and Lefty – half Cocker, half Springer and the absolute, hands-down best dog to ever walk this planet. Fourth of July gig with my pal Pesha at the King Ranch near Sheridan when the cowboys set the ranch-house roof on fire with bottle rockets.
1988 – Ghost-riders coming hard up an ancient shaman’s trail in the canyon between Raton and Taos as we held each other and the kids at 7800 feet in the brittle light of a late-August afternoon. Dead-sober and stone-cold-straight as we smelled the sweat and heard the thudding hooves, the creaking leather, the jingling spurs, the raspy, labored breathing of invisible horses and men and felt the earth shake as they raced past us, or through us, or around us. And we knew that time and space had somehow collapsed and conspired in that beautiful and eerie place to facilitate our escape from any semblance of "normal." Hindsight being twenty-twenty, maybe we should have stayed in Boulder.
The stellar Michael Hearne and “New Mexico Rain.” Michael Martin Murphy. Selo Black Crow sharing Alpines in the sweat lodge during my naming ceremony because a dog had lifted his leg outside and sprayed the sacred pipe. Pickin' with Tres Cojones – the late Steve Gavula preachin' the gospel of CF Martin on the Taos ski hills and in the Santa Fe bars until people had to two-step to save their souls.
1989 – Austin, and the “Emerging Songwriters” contest at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Big Bill Moss, Rex Foster, John Ims and “West Texas Wind.” Chuck Pyle and “The Other Side of the Hill.” Barton Springs, Jerry Jeff, Charlie Dunn. Swimming in the Guadalupe, the car stereo cranked to ten and Steve Fromholz singing “I'd Have To Be Crazy.” All night campfire pickin’ parties with Michelle Shocked, Peter Rowan, Butch Hancock, David Amram and a bunch more.
San Diego – Drowsy Maggie’s, Jose Lobo and the Twisted Whiskers and feeling the pressure to start acting like a grown up. Scary stuff!
Motorcycles and the wind in my face – my Jones for solitude was always best served on two wheels, just some loose gravel or a few revs away from eternity. The people who knew me best told me the way I was going I wouldn’t need a motorcycle to get there.
And through it all the songs and the singers – Johnny Mercer, Nina Simone, Hoagy Carmichael, Etta James, Sam Cooke, Sinatra. The magic of Sun Records, Stax, Motown, Muscle Shoals, and Nashville.
The story tellers and the artists – Dylan, Paxton, Rush, Gantry, Kristofferson, Ian Tyson – is there a better record than Cowboyography? – Fred Neil, Neil Young, Danny O'Keefe, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, Steve Goodman, Jesse Winchester, Hoyt Axton, Tom T. Hall, Mel Tillis, Bobby Bare, Roger Miller, Harlan Howard, Carly Simon, Carol King, Sweet Baby James, Jackson Brown. Murray McLauchlan, Bruce Cockburn, Gene McLellan, David Wiffen, Willie P. Bennett, Sheri Ulrich, Papa Bear, Pied Pumpkin, Valdy, Ronnie Hawkins, Cameron Molloy, Tim Williams, Skylark, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Lowell George and Little Feat, The Band, Boz Scaggs, Elvin Bishop, B.B. and Albert and Freddie King. Bonnie Raitt, Rosanne Cash, Kathy Mattea, Juice Newton, Karen Brooks. Gary P. Nunn, Billy Joe Shaver, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, Hank Cochran, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Terry Allen, Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Sanger D. Shafer, Dean Dillon, Jimmy Buffet, Stephen Bishop, Shake Russell, Dana Cooper, Tom Russell, Bobby Braddock, John Hartford.
The deep writers I admire today – Mike Reid, Alan Shamblin, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Rivers Rutherford, Laurie McClain, Big Al Anderson, Barry Dean, Chuck Cannon, Hugh Prestwood, Mark Steven Jones, my pal Ray Sisk, and the sublime Angela Kaset.
In truth, pretty much anybody who ever sat at a piano, picked a guitar, sang a song, or wrote a story that touched me in a new way, that brought feeling back to some neglected part of me, that calmed some inner storm or made me laugh out loud.
All of these, and so many more have shaped this vagabond lover-of-words, this human-in-training, this senior citizen who is still learning how to be the child he never was. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of my book and accompany me on my journey.
Thanks for stopping by.