Mac McAnally on Working With Jesse Winchester: ‘I Took That Very Seriously’
Singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester passed away earlier this year after battling cancer, but not before he recorded what was supposed to be his next album, 'A Reasonable Amount of Trouble.' Mac McAnally, who had signed on to produce the album before Winchester's death, finished the project as one of his final gifts for his longtime friend.
"The whole premise initially was that Jesse had been sick, we did the tribute album during the time that he was sick, and right before we began this final project, he was actually given a clean bill of health," McAnally explains to the Huffington Post. "The prognosis at that point was good, but he had these songs that were written during the feeling of imminent death. There was sort of a heavy overtone to the songs he had written."
Still, the tunesmith didn't want his final project to be depressing.
"There was a joy, a feeling that he had gotten past the worst of it. He said he didn't want to make a 'Hey, I think I’m dying' record," McAnally recalls to Rolling Stone Country. "He said, 'I just want to sing something happy, because I'm happy.'"
McAnally says that 'A Reasonable Amount of Trouble' shows Winchester's emotions as his illness progressed.
"In the beginning we were recording this because it was a happy time, and he had the good diagnosis," he explains. "He was still weak from the chemo and all that, he was saying, 'Let's wait a little while until I get stronger, I'll come back, and I'll beat some of these vocals that I've sang live on the tracks, and I'll feel stronger, and I'll sing better.'"
Unfortunately, Winchester's condition deteriorated quicker than he hoped, resulting in McAnally's final labor of love for his good friend.
"Two days into singing backgrounds, he was like, 'Mac, I don't have it. We're going to have to go with the vocals we've got,'" McAnally recalls. "He said, 'You're going to have to finish the backgrounds. You're going to have to finish the project, I'm just giving you the baton. You go.' He said, 'I feel like it's in good hands.' I took that very seriously."
Winchester managed to hear the end result shortly before his death.
"By the time we sent him the final mixed and mastered version, he was so weak that he had to keep it for about a week and a half before he could even listen to it," McAnally says. "He did a little listening party with his family, he set up speakers -- he wanted to do all that by himself, so he waited until he was strong enough -- and he sent me a letter, an email letter that I will keep all my life, that's as nice of a thing that anybody's ever said to me about any work that I ever did."
'A Reasonable Amount of Trouble' will be available on Sept. 16. Pre-order the album here.