@story TONYA McCOY
@image TODD WHETSTINE
In the quiet woods of Winslow, Jesse Dean picks up his ax and chops at a white oak tree. He’s always been good with his hands, and today he’s earning his paycheck by gathering firewood. Tomorrow he may be piecing together some intricate rockwork for a nearby home. However, it’s the work he does on the weekend that’s garnered him local acclaim. Come Saturday night, he picks up a guitar with those same work-worn hands and strums as he belts out “Somebody holds the key, but I can’t find my way home,” from a song by Blind Faith.
His voice is rich and bluesy and women sway in dark silhouettes around The Crazy Horse Saloon in Prairie Grove; the song is a crowd pleaser. But this song doesn’t hold the truth for Jesse because he’s never had a problem finding his way home. That’s because he never really left. He grew up in Winslow and this is where music wove its way into his life.
When Jesse was only four years old his father sat him down at the family piano and began teaching him to play. “Anytime I needed help he was right there. Otherwise, he just showed me what I needed, and I ran wild with it.” Jesse, his four sisters and mother, also knew how to play the piano and sing. “I was totally into it and started learning immediately. Spent all my time on it.”
As Jesse grew, his dad fostered his musical interests by introducing him to more instruments. His dad was patient and open to Jesse’s creativity. “I did most of my practicing at home, which consisted of loud CDs playing in my room, and me practicing along with piano, drums, guitar.”
Jesse didn’t stop at just two or three instruments, he also learned to play fiddle, mandolin, and banjo. He watched and listened to talented family and friends while sitting in on jam sessions as often as he could. And along with his knack for playing, Jesse inherited his dad’s love for Southern rock and blues.
Jesse was raised on Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pink Floyd, Bad Company, CCR, Tom Petty, and Blackfoot. The pop sensations of today hold no charm for Jesse, who’d rather hear the classics. In fact, he doesn’t even listen to the radio.
“Dont get me wrong, I don’t have anything against radio, but if I’m listening to some tunes, I’d rather it be an album that fits my mood that particular day.”
By the time Jesse was fifteen he was sneaking his guitar in to school and jamming with friends. He and some pals started playing local talent contests and annual Christmas programs at Winslow High School. And if singers from his school needed piano accompaniment, Jesse was their man.
Now the kid who learned to play all his instruments by ear, has come of age. He’s twenty-five and fronts the band Left of Center, which is growing in popularity in Northwest Arkansas. In Fayetteville, at The Rowdy Beaver, on select weekends you can find Jesse, long blonde hair and sultry voice, on stage singing his favorites from Lynyrd Skynyrd to CCR.
While the band plays a lot of covers, Jesse peppers in his originals as well. And the songs Jesse has written and recorded actually played a part in bringing his new band together. Jesse met his bass guitar player, Vince Turner, when he held a release party for his CD Theory of a Revolution. Vince also plays in Earl’s Garage Band with drummer Kevin Bonner. Intrigued by Jesse’s sound, Vince and Kevin joined him to form the trio Left of Center and have been rocking together for a couple of years
And as a writer, Jesse has spent a couple of years polishing original songs. “I’m a believer of taking your time and making it right, before you put it out there.” He’s recorded CDs in his home for his own entertainment. Acting as a one man band, he plays multiple instruments one at a time, and then layers the sounds together and adds his vocals. He spends a lot of time working to get the sound just right. And when he has the opportunity, he likes to play those originals solo at acoustic sets anywhere he can get a booking. Jesse is so creative that some sets include spur of the moment song creations, where he just makes up a song off the top of his head. He says many times these sets are like comedy ‘improv’.
But Jesse also has a serious side. In some of his lyrics he sings about wrestling over tough life-changing choices, as well as his political views on protecting the environment. “Everything drives me to make music, it’s sort of my way of stating opinions. I write music about things that are important.
“You don’t just play music, you’ve got to feel it.”
He records his music in his house, a two-story cabin he built himself just outside of Winslow. Jesse chopped the pine and oak from the surrounding woods for the lumber. “I like carpentry and many other forms of hands-on work, because you are always creating and challenging your mind.” His father ran a saw mill at their home when Jesse was growing up, and woodwork is just another talent that runs in Jesse’s blood.
He’s a country boy in the truest sense. Gardening for food, growing his own Kentucky Burley tobacco, and building most things he needs, this mountain man survives off the land. And he lives more simplistically than most of us would dare: he has no indoor plumbing. His water is piped down from his spring-fed pond just above his cabin. In the cooler months you can catch Jesse sighting a deer with a rifle while he stands in his own backyard. Jesse admits that lately he just likes to watch them, instead of hunting them. He was raised as a minimalist and believes that everyone should strive to be more in tune with the environment.
This winter he will spend his time at home working on a new album to be released sometime next year. In his newest project he’s stepping away from his practice of performing everything, and he’s invited a few guest musicians to play on the CD. In the months to come he’ll also continue to do what he loves the most: perform live as often as he and his band can get a gig.
You can catch Left of Center December 9 at Billy’s in Fayetteville, and December 10 at The Rowdy Beaver in Eureka Springs. Follow Jesse’s progression as an artist and keep track of performance dates by checking out Jesse Dean’s Facebook page or Left of Center’s Facebook page.