Hungry Roots

JesseLee still remembers the day he discovered his musical hero, Maestro Joseph Guercio. It was decades ago on another continent… in a tiny apartment… on the wrong side of the tracks. Coming from a destitute home in Brazil, JesseLee wasn’t much interested in music; he was far more focused on drumming up his next meal. That’s when his uncle stepped in, sharing his record albums so JesseLee could begin his musical education. The ten year old Brazilian boy knelt beside a Telefunken Stereo and gently lowered the needle onto black vinyl, spinning at 33 1/3 RPMs… and JesseLee fell in love.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor, he studied the album notes, committing them to memory, while the voices of Eydie Gorme, Nat King Cole, and Italian-American crooners like Dean Martin, Sergio Franchi, Perry Como and Tony Bennett poured from the speakers. The lyrics—in English—meant nothing to a Brazilian boy, but he was captivated by the melodies and the orchestral stylings of a certain Maestro Joseph Guercio, whose name appeared frequently on album covers.

Young JesseLee stood before a mirror and imagined that he, too, was a great conductor, waving his arms to the violins and cellos. Soon, it seemed that name, Guercio, was appearing everywhere: a theatre marquis would read “Musical Direction: Joe Guercio.” In televised concerts, Elvis Presley would announce to all of Brazil, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the great Maestro Joseph Guercio and his Orchestra!”

The Classic American Success Story

Who would have guessed that at age 22 (still knowing scarcely a word of English), JesseLee would find himself on a plane bound for Miami, with dreams of becoming a star? That within hours of reaching America, he would be robbed of everything he owned, except a pocket-sized translation dictionary? That he would learn English through a television show called Sesame Street? That he would ultimately move to Nashville, only to land a gig scrubbing floors on the General Jackson Showboat?

Who would have guessed that JesseLee would one day become owner of the legendary downtown Nashville honky-tonk, Robert’s Western World, recently praised by The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and The Wall Street Journal?

And who would have guessed that JesseLee would one day meet the famous Maestro Joseph Guercio, and even be invited to his home for dinner?

JesseLee and Joe Guercio—An Enduring Friendship

The two became fast friends; it happened so naturally. They both spoke Italian as a second language. They shared a deep affection for Italian music, Italian culture and music from Italian-American crooners of the 60s and early 70s.

Over dinners of pasta and wine JesseLee reminisced about his recent tour in Italy, how the crowd had given a standing ovation when he sang the song You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me in English and finished in Italian. (The song, a hit for Dusty Springfield in 1966, had originally been written with Italian lyrics and was a No. 1 hit in Italy in 1965.) The older folks in the audience said, “It’s so great to hear that song again!” The younger folks said, “Wow! Did you write that?”

Occasionally, the Maestro would reminisce, sharing stories from his work with Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Anne Murray, Gladys Knight and the Pips, or Elvis Presley, but the subject would always return to their developing idea. Those at a nearby table would have heard conversation fragments like this:

JesseLee: Entire generations of people have been deprived of this music. These songs need to be heard!
Joe: Right! And we’re not going to copy the original arrangements. We’ll make the songs our own.
JesseLee: And, of course, we have to press it on vinyl. That’s a must.
Joe: Yes, and we’ve got to do everything top-notch, only the best-of -the-best in every category. First, we need to find the right session leader. I want to set up a meeting with Paul Leim.

Leim (having five decades of gold and platinum-selling albums to his credit, having worked with everyone from Tom Jones, to Mutt Lange, Lionel Richie and Carrie Underwood) accepted the challenge and now describes it as one of the most creative projects of his career.

Bringin’ It Back makes the old new again. And it all began with a most unlikely friendship between a boy and his musical hero.

BookCover_HRBRAZILBILLY – The JesseLee Jones Story

JesseLee’s fascinating journey from São Paulo to Nashville has finally been documented!

This extraordinary autobiography will be available through Clovercroft Publishing soon.

Please keep an eye out right here for updates.

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