Folksinger writes 'Tucumcari Wind' song
July 27, 2022
A veteran folksinger who has rubbed elbows with Bob Dylan and Judy Collins early in their careers recently wrote and recorded a song about an indelible moment he experienced in eastern Quay County nearly 70 years ago.
John Winn, 88, earlier this month uploaded a video to his new song, "Tucumcari Wind," recorded in a friend's studio near Winn's Grand Junction, Colorado, home. Since going live on YouTube, the song wracked up more than 500 views in less than 10 days.
Accompanied by mandolin, piano and acoustic guitars, Winn sings wistfully of that moment in the spring of 1954 when he crossed the border of Texas into New Mexico.
"I tasted freedom for the first time in the Tucumcari wind," he sings.
Winn explained in a phone interview last week from his home he was driving west in a 1946 Chevrolet to visit a friend in Tucson, Arizona. After enduring "miles of boredom" in Texas and crossing the border town of Glenrio, he said he stopped.
"I got out of the car to shake my legs a little bit, and this warm, spring burst of wind came up and hit me," he recalled. "It felt like the road dust of a couple thousand miles was cleaned off. It was a magical feeling, and I never forgot it. It was a real turning point in my life."
Winn said he later that day stopped in Tucumcari to buy used tires for his car before proceeding to Arizona.
He said he never forgot that first-ever experience of New Mexico, but he didn't write a song for it because he didn't have a melody.
About three weeks ago, Winn said the melody came to him, and he sang a portion of it over the phone. He sat down to write the melody and lyrics to "Tucumcari Wind" in five hours. A fellow musician heard him play the song and encouraged him to record it in his studio and shoot a video.
A performance of the song can be viewed at https://youtu.be/DA2NVLtSYAo.
"Tucumcari Wind" is the latest of more than 20 songs in recorded music history that feature the town in the title. The best-known probably is "Tucumcari" by pop star Jimmie Rodgers, who had a top-40 hit with it in 1959.
Winn grew up in the Mississippi River city of Hannibal, Missouri, the same hometown as famed American writer Mark Twain. Music and singing stirred him, and he eventually moved west.
He said he spent a lot of time in Denver during the late 1950s, often singing with Collins at coffeehouses and folk clubs before both moved to New York City. He and Collins for a while shared the same manager, Daniel Gordon.
Winn said he still keeps in touch with Collins. Just minutes before the interview, he said he emailed her a climate-change coda to Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows" and urged her to record it.
In New York City, he befriended Dylan. Winn recalled a time in 1962 when Dylan was crestfallen after a romantic breakup, and he wrote one of his first songs after that. Dylan invited Winn to his upstairs one-bedroom apartment to hear him play the newly written "Tomorrow Is a Long Time."
Elvis Presley and Rod Stewart and many others have covered the song. Recalling the way Dylan sang it in his apartment, Winn recorded "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" in the same style as when he first heard it in 1962 and uploaded it to his YouTube channel.
Unlike Collins, Winn hasn't kept in touch with the notoriously taciturn Dylan. Winn didn't even try to contact him when Dylan played a show in Grand Junction earlier this month.
"Bob, he does not take house calls," he said, chuckling. "I knew there was no possibility of seeing him (backstage)."
Winn never was offered a record deal. At Collins' urging, Winn was invited to an Elektra Records office for an audition. He sang 14 songs, nearly all of them old tunes from the Elizabethan era. Only one song was his.
"They didn't need a guy who was singing Elizabethan songs," Winn said. "They wanted somebody who was writing songs, and I had not written hardly any songs at that time. What I should have said was I had a whole suitcase full of songs."
He relocated to Maine, performed in summer stock theater and taught skiing. Winn eventually made his way back to Colorado in 1982 and has remained there since.
In recent years, Winn has done more writing and recording. He has self-released 10 albums, with more on the way. He no longer tours, but he continues to play local gigs in the Grand Junction area.
Winn said he'd be happy to perform "Tucumcari Wind" here if he were invited.
"I'd come down to Tucumcari in a heartbeat if I could figure out how to do that," he said. "My wife is quite mobile, and we do have an RV. Tucumcari is not that big of a haul from Grand Junction, and we'd be able to play a few shows in Tucson after that."