Vancouver, B.C.-born Jesse McRae moved to the United States in the late 1970s. Music has been a part of his life since he started with piano at age 6 and switched to guitar at 13.
Due to a serious illness, Jesse was confined to bed for four years as a teenager. He says the upside was that he got to spend most of his time listening to the radio, and was exposed to every style of music from rockabilly, big band, pop and crooners, to country, R&B, blues and jazz.
He and his band, The Original Song Doctors, play at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 13, in a Backstage @ the Border concert at Christ Episcopal Church, 372 Boblett St., in Blaine.
For more on the band, go to Original Song Doctors on Facebook.
Question: When did you start composing music?
Answer: I began writing songs in the mid '60s and I've never stopped. My influences include an enormous list of songwriters, ranging from Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Charmichael to Hoyt Axton, Jackson Browne, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson and Neil Young.
Q: What are your songs like?
A: The great storytellers of songwriting have served as inspiration and role models for me, and I've has always strived to connect with listeners on an emotional level through stories, humor and emotional honesty, while "painting pictures" lyrically and framing those lyrics in melodies and harmonies that are memorable and slightly different from the norm.
Q: When did you take on music as a career?
A: I began touring as a performing songwriter in the mid '70s, and for more than 20 years (based out of Point Roberts or Bellingham) I played music from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf of Mexico and from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S.
In the mid '90s, when I became a full-time single parent, I moved to Nashville, Tenn., where I worked as a songwriter.
I also served as a "song doctor" for publishers, (arranging, improving and developing songs for certain audiences), and as a song evaluator for Nashville Songwriters Association International (which offers services to professional and aspiring songwriters) until I returned to Bellingham in May of 2009.
Q: Then you took a break?
A: After playing solo gigs around town for the first year, I had to take a two-year hiatus from performing. My good friend John O'Donnell stayed on my case and eventually convinced me to stage a comeback. Between us, we assembled a new band called The Original Song Doctors, playing only original songs written or co-written by me.
Q: Who's in the band? Where do you play?
A: I'm on acoustic guitar and vocals, John O'Donnell is on drums and vocals and Glen Anderson plays upright bass. From last June through October we played Monday nights at Daphnes in Fairhaven, eventually filling out our sound when Phil Sottile joined the band on lap steel guitar.
Q: Why do you like performing?
A: There's nothing I love more than connecting with an audience. Forming The Original Song Doctors fostered a renaissance in my performing life, and allows me an exciting opportunity to present my songs in a whole new way, which I find both rewarding and encouraging. Our growing fan base is a testament to the truth of the bands motto: "You'll Just Feel Better!"
Q: How did the Backstage @ the Border gig happen?
A: Our appearance at Backstage @ the Border happened serendipitously. I wanted to donate a couple of guitars to an organization called Girls Need Guitars, which is run by Cathy Mason. While attempting to contact her, I ended up in touch with Cathy's friend Susan Thomson, who books music for the series.
Susan told me that she had been hearing about me and my music for some time and would love to have us play the venue. I was aware of the series through ex-Nashville friends who have played Backstage @ the Border, and I jumped at the opportunity.
Q: What do you like most about the music business?
A: These days I delight in discovering new and exciting writer/artists of almost any genre, but my favorite thing is songwriting - mentoring talented young songwriters, hanging out with songwriters, and talking songwriting.
I teach privately, both songwriting and "guitar for songwriters," and I feel particularly rewarded by the fact that my group of friends includes more than one current or former student.
Q: What are a few of your upcoming gigs?
A: We're a little up in the air in August, with different band members out of town, and we just learned that our wonderful pal Phil Sottile is leaving town around mid-July to move to the Boston area, so after that we'll do the odd trio gig until we can regroup with a new lead player.
Playing all original material creates a more difficult scenario when looking for a lead player, because all the songs and arrangements have to be learned, unlike cover bands where most of the material is already familiar to everyone.
In any case, we're really excited for Phil and his new adventure, and our best wishes will go with him. We'll most certainly miss him (as will a lot of local musicians and fans), but we totally support him in anything that brings him happiness and fulfillment.
Our current confirmed bookings are:
The Old World Deli in Bellingham from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 27.
The Main Street Bar & Grill in Ferndale, from 8 to 9 p.m. Aug. 1.
Fairhaven Farmers Market, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sept. 4.