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We often have videos and photos posted on our Facebook page that are not on this site.
2 May 2021 - Lyrics to four new songs added to Songs & Music Archives.
19 April 2021 - Four New Songs event added to this page.
21 March 2021 - Canadian Folk Music Award - Crowing Ignites info added to this page.
12 March 2021 - Crowing Ignites has been nominated for a Juno. Les Stroud interview with Bruce, Part 2 has been added to the original post (from November 2020).
30 December 2020 - Articles on the front page have been backed up to the News Archive.
16 December 2020 - Ann Arbor Folk Fest streaming info added to this page.
9 December 2020 - Dr. Rea Beaumont podcast-interview link has been added to this page.
30 November 2020 - There is a new Tour Date! Podcast interview by Les Stroud info added to this page.
18 November 2020 - The Foy Vance Vinyl Supper podcast & video link has been added to this page.
14 November 2020 - The For Musicians Page has been updated.
11 November 2020 - 50 Years of Songs article added to this page & an August 2020 interview from Goldmine added to this page, both are great reading! The Setlist Archives have been updated.
28 October 2020 - A Conversation with Bruce Cockburn by Mark Dunn interview added to this page.
30 September 2020 - Dream Concert Livestream info added to this page.
23 September 2020 - Interview Key to he Highway and article 'Don't try to give bruce a rocket launcher' added to this page.
22 September 2020 - All 50th Anniversay shows have been postponed or cancelled until October-November 2021.
21 September 2020 - Article-interview 50th Anniversay Box Set True North added to this page.
9 June 2020 - Dear Father - City Winery streaming special info added to this page. Link added to Toronto - page 11, My Alley Becomes A Cathedral by Barry Wright. The Albums Index has been updated.
31 May 2020 - Rich Kimbal interview audio and transcription added to this page.
29 May 2020 - RidgefieldPress interview added to this page.
27 May 2020 - 75th birthday salute article added to this page.
4 May 2020 - True North releases 50th Anniversary vinyl box set article added to this page.
24 April 2020 - "A Like Vision”: The Group of Seven at 100 info added to this page.
20 April 2020 - Interview "Life during isolation & social distancing" added to this page.
9 April 2020 - All the April & May shows have been cancelled and most have been rebooked, check Tour Dates to see if your date has been rebooked in the fall.
7 April 2020 - Bruce Cockburn's 50th anniversary of first album released by True North Records, article added to this page.
3 April 2020 - Excellent video added to June 3 1988
26 March 2020 - Interview with Bernie Finkelstein by Mark Dunn added to this page. A transcription of the John Floridis interview with Bruce (December 2019) has been added.
15 March 2020 - The Tour Dates have been updated.
2 March 2020 - The 1980s Setlist Archive has been updated.
3 February 2020 - The 50th Anniversay Tour Dates have been added. Bruce Cockburn tribute Hugh's Room info added to this page. Link to audio interview 15 November 2019 KGNU added to this page. Link to pdf of Mark Dunn's interview with Bruce added to this page. The setlist archives for the years of 2002 Setlist Archive, 2017 Archive, and 2019 Archive have been updated. A German guitar magazine featured Bruce.
21 December 2019 - Older articles that were on this page have been backed up to the News Archive.
20 December 2019 - The Setlist Archive has been updated.
6 December 2019 - Articles from 8 August and 5 September added to this page. Older articles that were on this page have been backed up to the News Archive.
5 December 2019 - Bruce interview by John Floridis link added to this page. Bernie Finkelstein was a guest on TorontoMike'd, link to interview added to this page.
29 November 2019 - Lee County Courier & Monterey County Weekly articles added to this page.
26 November 2019 - The 2019 Setlist Archive has been updated.
19 November 2019 - Interviews from Montana Press and Grand Junction Sentinel added to this page. The 2019 Setlist Archive has been updated.
8 November 2019 - Interviews added to this page: Durango Herald, Times Colonist, LeaderPost, Relix, GuitarPlayer.com. Album reviews added to Crowing Ignites. Link to SeedChange.org video added to this page.
16 October 2019 - Interview from DolceMag and interview link and in studio performance link from WFVU.org added to this page. The 2019 Setlist Archive has been updated.
23 September 2019 - Link to q interview by Tom Power added to this page. The 2019 Setlist Archive has been updated.
20 September 2019 - Interview SouthBendTribune article added to this page. Review links are added to Crowing Ignites album page.
6 September 2019 - John Aaron Cockburn will be joining Bruce for the fall tour dates. Link to audio interview by CFRC radio added to this page.
27 August 2019 - Link to listen to Pibroch:The Wind In The Valley added to this page.
19 August 2019 - Link to watch the interview from CanadianMusicPodcast added to this page. The 2019 Setlist Archive has been updated.
12 August 2019 - Link to new video "April in Memphis" added to this page.
7 August 2019 - Link to 'Bruce Cockburn on His New Album & Accidental Career' by canadianmusicianpodcast.com.
31 July 2019 - Here's a link to the True North Record store where you can get a signed copy of the new Bruce album "Crowing Ignites" but hurry as there are only 100 available.
21 July 2019 - Acoustic Guitar Magazine - Acoustic Classic: Bruce Cockburn’s ‘If I Had a Rocket Launcher’ article added to this page.
20 July 2019 - Acoustic Guitar Magazine - Video lessons video and article added to this page.
17 July 2019 - Livestream videos from Paste & Relix added to this page. The 2019 Setlist Archive has been updated.
16 July 2019 - BayToday article / interview has been added to this page. The 2019 Setlist Archive has been updated.
7 July 2019 - Alternatives Journal article added to this page.
29 June 2019 - Interveiw from GoBe Weekly & Cranbrook Townsman added to this page.
17 June 2019 - The CBC Day 6 interview transcription and links to podcast have been added to this page.
12 June 2019 - Crowing Ignites 34th album first listen and album bio added to this page.
26 May 2019 - Interview Bruce comes to Babeville 26 April 2019 has been added to this page.
5 May 2019 - Interview Lucky Clark on music added to this page.
Interview by Daniel Lumpkin for Christianity Today
FAN REPORTS FROM PAST SHOWS
HELP THE PROJECT!
The Project website is very much an open forum for submissions. If you would like to contribute an article (perhaps a transcript of radio appearance or other interview, or any other idea) to this site, see the Help the Project page for more information.
LOOKING FOR OTHER SITES?
The links section can help.
Bruce Cockburn's Official Facebook Page.
The Cockburn Project
is a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The central focus of the Project is the ongoing archiving of Cockburn's self-commentary on his songs, albums, and issues. You will also find news, tour dates, an online store, and other current information.
Click here to add a navigation frame to the top of this page. Do give it time to load, as you'll need it to get around easily. If you have a small screen and wish to remove the frameset, click here and use the text links at the bottom of each page. Keep scrolling down, there is a lot on this page.
19 April 2021 -A few years ago I found myself attending a worship service at San Francisco Lighthouse. For the preceding couple of decades I had been operating on the assumption that the formal church and I had grown apart, so in a way it was a surprise to be there and feel as though it was where I was meant to be. That occasion led to an ongoing relationship with SFL — fools that they were, they let me play in the band!
In this COVID year, with no public opportunity to introduce new songs, and since I have a few new songs, it seemed like they could be put out for people to hear in a way that would at once benefit the church and satisfy my need to be noticed.
Suggested Donation: $20
Any revenue generated by this exercise will go to support SFL and its work, which includes, among other things, support for programs for unhoused people in San Francisco, and for Lighthouse Kathmandu, a Nepali-run organization dedicated to fighting human trafficking and rescuing its victims.
Thanks for checking in. I hope you enjoy the songs!
Please note these are informal demo videos.
Update: 2 May 2021 - Link to Four New Songs
~from Event - https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bruce-cockburn-four-new-songs-tickets-151338153491.
13 March 2021 -Eric Alper PR Roster Gets 12 Canadian Folk Music Award Noms: Bruce Cockburn, Crystal Shawanda, Sultans Of String, Craig Cardiff + More
The Canadian Folk Music Awards celebrates its 16th edition, with a roster of nominations that celebrates the breadth and depth of Canadian folk music, and Eric Alper Public Relations and its clients and extended family celebrates the talent of artists and musicians across Canada.
Established by Canada’s vibrant and internationally-recognized folk music community, the awards currently boasts 19 categories. Nominees are chosen for each category through a two-stage jury process. More than 100 jurors, located across Canada, representing all official provinces, territories and languages, determine the official recipients in each category.
The 16th edition of the Canadian Folk Music Awards Celebration will take place online again this year, and will present all 19 Awards, plus the Unsung Hero Award bringing the total to 20 Awards, virtually, over the weekend of April 9-10, 2021.
Contemporary Album of the Year: Coyote by Catherine MacLellan, Contemporary Singer of the Year: Catherine MacLellan for Coyote
Ensemble of the Year: Sultans of String for Refuge, Indigenous Songwriter(s) of the Year: Crystal Shawanda for Church House Blues
Instrumental Solo artist of the Year:Natalie MacMaster for Sketches, Producer(s) of the Year: Chris McKhool & John ‘Beetle’ Bailey for Refuge (Sultans of String)
Single of the Year: Yellowknife by Craig Cardiff (Producer: Craig Cardiff), Solo Artist of the Year: Catherine MacLellan for Coyote
Traditional Album of the Year: Crowing Ignites by Bruce Cockburn, The Lost Tapes by Ian & Sylvia
Traditional Singer of the Year: Kevin Harvey for Hand Me Down Blues, World Album of the Year:Patria by/par Mazacote
~from That Eric Alper.
12 March 2021 -Bruce's 2019 all instrumental release Crowing Ignites has been nominated for a Juno award in the Instrumental Album of the Year category.
The 2021 Juno Awards will be broadcast nationwide Sunday, May 16, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBC Music, CBC-TV, CBC Gem and CBC Radio One, and globally on CBCMusic.ca/junos. While Toronto is the official Juno host for the awards' 50th anniversary, the broadcast will be presented to an at-home only audience, with filming taking place at several locations across the country.
16 December 2020 -Bruce will be doing a 30 to 40 minute set for the virtual Ann Arbor Folk Festival.
Tickets December 18 and more ticket info.
7 December 2020 -@ReaBeaumont - Great pleasure to interview Bruce Cockburn for my podcast! Topics include his 50th anniversary tour, politics, social issues, albums, world travels...
Part 1 on Spotify
18 November 2020 - Bruce Cockburn at my house in Muskoka - Part 1- Summer 2020
12 March 2021 - Bruce Cockburn at my house in Muskoka - Part 2.
reallesstroud (@Survivorman Les Stroud) Tweeted: I launch my new podcast in ONE WEEK with three at once: My own keynote at the Bushcraft Symposium, Bruce Cockburn at my house in Muskoka and David Suzuki in his yard by the ocean in Vancouver. On my Youtube and wherever you get your podcasts!
18 November 2020 -Bruce Cockburn's episode of The Vinyl Supper podcast and video series with Foy Vance is out now! Pull a seat up to the table and find out what we’re eating and listening to during our last meals. Listen and watch at thevinylsupper.com.
On a very special 10th episode, Foy gets to speak with one of his idols: Bruce Cockburn. Bruce’s first album came out fifty years ago, and here he is on episode 10 of The Vinyl Supper with Foy Vance. His eponymous album was released on April 7th 1970, including classic hits “Going to the Country” and “Musical Friends.” In the past fifty years, he’s released 34 albums and played around the world.
Foy and Bruce bond over songwriting and what ‘the new normal’ has meant for them. Bruce calls back to an All-American favorite food, chicken and waffles, and rewinds over memories with All-American favorite musicians, Elvis and Little Richard. The two get serious with talks of the recent unrest in the states, and Bruce has some words of wisdom: “looters are not the creators of chaos.” They discuss the difference between condoning, condemning, and understanding.
In his own words, Bruce says of the last fifty years of recording: “I can only shake my head and mutter a word of thanks for all of it. Even if I’d been a planner by nature, I doubt I could have predicted how things have gone. And they’re still going!” Going they are indeed: Bruce’s songs have been covered by Jimmy Buffet, kd Lang, Barenaked Ladies, Jerry Garcia, Judy Collins, Chet Atkins, and many more.
This episode was recorded in July 2020.
~from The Vinyl Supper - Foy Vance
6 November 2020 -
“Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage/ Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage/ Suddenly it’s repression, moratorium on rights/ What did they think the politics of panic would invite?/ Person in the street shrugs ‘Security comes first’/ But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse/ The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”—Bruce Cockburn “The Trouble with Normal”
Finding the right words to express the zeitgeist has never been a problem for Bruce Cockburn. Take the lyrics from the chorus of his 1983 hit cited above. Normal is what everyone pines to discover in a year marked by fear and uncertainty. Let’s hope when normalcy returns, it’s not a harbinger of the next wave of bad news. For more than 50 years, the iconic Canadian songwriter has been carefully crafting words and phrases into storied songs—some more politically charged than others. Over the past 20 years, I’ve been fortunate to share a half dozen conversations with the Canadian Songwriting Hall of Famer. Getting a good quote is never an issue. Finding a way to weave as many of his wise words as possible into my finished feature is the challenge.
Like everyone in the music industry, 2020 has been a challenging year for Bruce. His plans for 2020 are on hold. Shows cancelled, rebooked, and rescheduled until whenever it’s safe to play live again. This year was supposed to be a celebration of a milestone—50 years as a songwriter and the golden anniversary of his self-titled debut on the label founded by his manager Bernie Finkelstein. Instead, Cockburn released a limited edition vinyl box set via True North Records and participated in several multi-artist streamed shows.
“I’m not nostalgically inclined by nature, but it’s interesting to say I’ve been doing this for 50 years,” he reflects. “50 years is 50 years of being beaten by the weather, metaphoric, and actual, but it still feels like a milestone. I’m happy True North did this 50th box set. More than anything, it finally gives vinyl versions of a couple of records I think are the best I’ve ever done.”
Asked about the secret to his 50-year business relationship—and friendship—with Cockburn, Finkelstein says: “I guess we are just two people that want to stay together. It’s that simple. I joke that since Bruce and I never had a formal management contract, he doesn’t know when it is over! We just are on the same track on what needs to be done. We’ve been right more than wrong and here we still are.”
The 50th anniversary vinyl package was limited to 750 copies personally signed by Cockburn. No surprise, it sold out within the first month. True North—A 50th Anniversary Box Set includes the songwriter’s debut Bruce Cockburn; and a pair of records that have never appeared before on vinyl: The Charity of Night (1997); and the JUNO-winning Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner In Timbuktu (1999). Colin Linden, Cockburn’s long-time friend, producer, and frequent bandmate, re-mastered the records. Linden loved Cockburn as a fan long before the pair became friends. His brother had a copy of the songwriter’s debut and Linden recalls seeing the guitar virtuoso perform for the first time on his 11th birthday: April 16, 1971. Linden produced both The Charity of Night and Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu; the Grammy-winning artist feels these albums are two of Cockburn’s best. He remembers well that night 24 years ago when Bruce showed up at his Toronto apartment with The Charity of Night demos. Linden says listening to sketches for songs like “Pacing the Cage” for the first time was “life-changing.” “It was just one brilliant song after another,” Linden says today from his Nashville, Tenn. home. “After Bruce left that night, I asked if I could do some overdubs on the demos. My wife [Janice] and I had some ideas for additional parts and textures. I made a rough mixtape of the songs with our overdubs and Bruce really liked them. That is how I got the call to produce that record.”
After laying down the bulk of the tracks at Toronto’s Reaction Studios, Linden and Cockburn travelled to the San Francisco Bay area to do some additional recording at Bob Weir’s studio where they also added vocals from Bonnie Raitt and Maria Muldaur. New Orleans was the final stop where Calgary-born John Whynot mixed the record at Kingsway—Daniel Lanois’ studio. “Mixing in Lanois’ studio changed everything for me in terms of how I’ve made records for the last 25 years,” says Linden, “just the whole aesthetic of how Dan creates a recording environment. You can see the fruits of that in my home studio today. Making that record was a life-changing experience.”
Catching up with Cockburn in the middle of a pandemic finds him as contemplative as ever, happy to chat about his career, his approach to songwriting, and life in 2020. When we chat, the 75-year-old is enjoying some family time in the college town of Arcata, California with his wife and eight-year-old daughter. The family of three is in the midst of a road trip in an RV, cruising up the Pacific Coast, and visiting with friends—at a social distance of course. After three months shut-in at home in San Francisco, Cockburn needed a respite from the monotony of domesticity.
“I was expecting to be doing a whole bunch of shows,” he says. “It was unfortunate to have to let go of that. It’s hard to stay motivated at times with no gigs. And, I can’t get together with others to get inspired, so that is also a bit odd, but contrary to my expectations I’ve been very busy, helping my daughter with online classes and getting lunches made.”
In an election year, for a songwriter who has never shied away from making his opinion known on political matters, does he feel the need to capture his mood in a new song or two? “I feel like there is so much blather right now, I don’t need to add to it,” Cockburn says. “It’s not that all of what people are saying is not meaningful, but there are just so many voices clamouring I don’t have much to add to that conversation. I have opinions and feelings that will eventually show up, but at this point, what am I going to say about Trump that hasn’t been said and who needs it anyway?”v
After 50 years of writing songs, I ask if his approach has changed. “The process is not so different,” he explains, “it’s just more deliberate now. I didn’t know what I was doing when I started writing songs. I didn’t understand how it all worked. I wait around for a good idea and write down anything that is useful: images, and other bits and pieces as they come. Eventually, some idea will show up that triggers an actual song. What is different now is I pay more attention to the details and I’m fussier, but it still takes an emotional trigger or a phrase of some sort to get it going. Sometimes I have an idea that sounds good and then realize I said that 40 years ago.”
Cockburn’s songwriting journey began more than five decades ago in Ottawa, Ontario. After a couple of years studying at Boston’s Berklee School of Music, majoring in composition, he dropped out of school in 1965 and returned to his hometown to start a band (The Children). Finkelstein recalls seeing a young Cockburn as part of this short-lived group when they opened for The Lovin’ Spoonful at a show in Kingston, Ontario. “The Children were interesting and good, but they left no great impression on me one way or the other. Bruce was just a member of the band.”
Once Bruce left The Children to pursue a solo career, and started to pen his own material, is when he really left an impression on Finkelstein—enough of an impression that he signed him to a record deal, the first for True North Records. The memorable gig occurred at The Pornographic Onion, a coffeehouse at Ryerson University run by Eugene Martynec. Martynec (who went on to produce Bruce’s first 10 records) heard his friend was starting a record label and told him he had an artist called Bruce Cockburn that Finkelstein had to hear. “I didn’t realize how good he was until after I signed him,” recalls Finkelstein, who sold True North Records in 2007, but still manages Cockburn. “He played ‘Going to the Country’ and my ears lit up. I thought that could be a hit. Within one month I signed Bruce and that December we went into Eastern Sound and made his debut album.”
Thirty-four albums later, 13 JUNO Awards, an induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, as well as the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, and an Officer of the Order of Canada, Cockburn could easily rest. Alas, putting down their notebook and ignoring the muse is not part of an artist’s DNA.
Until a vaccine is found and it’s safe for a return to the new normal, whatever it looks like, Cockburn, like all artists, is waiting. He’s hopeful to hit the road and play selections from his half-century catalogue of songs to live audiences again sometime in 2021.
“There is reason to be hopeful, but right now it is a game of wait and see,” he concludes. “If people would just get more responsible – and take the steps necessary to get past this pandemic. If it follows the pattern of the 1918 Spanish Flu, it will run its course and eventually fade away and we will all forget about it until the next one comes along – and there will be a next one I’m sure. It’s really important that we as a species and culture use the stresses and openings that have been provided at this moment to move ourselves forward.”About the Author David Mcpherson David is the author of The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History (Dundurn Press, 2017). Ever since attending his first rock concert in 1989 (The Who) and buying his first LP (Freeze Frame by The J. Geils Band), music has become "the elixir of his life." A regular contributor to SOCAN's Words + Music, Hamilton Magazine, and No Depression, over the years his writing on music has also appeared in Paste, American Songwriter, Bluegrass Unlimited, Exclaim! and Canadian Musician. As president and chief creative officer of McPherson Communications, David helps clients get the words right. He lives in Waterloo, Ontario, with his wife and two children.
28 October 2020 - Mark Dunn interviewed Bruce on August 14, 2019. The interview was published in contemporaryvere2.ca.
You can read the 13 page interview here.
21 September 2020 - Hi, Bruce's manager Bernie here. We're sorry to have to tell you that all of the October/November 2020 shows are in the process of being postponed and or cancelled. For those who have tickets you'll need to speak to who you bought the tickets from to get info on either holding on to them until there's a confirmed show or getting a refund. We don't know yet what shows will be rebooked but it's likely that they will not happen until either October or November of 2021. Sorry for the inconvenience this is causing you but safety is of the first concern for all of us. We greatly appreciate your support and can't wait to get back on the road. ~Bernie Finkelstein
30 September 2020 - Well after an absence of many years Jackson Browne has revived the Native American Scholarship Fund benefit concert for the Verde Valley School in Arizona. I can't remember how many times Bruce played those wonderful concerts but it was several and each one was very special for a great cause and always with great artists and audiences. Be great if you could join us on October 10 for what Jackson has called the Dream Concert. ~ Bernie Finkelstein
Verde Valley School
Native American Scholarship Fund
Saturday, October 10 :: 9:00PM ET
About Dream Concert
FANS and Verde Valley School present Dream Concert featuring Jackson Browne, Shawn Colvin, Bruce Cockburn and more to benefit the Native American Scholarship Fund
FANS has partnered with Verde Valley School to host Dream Concert, highlighting notable musicians, advocating for the inclusion of Native American voices and bodies in high school education on Saturday October 10 at 6PM PT/9PM ET.
The concept of Dream Concert originated over 30 years ago by Jackson Browne, where he held an outdoor music festival on the Verde Valley School campus. The festival then became an annual affair, which raised tuition assistance for the Native American students. Past performers include Neil Young, John Trudell, Bonnie Raitt, Indigo Girls, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Ben Harper, and many more.
This year’s lineup includes heartfelt performances by Jackson Browne, Shawn Colvin, and Bruce Cockburn, along with Arizona bands Sihasin and Calexico. The livestream will also feature appearances by R. Carlos Nakai, Michael Franti, and Dene-Canadian rocker, Leelah Gilday, and more to be announced.
In keeping with its roots, the Dream concert will raise tuition funds to support the Verde Valley School’s Native American Scholarship Fund and their student’s quest for quality education. The Verde Valley School is a top tier high school devoted to cultural exchange, hosting over 130 students from around the world to live and learn together.
“The nation, indeed the world, needs a school that will bring together children from many nations, many cultures, all races and religions, not simply to study and tolerate on another, but to learn from and celebrate their differences.” – Hamilton Warren, Verde Valley School Founder
Support the Native American Scholarship Fund and join FANS for an inspired night of music with Dream Concert on Saturday, October 10.
Don’t try to give Bruce Cockburn a rocket launcher. It’s been tried — three times
By Nick Krewen - Special to the Star.com
21 September 2020 - For a few years in the 1980s, it seems that everyone was trying to hand Bruce Cockburn his very own rocket launcher.
Rarely has such an angry song about the atrocities of defenceless wartime human slaughter been so perfectly articulated in song as in the Ottawa-born Cockburn’s 1984 hit “If I Had A Rocket Launcher.”
But it seems as though a few people misinterpreted the lyrics.
“There were actually three incidents,” says a chuckling Cockburn, on the line from the San Francisco residence he occupies with his wife and daughter.
Cockburn, who celebrates half a century as a recording artist with the Sept. 25 release of the vinyl-only, five-disc collection “True North — a 50th Anniversary Box Set,” recalls an incident in Afghanistan after he had just finished performing the song to Canadian troops stationed in Kandahar.
“General (Jonathan) Vance” — currently Canada’s chief of defence staff — “appeared at my shoulder with the rocket launcher and handed it to me,” he recalls.
“It was loaded — it was one of those little single-use anti-tank rocket things, but there I am, cradling this thing in my arms and there was this picture in the paper — I’ve got this enormous grin and it looks like Christmas.
“But that was the best of those moments.”
Cockburn, 75, remembers a second incident, following a concert in the southern U.S. around the time of the song’s release, when a radio station sent some employees to join him for a pre-show photo opportunity.
“They’d brought a rocket launcher that they’d rented from the National Guard — and they wanted to pose with it. They thought it was cute,” he remembers. “At this point, the song was fresh and I found it really offensive. I told them so. They didn’t get it. The song doesn’t say, ‘I wish I had a Rocket launcher. It says, ‘if!’”
But the scariest occasion occurred after a show in Bellingham, Wash. “We were crossing over the border into Vancouver after the show and while I was in the parking lot, a guy says, ‘I have a gift for you but you have to come to my car to get it.’
“The guy — over six feet tall, very muscular, very short hair — pops his trunk and has three rocket launchers in there. He wanted to give me one.”
Cockburn thanked him and politely declined. “If I had said, ‘yes,’ there would have been a checkpoint somewhere. I think it was a trap. He had ‘cop’ written all over him.”
These are just some of the adventures the noted troubadour and respected guitarist has enjoyed since 1970, when he helped launch the True North Records label with the self-titled “Bruce Cockburn.”
Over the course of 26 studio albums, four live recordings, three compilations and the 2014 box set “Rumours of Glory,” the 13-time Juno Award winner has expounded upon the folk idiom to include blues, roots, rock, pop and — for want of a better word — Americana. Cockburn, a member of the Order of Canada and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, has also expanded his topical horizons, writing hundreds of songs that are as intellectually stimulating and thoughtful as they are emotional, informed by a Christian faith that is neither intrusive nor sermonizing.
His songs range from mystical to introspective to philosophical to romantic to political to playful to sober, from roaming idyllic moods with “Wondering Where The Lions Are” or expressing environmental concern with “Radium Rain.” He’s tackled political effrontery in “Call it Democracy” and raised awareness of inhumane treatment by government regimes in “Nicaragua,” his observations recorded from first-hand visits to war-torn territories.
“He’s a fearless explorer,” notes Nicholas Jennings, author and music historian who has provided liner notes for Cockburn’s entire remastered catalogue, including the new box set.
“His curiosity is incredibly deep and he’s always looking for answers. He’s always looking for new truths. He’s a seeker in the full sense of the word … He is always trying new things. That’s what keeps him fresh and maybe that’s what’s kept him a vital, meaningful artist.”
In terms of his role in sounding alarm bells about human rights transgressions over the years, though, Cockburn is clear.
“I know that the songs have affected people … because I hear from the people,” he states. “They’ve had a role to play in terms of drawing people’s attention to situations that needed addressing … But in terms of affecting the whole situation, it’s a drop in the bucket. I think all of the drops in the bucket are meaningful — and mine is one of them.”
Cockburn’s love for music occurred at an early age but wasn’t set in stone until later in life. By the time he dropped out of Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, “I knew then that my life was going to be tied up with the guitar one way or another.”
He met Bernie Finkelstein, his manager of 50 years, when Cockburn’s band then, The Children, opened for The Paupers and The Lovin’ Spoonful at Maple Leaf Gardens. Finkelstein was managing The Paupers. Cockburn says he and his future producer Eugene Martynec were having a coffee in Yorkville, agreeing they’d like to make a record in the style of blues veteran Mississippi John Hurt, with Cockburn as artist and Martynec as producer.
“Gene said he knew somebody who wanted to start a record company, so he goes and talks to Bernie. Bernie said, ‘this could be the first True North Records album’ — and it was. That was the first time we had actually talked to each other.”
Cockburn became True North’s flagship artist.
“As far as the management end of our business goes, Bruce and I never had a contract,” Finkelstein says from his Prince Edward County home. “The joke I often make with Bruce is, ‘If we had a contract, it probably would have ended and he would have left. But because we don’t have one, he doesn’t know how to leave.’”
Although the new box set consists of only three albums — “Bruce Cockburn,” “The Charity of Night” and “Breakfast In New Orleans … Dinner In Timbuktu,” — lovingly remastered by Colin Linden and the latter two albums making their vinyl debuts — it’s important to note the set also marks the 50th anniversary of Toronto-originated True North Records as a label that helped establish folk singer Murray McLauchlan, sexually provocative rockers Rough Trade, and roots trio Blackie And The Rodeo Kings.
“What I was always interested in was originality, the ability to perform and great songwriting,” Finkelstein says of his signings. “I think our label stood for that and I think we stood for it in a way that — at least during the early years — that no other label really did. We made our own world.”
Cockburn says the inclusion of the double disc, coloured vinyl sets of “Charity” and “Breakfast” — limited to 750 copies and individually signed by the artist — is by design.
“Those two albums stand out for me as among the best I’ve done,” says the artist, who has written three songs towards a potential new studio album. “I went through a lot of personal life stuff that ended up in those songs. Travelling in developing countries with a deeper sense of what I was seeing made a difference.
“It made it more complicated because it’s easier to write passionate songs about things you don’t know very much about. Whether it’s a first love or a first encounter with a situation, the feelings are simpler and more vivid.
“As you get to know things, it gets deeper and the motivations to say things are a bit more complicated. There’s more to say.”
“There was a lot of love stuff and just different experiences in life that ended up shaping those songs.
“I’m kind of grateful and glad that my songs have touched people the way they have.”
~from Don’t try to give Bruce Cockburn a rocket launcher. It’s been tried — three times by Nick Krewen.
23 September 2020 - Americana Highways’ Key to the Highway series.
Fans always clamor to learn more about their favorite, most beloved musicians and those who travel with them. There’s such an allure to the road, with its serendipity, inevitable surprises, and sometimes unexpected discomforts. This interview series is a set of questions we are asking some of our favorite roots rock Americana artists to get to know more about them and what they’ve learned and experienced on the road. We are sure they have key insights to share and stories to tell. Here’s one from Bruce Cockburn:
Americana Highways: How do you like your coffee or other morning wake-up beverage?
Bruce Cockburn: Strong and black
AH: What’s the most interesting or strangest motel/hotel or place you have stayed (while on the road?)
BC: Hotels…hmmm… Was it the fleabag in Skopje where the bed springs sagged to the floor? Or the “hotel” attached to a club outside of Manchester with torn curtains and a crust of forty years of rock band habitation? Or the guest house in Nepal where the cow tried to come in and get warm and the guy who was out of his mind with altitude sickness tried to convince the innkeeper’s twelve-year-old daughter to go outside with him and help him take a leak? Maybe the New York joint with the beautiful Art Deco lobby and the rundown room where the roaches and I were compelled to listen to the neighbour’s TV blasting a sports event. When I knocked on their door the sound was abruptly cut off. The guy who opened up was very tall and dark haired, wearing a tense expression and a shoulder holster. Past him I could see two other large fellows, similarly equipped, and on the couch a small older man. I pointed out that the game was pretty loud in my room and would they mind terribly turning it down. “Oh. Sure. Sorry!” he said, and as the door swung shut I could hear “It’s ok. It’s just the guy next door saying the TV is too loud.” After that the game came on again, softer, and I could make out their conversation through the paper thin wall; three plainclothes cops guarding what appeared to be a mob witness.
AH: If one CD is stuck in the player in the van for the entire tour, what do you hope it is? And why?
BC: Tough question. The duration of the tour might be a factor. Something soothing on the ears and the brain — Arvo Part maybe, or Pablo Casals’ rendering of the Bach cello suites. Or maybe Bo Diddley…
AH: What’s one personal item you must have with you on your road trip?
BC: A good knife
AH: What is your relationship with food? How do you handle this on the road, and what’s your favorite dish on the road, (or restaurant, and what do you order there)?
BC: Unless you’re in Italy, where it’s almost impossible to get a bad meal, food on tour is pretty much catch as catch can. There’s a lot of late night pizza and questionable Chinese. That said, once in a while there’s a great meal. That has happened in Edmonton, Venice, New York, Toronto, Grants Pass OR, somebody’s kitchen in Winnipeg…
AH: If you could pause your life for a few weeks and spend some time living in a place you only have passed through, which would you choose, and why?
BC: I’ve passed through a lot of places. None of them felt like home. Many of them have seemed to invite further exploration though. I’m generally drawn to the high and dry — the Rockies, the Four Corners region of the southwestern US. That said, there are some pretty great coastlines in the world — western Newfoundland, islands like Martinique, Maui, the wild coast of Cornwall. To the high and dry, add windswept. What really makes or breaks a place though are the people in it.
AH: What quote or piece of advice have you gotten from someone on the road that has really stuck with you?
BC: Live fast — die young! Oops! Blew that.
~from Key to the Highway - Bruce Cockburn.
21 September 2020 - The True North 50th Anniversary Box Set has a dual purpose.
As much as this vinyl-exclusive three-album collection of Bruce Cockburn, The Charity Of Night and Breakfast In New Orleans…Dinner In Timbuktu commemorates the five decades that the Ottawa-born singer, songwriter and master guitarist has been a recording artist, it also serves as a celebration of 50 years of True North Records, the label started in 1969 by Cockburn’s manager, impresario Bernie Finkelstein.
Remastered by Colin Linden and limited to 750 multi-coloured 5LP sets personally signed by Cockburn, manufactured by Toronto-based Microforum Vinyl Record Pressing, and available exclusively via Linus Entertainment, The True North 50th Anniversary Box Set also honours the loyal professional relationship between the singer/songwriter and his manager.
And the secret sauce to the 50-year-plus management relationship between Bernie Finkelstein and his star client?
“First off, I’m a real admirer of his music – all 34 albums of it,” Finkelstein replied in an interview. “There are 350 to 500 songs out there and I’m probably one of the only people alive that knows them all.
“We’ve done quite well, which helps. The fact that I know all his music wouldn’t mean anything if, you know, if we were down in the dumps all the time.
“Bruce is also very, very easy to work with,” Finkelstein continues. “This is going to sound very simple – and perhaps very simplistic – but if I didn’t call him, I’m not sure he’d ever call me, because he’s not really a big-time careerist.
“It can be very frustrating because Bruce could be even bigger than he is now if he wanted to be. He’s quite content to continue to do things the way that he does it.”
From the artist’s standpoint, Bruce Cockburn says Finkelstein possesses a number of laudable traits.
“He’s an interesting character on so many levels,” said Cockburn recently from his San Francisco haunt. “I so admire him. I admire his gift for strategizing. I admire his love of the music, which is deep and genuine.
“He’s a business guy and he thinks like a business guy, but in contrast to other certain people that I’ve run into over the years, he has a really deep understanding of music and very good ears. Although he and I may disagree over this or that or the other thing, when it comes down to it, Bernie’s appreciation of the song is as informed and as sensitive as anybody’s could be.
“That had a lot to do with it – and he was doing what he was doing for the money. He could have made more money doing it for someone else,’” Cockburn laughs. “So, I appreciate the fact that he’s put in all that time and loyalty – I think we’ve been loyal to each other. I’m sure that’s part of it.”
With such a longstanding and mutually rewarding relationship, you’d think there’d be frequent backyard BBQs or frequent socializing.
Surprisingly, Finkelstein says that’s not the case.
“We don’t share much socially,” he explains. “We don’t hang out a lot – especially with him in San Francisco and me here, we never did. I think all of those things add up to a relationship that doesn’t get too complicated by other complex things.”
But Finkelstein says he and Cockburn do have certain commonalities.
"We both like getting things done and making sure that things are the best that we can do, all the time. In Bruce’s songs, he’s often referring to things like eclipses and event horizons and things like that that he just drops into songs. We both have a real interest in that kind of thing.”
Obviously though, the relationship is important enough to both men that when Finkelstein sold True North, he and Cockburn maintained their handshake management association.
“When I sold True North in late 2007 [to Geoff Kulawick, Harvey Glatt and Michael Pilon], I decided that I was going to mostly retire from the music business, but I thought that Bruce and myself had some unfinished business to do,” he notes.
“So, we stayed on and it’s been another 12 or 13 years since I did that. Things keep rolling along. It’s almost taken a pandemic to make us stop.”
Distributed physically by Cadence/Fontana North, designed by Juno award winner A Man Called Wrycraft, and featuring new liner notes from author and music historian Nicholas Jennings, The True North 50th Anniversary Box Set is available for $199.00 (CDN) through Linus and north of $200 on Amazon.
The album flats were shipped to San Francisco for Cockburn to sign at home, then shipped back over the border for assembly. The handsome box set also features a new True North logo designed by Brooke Kulawick and all copies are individually numbered.
As far as the True North label history is concerned, Finkelstein is happy he provided a creative home to help establish acts like Murray McLauchlan, Barney Bentall, Rough Trade and Blackie and The Rodeo Kings - and on the management side, in partnership with Bernie Fiedler – Dan Hill.
“I miss that old label. I’m very, very proud of the work I did with Murray McLauchlan, Rough Trade and all the rest,” said Finkelstein. “We had our fair share of hits, but the one thing we never lost sight of was high quality, not to chase the commercial end of the business.”
In terms of the inclusion of Bruce Cockburn, The Charity of Night and Breakfast in New Orleans…Dinner In Timbuktu as box set choices, Cockburn says it makes sense.
“Of course, you’re going to put the first album on the 50th-anniversary set,” Cockburn notes. “ But the other ones were chosen consciously because they represent stuff I’ve done in a way that’s as good as it gets. Those albums are, within themselves, very complete expressions of the time and set of situations. And they work very well musically.“Once in a while I’ll hear a track from an older album and think,’ Wow, geez, that was pretty good!!’” he laughs. “It surprises me, not because I forget, but because the path becomes a big wash. When something pops out of that wash that is noteworthy, it catches my attention.”
Cockburn may be contemplating a new album…or not.
“I’m not much of a planner – I never have been, “ he admits. “This year was supposed to be filled with 50th anniversary touring, which of course, it isn’t. We’ll see what of that we’ll be able to apply to next year, but we had that instrumental album that came out a year ago that was going to be one of the things celebrated in that 50th-anniversary tour.
“So, I hadn’t thought much about a next album, really, as I still had the intention and desire of one day doing an album of other people’s songs. I was sort of thinking, well, maybe now’s the time for that. But I’ve got three new songs and now I’m thinking, maybe it isn’t yet time for that.”
August 2020 - ACROSS 34 ALBUMS, BRUCE COCKBURN HAS MADE MUSIC THAT IS OFTEN DIFFICULT TO DEFINE.
A friend of mine recently made an interesting observation about the musician Bruce Cockburn. He noted how rare it was to find any photo over the years of Cockburn hanging backstage, performing alongside, or standing in the company of any fellow famous musician(s) from the same era. Almost every photo you find is the same — Bruce and his guitar alone in front of a microphone. It’s a metaphor for how he has so singularly lived his life. Bruce Cockburn is true to himself, avoids trends, and has always put forward material that is marked by a profound sense of daring and duty.
Across 34 albums, Bruce Cockburn has made music that is often difficult to define. At times he sits squarely within the folk world. Then he migrates a bit to jazz and rock. And for some time now he has found a way to color his music with spirituality, a nod to his reborn Christianity. A world-class acoustic guitar player, he is known for having “the hardest-working right thumb in show business.” His abilities here have helped rank his talent at par with guitar legends like Bill Frisell, Django Reinhardt and Mississippi John Hurt. All of this will be celebrated in a forthcoming 50th Anniversary Box Set, where three previously released records have been remastered for vinyl. These records consist of his 1970 self-titled debut, a very spare and introspective piece of music, joined by two albums from the early ’90s that have never been released before on vinyl: The Charity of Night and Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu. Each album has been re-mastered by Bruce’s long-time producer Colin Linden, and is pressed on colored vinyl. The five 180-gram discs are contained in original artwork sleeves adapted from the original designs by renowned graphic designer Michael Wrycraft, and reside with an individually numbered box signed personally by Cockburn.
This unique approach to celebrating his anniversary is just another demonstration of how Bruce Cockburn has always done it his own way. A large tour in support of this release was to begin in May. But like most concerts at the moment, it has been pushed off until the fall. We caught up with Bruce to talk about the release, his creative process, and where he thinks we will end up on the other side of this world pandemic. His responses were often framed with an endearing sense of humility defined by regular laughter, and offered rare insights into what life has been like for the last 50 years as one of the few real bona fide troubadours.
GOLDMINE: You have always been politically/socially active and ahead of the curve. Where do you think things will go on the other side of this pandemic?
BRUCE COCKBURN: Well, it’s hard to predict exactly where it’s going to go. I don’t think that the quality of life in the world is going to improve because of this. One element of that has to do with democracy and who gets to have power and under what circumstances they get to exercise that power. That was already being eroded in this country anyway. Now I think that the threat of finding ourselves in some kind of authoritarian state is very real.
GM: In moments like these what is your approach to writing? Is the intent to make people feel better?
BC: Well, “connect” is more meaningful than “better.” Of course it’s nice to try and make people feel good, but that’s not the only way in which I want to touch people. For me, I’ve never operated from a particular stance, other than an artist trying to determine what’s going on and sharing it with people. So when I write about the stuff that people consider “political,” it comes about in exactly the same way as a love song or any other song. It’s not like I have taken a position and want to expound upon it. For me, it has to be organic. I’m not going around looking for issues to write about.
GM: This is an unusual way to celebrate this kind of milestone. Most 50th box sets span an entire career. This only focusses on three albums. Why?
BC: It came about because we wanted to do vinyl. The first album was an obvious choice because it was released 50 years ago. But with the other two it was interesting to put out something that had not been on vinyl before. I think they are among the best albums that I have made, and it just seemed appealing to put the focus on those records. If I happen to have a 75th anniversary, we can have a different mix of things. (laughs) But I didn’t want to do a chronological “best-of,” because that would have been an obvious thing to do — that made it less appealing to me. These two albums from the ’90s are pretty much representative of a lot of what I do.
GM: They were remastered by your longtime producer Colin Linden. What kind of direction did you give him? Were you trying to sonically connect them at all?
BC: Yes, Colin oversaw the mastering. They sound great. The mastering that was done makes them sound better than they ever have. For me it’s not important to make them match together in some way because they are in a box set. They match each other because it’s me! (laughs) The first album is separated by a long period from those other albums. It sounds different, but it stands up really well. When I listen back to my previous work, and I don’t spend a lot of time doing that, there’s the same sense of standing on the brink of some sort of threshold between the physical and spiritual world that pervades all of my stuff. So in a way that’s kind of the unifying factor. But I don’t think we needed to go out of our way to do anything concrete with the sound.
In terms of making them contemporary, the ’90s albums are already in that ballpark. We are pretty much dealing with the same technological parameters now that we were dealing with then. But they are bigger and richer because of the remastering. As for the debut, the vinyl sounds way better than the CD, and it’s not just an aesthetic choice between the two. It’s just that the mastering that was done for the initial CD release wasn’t very good. It was done in an era when CDs were new. So it just sounds 100 percent better than the CD ever did.
GM: You are also promoting last year’s release Crowing Ignites. There your acoustic playing is as strong as ever. How has it evolved over the years?
BC: Well, it’s shifted a little. Evolved? I guess I’d like to think it has. (laughs) Every now and then I hear some old thing that’s got stuff on it that I forgot about, and it makes me think that I haven’t really expanded that much. When I listen to some of the popular stuff from the ’70s — like the stuff on Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws — there are things that I would do differently. But I don’t know that I’m a better player now. I’ve learned some other things since then, of course. But for every step forward that I’ve taken there’s the deterioration factor that comes into play, too. In general I’m no worse off.
GM: Why does it seem that Canada is so much more welcoming of acoustic music than the U.S.? Here we confine it to coffee houses and church basements.
BC: When I think of the American songwriters that I really appreciate, I think of Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits and Ani DiFranco. Guitar was the thing in the era that I came up in — everyone wanted to play folk music. We were very disdainful of people who played electric guitar unless they were Muddy Waters or Jimi Hendrix. It was just kind of the shape of things at the time. I was also always a jazz fan, so I had a great appreciation for the use of electric guitars as a jazz instrument. The road by which we arrived at songwriting was influenced so much by everyone from Woody Guthrie through Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan — more that than by the electric stuff. But we were also big Beatles fans, and big Rolling Stones fans so we played acoustic versions of those songs, too.
There are differences between Canadian music and American music, even in this very globalized time we’re in right now. Canada would never produce a Tom Waits. It would now because Tom Waits has already arrived and evolved. But before that I don’t think that he could have come out of Canada. At the same time, the states never produced a “Leonard Cohen” or a “Joni Mitchell.” But you can’t take this too far. We all grew up listening to American music. America gave the world rock and roll.
GM: How does your faith influence your songwriting?
BC: It’s complicated. It doesn’t when it comes to an individual song, because for me writing a song consists of getting a good enough idea, running with it and trying to wrestle it in to something. It’s not affected by outside concerns. I’m aware that being labeled anything limits you to the people who are attracted to that label, and creates a barrier between you and people who don’t relate to it. So if I’m called a “political singer,” I don’t like it, and if I’m called a “Christian singer,” I don’t like it, either-even if both are sort of true. I don’t want to only make music for people who identify themselves as Christians. I even resisted the label of “folk singer” for a long time, too, because folk singers were people like Pete Seeger, or they played bluegrass, and that wasn’t me. When I made the album Night Vision, it was in reaction to having been over-identified in the media with this sort of pastoral romanticism that a certain part of the public was going around with. I didn’t like being typecast like that. So I decided to make an “urban” record. It was a reaction to the sense of being pinned down. All of a sudden people were coming to the shows who wanted to whistle and stomp, which was shocking to me, because I had grown up in the coffee house atmosphere where you were supposed to be quiet and reverent toward whoever was onstage.
GM: You have always seemed to transcend trends or musical fads. You have also said that you aren’t a planner, that you take things as they come.
BC: It’s the only thing that I know how to do. It’s fun to learn other people’s songs now and then. When we were having live church services, I’d go and sit in with the church band and get to play electric guitar, which was fun and it felt good. But as far as the core of what I do, I don’t have any choice. This is how I see the world and this is how I understand how to make songs out of that. So that’s what I’m stuck with.
GM: 1984’s Stealing Fire album sleeve includes locations after each song. Is this where they were created?
BC: It’s where they were started, not always where they were finished. The content of a song doesn’t always have to do with a place. But I’ve done that on all of the albums since the beginning. I just sort of adopted the habit from poets that I was fond of reading from when I was young. Sometimes it makes no difference at all where you wrote a song, but with other songs it does. I think an audience’s perception of a song like “Nicaragua,” for instance, is impacted when they know that it was actually written there. Or another example is “Waiting for a Miracle,” where it means something slightly different, or the meaning is expanded if you put it in that context.
GM: You’ve covered a lot of musical ground, including soundtracks. How did you become involved with the children’s show Franklin?
BC: They were interested in having me do a theme song for this show. It was in development and I was aware of the books, marginally. I had never done anything quite like that. In the end, it wasn’t as much fun as I thought it might be, because it was kind of like writing a jingle. There was so much back and forth between me and the producers of the show over the use of this word versus that. I’m happy that I haven’t had to make a career of that sort of thing.
GM: Your music has been covered by many well-known talents. Has any version surprised you?
BC: So many people have done my songs in interesting ways. The most is Michael Occhipinti’s jazz version of a bunch of my songs. He put out an album that is all instrumental. It’s his take on those songs, and he really broke them down and reshuffled the deck in a very interesting way. So it’s fun for me to listen to that.
GM: You celebrate a milestone birthday this year: 75 years. What do you hope to achieve/accomplish in your new year?
BC: The hope is that I’ll be able to do some live gigs. Recording songs is interesting and useful as is making videos of them now from my room at home. But it’s not the same as sharing the experience of being in a place with people. That’s when the songs really come alive.
~from www.magzter.com/GOLDMINE/ANOTHER-LEGENDARY-BRUCE - July 2020.
18 June 2020 -
"Of course Black Lives Matter. And yes, all lives matter, but are all lives affected by police brutality and the fear of it? How striking is that phrase: police brutality. The fact that the joining of those 2 words has become a standard part of the language is revealing of a set of expectations that should shock us into a universal rejection of a certain facet of law enforcement. We need cops. We need to be able to offer them respect and appreciation. We need them not to be killing and otherwise abusing people of color...or anyone else. We need them not to be abusing the extraordinary legal powers we give them so they can properly carry out the tasks society requires of them."
"Those abuses are too often manifestations of the racism virus that is endemic and systemic among us. Caucasians need to own that. We can’t change history but we need to pay attention. We must understand how we got to where we are. Not just the awful history of slavery, but the more subtle stuff too...the assumptions masquerading as smug tolerance, the lip service paid to the fiction of equal opportunity. We can’t fix what we don’t recognize. Living under, or next to, a US administration whose prime directive seems to be to promote divisiveness and fear, we should jump at this opportunity to understand each other, to do all the bridge building we can." - Bruce Cockburn
9 June 2020 - Inspired by his heartfelt song Dear Father, Colin Hay & City Winery present a multi-artist broadcast to celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday, June 21st beginning at 5PM Eastern Time. [ 5pm Eastern Time - 4pm Central - 3pm Eastern - 10pm UK ]
The singer-songwriter and former Men at Work frontman has partnered with City Winery to curate a lineup of old and new friends and City Winery favorites including Billy Bragg, Bruce Cockburn, Dar Williams, Fantastic Negrito, Nikka Costa, Glen Phillips, Joan Osborne, Jorma Kaukonen and more. Hay also included two fellow Australian artists: singer-songwriter Delta Goodrem and Aboriginal guitar virtuoso Chris Tamwoy. Radio legend and WFUV host, Rita Houston will serve as the streaming event’s emcee. View complete current list below.
Families around the world will be able to connect virtually through this shared experience, celebrating all fathers everywhere through music, providing much needed art and entertainment at home. This streaming event builds on the success of a popular Mother’s Day stream co-produced by City Winery and Billy Bragg.
Full line up (subject to change):
Colin Hay, Billy Bragg, Jorma Kaukonen, Dar Williams, Fantastic Negrito, Bruce Cockburn, Nikka Costa, David Bromberg, Jackie Greene, Glen Phillips, Joan Osborne, Willie Nile, Martin Sexton, James Maddock, Delta Goodrem, Chris Tamwoy, More TBA
Tickets for the performance are available here. Proceeds will support the efforts of NIVA (National Independent Venue Association) working to preserve independent performance venues across the United States.
Over the course of his 40-plus-year career, Colin Hay has performed at many of the NIVA venues that are fighting to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic. NIVA continues to lobby Congress to provide relief to venues noting that music venues were among the first businesses to close at the onset of this crisis and they may be among the last to reopen. Hay is eager to support other artists and independent venues while providing welcomed entertainment for fathers and fans to enjoy at home.
“City Winery came to me, and asked me to be part of a Father’s Day streaming event, the proceeds going to NIVA”, says Hay.
“I like independent venues, they have character, they have the personalities of the people who run them, and work in and around them. I’ve played many of them, and would like to continue to. This streaming concert may help in some small measure, to keep them alive.”
Hay continues to be inspired by his father. “I think about my father all the time, he’s gone now. He was on the stage when he was young, in theaters, in Glasgow and beyond. Whenever I play across the country, he comes with me. There’s a lot to be said for tradition.”
City Winery Father's Day special
31 May 2020 - On May 13 Rich Kimbal interviewed Bruce Cockburn, you can listen to the audio here and read the transcription below.Rich KimballWe get things underway, here in the [Wondering Where the Lions Are begins in background] second hour of the program, by welcoming in a singer, songwriter, and musician who's been making great music for more than five decades now. [music fades out] He has had twelve Juno Awards in his career, has recorded over thirty albums. He's the author of a wonderful memoir Rumours of Glory. We're pleased to be joined this afternoon by Bruce Cockburn. Bruce, thanks for being with us.
Bruce Cockburn - Thanks for having me. Nice to talk to you.
RK - How are you doing in this time of social isolation?
BC - [laughs] Doin' okay. We're all dealing with, you know, this new and exotic situation but, you know, we're getting by alright.
RK - Exotic. I like that.
BC - Well yeah, I mean in the sense that . . . it's not exotic in the pleasurable sense, but it is certainly in the sense of being something that's very different from how we've all expected our days to go in the past. So it's, you know, we're basically in the same boat as everybody else. And there are three of us, my wife and daughter in our apartment in San Francisco, 24/7 [laughs]. So whereas there used to be, uh, space . . . My daughter would go to school, my wife goes to work, I do my thing through the day, and then it . . . you know . . . we all . . . we convene kind of at dinner time. But now it's, it's all the time, so . . . That's a pretty big change, and we're lucky enough to have a pretty decent sized apartment and, you know, that's in a neighborhood that's comfortable, and we do go out. But, uh . . . but, uh . . . it's still vastly more limited in scope than it . . than we're used to, so . . . You know, although I have, as I hear myself saying that, I realize that we're also getting used to this, now, after this much time. But I'm not that happy about that, to be honest [RK - No.] I'd rather not be getting used to it.
RK - In the midst of all this, a celebration of your work, a boxed set. 50th Anniversary boxed set. Bruce, well how amazing is it for an artist to be with the same label for fifty years? That's an incredible record of consistency.
BC - Y'know . . . I mean it is, actually. I . . . I . . . I think it's relatively unusual. Maybe . . . not quite unique perhaps? It might be unique. But certainly rare in the music world that a relationship like that persists for so long. But, it just worked, y'know. So there's never been any real reason to wanna change it. It started because Bernie Finkelstein, who for most of those years was the owner of True North Records. Wanted to start a record label, and I wanted to make an album, and our mutual friend Gene Martynec wanted to produce . . . wanted to become a producer. We were all coming out of the, sort of the band era of the sixties. Bernie had been a manager and Gene had been a guitar player in a couple of bands, and I had also. But I had these songs that worked when I performed them solo better than any of the band stuff that I had done. And I kind of wanted to move forward with that. So, the three of us got together and True North Records started, and my first album was the first album on the label. Coming out in 1970, and it, it . . . soon after, within the year even after it came out, it was clear that I needed a manager. Bernie volunteered his services. Well, he didn't exactly volunteer. He suggested that I pay him to do that. And . . . . it seemed like a good arrangement, and we still have that arrangement. So aside from the oddness [laugh] of having been with the same label all those years, I've had the same manager all those years also. And so, that's kind of anomalous, let's say, in the music scene. But it's, it's just . . . there's been like I said, there's never really been any reason to change it.
RK - When did you start playing the guitar, Bruce?
BC - I was fourteen. So that would have been 1959, and I was into rock and roll in a big way and I really wanted to play guitar. I hadn't really formed the conscious intention but I just had it as 'Oh that'd be so great to be able to do that'. And then while a house we were, my dad, was having built was, as things are generally and haven't changed, I mean in this respect. The contractor was late on the thing, so the house wasn't ready when school started, and the old . . . we'd moved out of the other place, and blah, blah. So we were staying at my grandmother's house for a couple of months waiting for the new house to be finished. And I discovered in the attic, in a closet in the attic, this old beat up Hawaiian guitar that . . . and it was like Oh, this is meant to be. There's a guitar that nobody cares about and I get to have it. Y'know. So I painted gold stars on the top, and y'know posed in the mirror with it, and tried to play rock and roll riffs without much success. And then . . but my parents could kind of see where this was going, and it's like Okay look, if you want to take guitar lessons, we'll . . or if you want to play the guitar we will support that, but you have to promise to take lessons and learn to do it properly. And you have to promise you won't grow sideburns and get a leather jacket. [all laugh] I thought that was a fairly light burden, so I said Yeah okay, let's do it. And, so that's where it went.
Bruce - Y'know Bruce - this is Bruce - If you have fifty years for the record label, but you have established fifty years with a fan base that are very, very loyal. I'm one of those people who goes back, liked your music from the start. You've done something that I think maybe only Norman Blake and a few other guitar players have done, and that is for that long be both consistent as a songwriter and consistent as a writer of instrumentals. How do you . . . how do you approach the fact that you've been able to keep, you've been able to change, do different things, but you've kept this solid fan base. I think I know why, but I'm wondering what you think.
BC - [laughs] I think, I think it's a blessing. I don't look at it too hard. But . . . and I'm very, I'm grateful for it and I'm very kind of proud of that element of my audience, that people have been willing to hang in for that long. And through a bunch of changes too! I've tried to be the best I can be in musical terms, in lyrical terms, over those years, but in the course of that there have been changes from, y'know . . . in, in terms of musical style, in terms of the kind of direction the lyrics have gone, or the kind of the content of songs have gone. And, and most of those people have stuck with me all that time. So it's . . . I'm . . . like I say, I'm very grateful for that. [indistinguishable under next comment]
Bruce - Well, very few people have virtuosity on the fingerboard, and that kind of a thoughtful, introspective way of making the lyrics fit the music and the playing. I learned from my friend Garnett Rogers, that you also are a very good marksman [BC laughs and makes an unintelligble comment in the background]. And I was wondering if those two things, in your mind, somehow work together. I, I . . .as a guitar player myself, I could start to see that when Garnett mentioned it the other day when we were chatting.
BC - Y'know I don't . . . I mean it's interesting that he would say that. But to me, I didn't get involved in competitive shooting until the end of, well, 'til the very late 80s, and so it wasn't a part of anything that happened before that. But I did discover . . . I actually, sometime in the 80s, I can't remember exactly when, I lost most of the sight in my left eye because of a fungus infection I picked up somewhere. And . . . so I discovered that rather, because . . . and I'm left handed, right? So I . . . anytime I had tried to do anything involving aim - throwing a ball, shooting a bow, shooting a gun, whatever it was, I could never hit anything [laughs with RK] Never get anything to go where - it's plain dark - whatever, I could never get anything to go where I wanted it to. But when I lost the sight in the left eye, because I was assuming that because I was left handed that I'd be aiming with that eye, I suddenly discovered that I'd been right-eyed all along. And that can happen, you can be left handed and right eyed, and whatever. But . . . So all of the sudden I found that I could aim at things and hit them. And it sorta went from there. I discovered that a friend of mine who owned a guitar shop that I had frequented for years was into competitive pistol shooting. And, y'know, he said Why don't you come to the range one day and see what it's like. That appealed to me for various reasons, and so I went with him and sure enough it was fun and I just got further into it from there, so . . . And I spent maybe over a decade, twelve years-ish, quite deeply involved in competitive shooting. And then, I haven't done it for years now, but that took me through from the late eighties into the two thousands doing that, and I've . . . I got a lot out of it actually I think. And I don't . . . But I don't know how much of a relationship between that and the creative side of what I do. I think it was exciting for me to discover a) that I could hit something [RK laughs] that I was aiming at, and b) that I actually liked competing when I felt like I could actually pull it off. I've never seen myself as a competitive person, and I've always avoided any kind of whiff of competitiveness that comes into the music scene, which it does. And not so much among the musicians, although it can be there, but more from the business side. It's like Well, you have to sell more records than so-and-so. Well, surely that person who started like ten years after you shouldn't be getting more of an audience than you [RK laughs] after all this time. And you hear this stuff from people. And I've always kind of resisted that way of thinking because it seems counterproductive and inappropriate to. . . to what I think music's all about. But I discovered there was actually fun to be had, on the level of a game, like the shooting stuff, in a competitive way. And so, y'know, there was discoveries involved.
RK - We're talking with Bruce Cockburn here on Downtown. Now you've been an outspoken activist for your entire career. I heard somebody recently say what we're experiencing now with this COVID-19 pandemic could be a preview of coming attractions, because we've failed, certainly here in the United States, we've failed to properly address the issue of climate change.
BC - Well, that failure, pretty much, is a worldwide one. Some countries have made more meaningful gestures than others in that . . . in the direction of addressing that. But most of us haven't. And basically we live in a world that is at the service of transnational corporations, global corporations. I mean it's not quite a feudal system, we're much better off than if it were that. But it's kind of, in a gentle way, kind of like that, so y'know, the aristocracy are these CEOs and their . . . and the faceless stockholders, which is a lot of people. I mean this is the difference between us and a real feudal system is that a lot of average quote-unquote people own stock in these corporations and want to get paid on that, but . . . and expect to. But the fact is that that is, I think, the biggest single factor in keeping everybody from addressing environmental issues or even from acknowledging that there are such things. 'Cause they . . . all that money plays a very strong propaganda game. For one thing, they can buy scientists, and they do, and they can buy politicians, and they do, and . . . et cetera. Y'know, I mean whether it's overt or kind of a systemic relationship that exists between money and politics, et cetera. That's . . . it works like that, so . . . So, basically, nobody's doing enough, and we probably won't because I don't see that system changing, although it's taking a little bit of a hit right now with the virus going around and everything. But, but I don't think the hit is going to be big enough to actually change the system. I'm not sure what the system should be. I don't have . . . I don't have a . . . an agenda that way or I'm not promoting any particular set of ideas. I just think that it's pretty obvious that the way things . . . that keeping on running things the way we have been is going to result in much bigger disasters than what we're currently looking at.
RK - Well, Bruce, we've enjoyed your music for many, many years, and appreciate all you do by using your platform to try to make the world a better place. We really appreciate you making time for us this afternoon, and wish you continued good health and success.
BC - Well thank you very much for that, and it's, it's, yeah, nice to spend the time with you.
RK - Thank you again. Bruce Cockburn with us here on Downtown.
~Transcribed by John Peregrim.
28 May 2020 - Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist Bruce Cockburn released his first album 50 years ago, in April 1970. Thirty-four albums after the self-titled “Bruce Cockburn” disc, the celebrated musician has released an all-instrumental recording this year, “Crowing Ignites,” on the label he’s been with from the start, True North. Cockburn’s accolades include 13 Juno Awards (Canada’s equivalent to the Grammys), and induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. He’s received eight honorary doctorates, and his memoirs “Rumours of Glory” was published in 2014. Cockburn’s interest in activist issues and causes has taken him around the world, and he’s been involved in such organizations as Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and Friends of the Earth. His performance at the Fairfield Theater Company was originally planned for May, but was rescheduled for Nov. 4, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Cockburn recently took time out to talk about his musical career.
Mike Horyczun: When you’re on tour, how do you choose what songs to perform from this enormous body of work you’ve accumulated over five decades? Do you ever go back and listen to your early material?
Bruce Cockburn: Nobody wants to hear a show of nothing but new songs. There are the obvious ones that people have become attached to, but around that, I’ll go back and listen to the old material. Every now and then, I’ll stumble across a song that I’d forgotten about that might be worth learning and doing.
MH: How do you know when it’s time for a new album? Your latest, for example, is an all-instrumental recording.
BC: I generally just wait until I have enough material. The instrumental albums are a little different. The ideas for the pieces come out of jamming, basically, stumbling on something that feels like it could be developed into a bigger entity.
MH: Who are some of the guitar players that you admire?
BC: For a while I thought I wanted to be a jazz player, but I never really developed the chops or the ability to play two-five chords. But the influence remained and was strong. So from that quarter, there was Wes Montgomery and Gabor Zsabo, they’d be the two biggest ones, but legions of others, too. From the folk side of things, the biggest single influence was probably Mississippi John Hurt, and Mance Lipscomb, those kinds of country folk blues people. I listened to Ralph Towner. Pat Metheny is really good. I mean, there’s so many beautiful players.
MH: Who were some of the songwriters who influenced you?
BC: I was more influenced by writers, by printed word writers, than by songwriters. But certainly in the beginning, Bob Dylan was a huge influence. Dylan, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, lyricists who selected things that made songwriting come alive instead of just ‘Moon in June’ rhymes over standard tune changes. When I heard Dylan and that kind of generation of songwriter, I thought, yeah, maybe I want to do that too.
MH: How important is it for you to write about things that you’ve experienced?
BC: The writing process is always triggered by accident. I want to write about what’s around me, because that’s what I can think of to write about. I’m not good at coming up with teen love songs. Hopefully, the intention is to go around with a mental state that’s receptive to noticing what’s around, visual images, little bits of this and that, a snippet of conversation or whatever. Sometimes it’s really just noticing what’s around, and I try to put that in my songs.
MH: You live in San Francisco now, but when you’re in Canada, are you recognized for your music?
BC: It never was like tabloid material. But it was more of an issue when there were lots of videos out in the ’80s and through into the ’90s, big time. But even then, it wasn’t that bad. Once I was riding my bike down the street in Toronto, and somebody yelled out from the sidewalk, ‘I hate your music.’ Which I thought was kind of funny.
MH: Are there any goals you want to achieve at this point in your career?
BC: I’d like to survive long enough to make another album, which is about the only goal I’ve ever had. I’m not a goal person. I want to be good at what I do. That’s a goal. But it’s ephemeral. There’s no set of goalposts for that. It’s an everyday thing, right? You just try to not screw it up.
27 May 2020 - Today, as Bruce Cockburn reaches his 75th year, we can rejoice that he is still a stealer of fire, dancing his sunwheel dance in the falling dark of the dragon’s jaws. Roots Music Canada joins the rest of the world in celebrating his birthday, his music, his Junos, his doctorates, his investiture into the Order of Canada, his inductions into numerous musical Halls of Fame, his redemptive presence as a cosmic troubadour in Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren & The Shack by William P. Young, his performances on Saturday Night Live and at Pete Seeger’s birthday party, and his perilous witness, from the front lines of fear, at scenes of political violence around the globe.
Examine his talents. How much faceting can one diamond sustain? Lyrical master of specifically Canadian imagery, startlingly complex guitar explorer, bold mystic with Christian / Taoist / Buddhist / Sufi sleeves proudly spread, one of the original bilingual folk singers (ses textes ont été imprimés en français depuis l’époque de Trudeau), international peace-seeker, singer of both delicacy and urgency, shy public figure, punky Gemini, outspoken political critic and beacon, muscular ecologist, memoirist (Rumours Of Glory, 2014), gentleman feminist, and member of the all-star Canadian chorus, the Northern Lights, that rose up to roar out the crucial ”Let’s show ‘em Canada still cares!” line on the African famine relief anthem “Tears Are Not Enough.”
Bruce is waiting out this current deterioration of normal at home in San Francisco, “quite a lot busier than what used to be normal,” he reported, “(fathering), listening and reading: Fernando Pessoa’s novel The Book of Disquiet, William Gibson’s Agency, and poetry by Charles Bukowski, Joan Logghe and Wislawa Szymborska. For music, it’s pretty random. Recent listens include YouTube videos of David Russell’s stunning guitar playing as well as various performances by Voces8, Charles Mingus’ Tijuana Moods (an old favorite), the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, and Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht.”
In honour of this birthday, one of Bruce’s first musical friends who celebrated his own 75th in March,, Sneezy Waters, recalled the beginning stages of his journey, saying “When I failed Grade 12 (from too much folly) my parents thought it would be a good idea to switch schools and buckle down. So at Nepean H.S. I ran into Bruce. He told me he played guitar, so I brought my Martin to school one day, and after school we went over to his house to jam. He brought out his guitar, which was a big Gibson hollow-body, just like Wes Montgomery played, and a lovely Ampeg jazz amp. He played so well but wasn’t the least [bit] boastful. He also loved Grant Green’s playing. We really had a good time and arranged many more jams.
“We eventually formed a band called The Children, along with my friends Nev Wells, Sandy Crawley and Chris Anderson. He played some keyboards for us and also played a 12-string, along with a Telecaster.
He was writing back then and encouraging the rest of us to write songs.
The rest, for both of us, is history.”
Fellow musician Ian Tamblyn, who worked with him on 2008’s Dancing Alone: The Songs of William Hawkins, remarked on Bruce’s “composure and openness” in the studio. He also had the honour, in 2014, of presenting Bruce with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at Carlton University for his work in environmental, First Nations and social causes. In his presentation, Ian noted that “Bruce has had three overriding themes in his work: his great spiritual search, his dedicated call for social justice in the world, and his articulation of the collision of human relationships in these dangerous times.” He continued, “Bruce Cockburn has been both bold and courageous, whether it be in his work with Lloyd Axworthy to end the use of land mines, his environmental work with David Suzuki and Greenpeace, his work on behalf of the Unitarian Service, or his demands for democratic and environmental rights in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mozambique or Mali.”
His outstanding personal qualities have kept him rooted in long-lasting friendships. Publicist Jane Harbury, who has been buddies with him since their days together at Toronto’s fabled Riverboat, respects him for being always “funny, smart and gracious.” She elaborated: “He doesn’t change on a personal level. He has an ability to make people want to love him. And he remembers everything.” She recalled him best, “coming in the back door of the club in a fluffy old hat with his big dog Aroo.”
Illustrator Michael Wrycraft, who has designed the last nine of Bruce’s album covers, revealed that, “although he comes across as serious, Bruce is actually very light-hearted. Once you get past his professional presence, you find out he has a great laugh.” Their creative collaboration in bringing the unique visuals that accompany every new record together is consistently stress-free (with the exception of the altered American cover of You’ve Never Seen Everything, “which the record company thought looked like speed metal, or the devil.”). Of Bruce’s part in the process, Michael confided, “He plants a germ, a tiny seed of an idea, usually drawn from the album title; and after extensive chat, I come back with the work, and he says “That’s great!” Bruce’s loyalty to Michael’s vision has now stretched over 21 years. Manager Bernie Finkelstein has guided his career for over 50 years now, based upon a handshake.
Michael Reinhart is a composer/singer-songwriter and visual artist who has released five albums, the most recent being eCHO. He lives and works in both Montréal, QC and Edmonton, AB. Recently he’s been creating several new instrumental guitar pieces. He has been a Cockburn fan since his teens. “I loved that on those seminal albums, with so many instrumentals featured, above all I could hear the rich wood tone of the guitar, moreso than the metal of the strings, an analogue sound I still aspire to myself. I’ve never been much interested in doing cover versions, but among the few that I have attempted, ‘Foxglove’ was one that, despite the initial frustrations and physical pain involved, was invaluable to my finding my own way, my own style, my own sound.”
Michael has composed a gamboling birthday air to pay tribute to his musical mentor
On behalf of all of his friends and fans at Roots Music Canada, we would like to say “Steady on Mr. C., and well done.”
A recent release, Bruce Cockburn – True North – 50th Anniversary Box Set with five LPs became available this month.
4 May 2020 - TORONTO, ON, May 4, 2020 -- To be active and relevant in music for 50 years is a significant achievement for any individual recording artist. The same can be said for any independent record label. To achieve this milestone together as an artist and label team without interruption, has to be one of the most extraordinarily rare events in music.
To celebrate this milestone, Bruce Cockburn and True North Records have produced True North - A 50th Anniversary Box Set, a Limited Edition vinyl box set containing three of Bruce’s most significant recordings. The first album where it all started, the self-titled debut Bruce Cockburn along with two albums that have never before been released on vinyl; The Charity of Night and Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu. Each album has been re-mastered by Bruce’s long-time producer Colin Linden, and is pressed on coloured vinyl. The five-180 gram discs are contained in original artwork sleeves adapted from the original designs by the acclaimed graphic designer Michael Wrycraft, and housed in an individually numbered box signed personally by the artist. There will be only a limited initial pressing.
Bruce Cockburn was the first artist signed to True North Records, the tenacious independent label founded by Bruce’s manager Bernie Finkelstein and first operated from a Yorkville Avenue phone booth. Bruce’s debut self titled album was the label’s first album release on April 7, 1970, produced by Eugene Martynec, with the catalog number TN1. Fifty years on, Bruce Cockburn still records for True North Records, which released his 34th album “Crowing Ignites” in late 2019.
Bruce says, “In 1969, when I was feeling the need to record an album of the songs I’d been writing, I had no concept of what that might lead to. In some organic way it felt like it was time. The future wasn’t really an issue. It still isn’t. For each of us, there’s a future or there isn’t. “But looking back over the arc of 50 years of recording, performing, and travel, not to mention relationships and personal challenges,” he continued, “I can only shake my head and mutter a word of thanks for all of it.”
Cockburn concluded: “Even if I’d been a planner by nature, I doubt I could have predicted how things have gone… and they’re still going!”
Pre-order your copy now! Limited Edition, Numbered Albums available! A limited number of True North - A 50th Anniversary Box Sets are being produced. All orders will be shipped to arrive on September 25th, 2020 . Lowest box numbers will be assigned to the earliest orders.
Cockburn has also scheduled fall tour dates celebrating the 50th Anniversary.
Additional updates and ticket information can be found through the official Bruce Cockburn website and the complete list of tour dates is below. [ Tour Dates ].
Although Mr. Finkelstein sold True North Records to entrepreneurs Geoff Kulawick, Harvey Glatt and Michael Pilon in 2007, True North continues to be a vital independent label signing and releasing records by Bruce alongside many of Canada’s leading singer-songwriters and musicians including Buffy Sainte-Marie, Murray McLauchlan, Matt Andersen, Colin James, Sass Jordan, Sue Foley, Natalie MacMaster and Jimmy Rankin.
Bruce Cockburn: True North - A 50th Anniversary Box Set - TND750 - Bruce Cockburn (LP) | A Charity of Night (2LP) | Breakfast In New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu (2LP) - 5 x 180 Gram Colored Vinyl Discs original artwork sleeves.
Bruce Cockburn 2020 anniversary Tour Dates.
~from True North Records.
24 April 2020 - Join us on May 7 at 2 pm (2 to 3:30 pm EDT) for a virtual presentation celebrating the centenary of the Group’s founding with Ian Dejardin, Executive Director of the McMichael and curator of the exhibition “A Like Vision”: The Group of Seven at 100.
Followed by a special musical performance by Bruce Cockburn.
Please register below through Zoom and you will be sent a link to the event on Zoom in advance. You do not need any special equipment to participate. Simply click the link that is provided in your confirmation email from your computer, tablet or smartphone to access the presentation on the day of the event. The presentation is password protected so you will also need to enter the password found in the confirmation email.
You can now register online for our free virtual celebration of the centenary of the first Group of Seven exhibition on May 7, hosted by Executive Director Ian Dejardin and followed by a special musical performance from Bruce Cockburn.
Bernie Finkelstein: Bruce will be doing a song which we will keep as a surprise but its not one that you hear him do too often.
He will also be providing the gallery with an essay on Tom Thompson who actually is not a member of the Group of Seven but was their biggest influence. This essay will be part of a book the gallery is preparing but at this time I don't know when it will be released. The book will have several essays from famous Canadians who are familiar with the Group of Seven and Tom Thompson. You might recall that Bruce played and wrote the Mount Lefroy Waltz for a display of guitars built by luthiers, *his was built by Linda Manzer, inspired by the Group. The version Bruce gave to the gallery for the show was solo but the song as you know it is on Crowing Ignites with a pretty cool little band. ~Bernie Finkelstein
18 April 2020 - In recent days, I have posed this question via email to a handful of creative artists and citizens of note:
“During this time of social distancing and isolation at home, what are examples of the music you are listening to, the books you are reading, and/or the television or films you are viewing?” (If you wish, please feel free to also share your thoughts on the effects this isolation is having on your creativity or on your world).
This edition features the email response of recording artist Bruce Cockburn.
You might think, in this time of isolation, that there would be an opportunity for catching up on all sorts of things: household tasks that we’ve been putting off, books waiting to be read, etc, but for me the reality is that with my wife teleworking and my 8-year-old “teleschooling” and having ZOOM play dates, and all of us together 24/7, I’m quite a lot busier than what used to be normal. That said, I have been listening and reading: Fernando Pessoa’s novel The Book of Disquiet, William Gibson’s Agency, poetry by Charles Bukowski, Joan Logghe and Wislawa Szymborska. For music, it’s pretty random. Recent listens include YouTube videos of David Russell’s stunning guitar playing as well as various performances by Voces8, Charles Mingus’ Tijuana Moods (an old favorite), the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, and Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht..I haven’t watched any TV. That’s something I mostly do in hotel rooms. My daughter and I watched the second Smurfs movie the other day, which I love!
We are lucky in that my wife is still working. I feel for the baristas and waiters and cab drivers and everyone who depends on being able to move around and congregate for work. There’s an undercurrent of worry we all feel. My daughter feels some stress that gives her trouble getting to sleep sometimes. I feel somewhat fatalistic about COVID-19 with respect to myself.
I suppose each of us has to find whatever ways we can to put our “house arrest” to good use, even if it’s only resting, which a lot of us probably need. After a month, it still feels like a novelty. The challenge of coming up with creative ideas of how to pass the time, maintain friendships and acquire toilet paper is still kind of entertaining in itself. I’m not sure that will remain true if we have to live like this for too long.
7 April 2020 - The turn of the sixties into the seventies was a time of thoughtfulness and patchouli-scented spirituality, reflected by charting hits that included, in the spring of 1970, Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and the Beatles’ Let it Be. “Speaking words of wisdom,” then, was something of a genre unto itself. It was in this era that on April 7, 1970, the young Ottawan Bruce Cockburn released a spare, acoustic and introspective self-titled debut album that was at turns gentle and jaunty, marked by flowery lyricism and the lucid, seeking outlook of a self-aware artist on the cusp of something yet unclear. “It’s my turn, but where’s the guide?” the nascent troubadour wondered on Man of a Thousand Faces. The political activism of 1984's If I Had a Rocket Launcher would come later, as would 13 Juno Awards. In 1970, though, with songs such as Thoughts on a Rainy Afternoon, the gifted musician sought connections behind the things he observed. As for what lay ahead, he was characteristically clear-eyed, singing “Jesus, don’t let tomorrow take my love away.” Cockburn would win that fight. – Brad Wheeler
Interview with Bruce Cockburn
Iconic songwriter releases a haunting, masterful second instrumental album
by Mark Dunn
27 January 2020 - Here is an article about and interview with Bruce Cockburn (link will open in a pdf viewer) from a recent issue of the mighty Penguin Eggs Magazine. Bruce gives his usual articulate answers to my half-baked questions, offers insight into the acoustic guitar cutaway/full bout debate, and names some guitarists who have impressed him. #brucecockburn #boucherguitars #crowingignites
The interview was held on August 14, 2019 on da teleo-phone.
3 December 2019 - The audience at a Bruce Cockburn concert gets boisterous over “If I Had A Rocket Launcher” and reflective with the opening chords of “One Day I Walk” and “Wondering Where the Lions Are.” More than five decades into his career, Cockburn’s guitar craftsmanship and gravelly-to-smooth voice convey wide-eyed wonder, full-on fury and everything in between, delivering the mixture of opinion, observation and quietly stinging humor that characterizes his songs.
Listen to an hour long audio interview with Bruce
Update: You can read the transcription of this interview. Many thanks to John Peregrim for transcribing it!
14 November 2019 - Bruce Cockburn has been on tour one day, and he's already been given two bags of books.
Cockburn is an avid reader, and he has authored a book himself: "Rumours of Glory," a memoir released in 2014.
"People give me books all the time," said Cockburn in a phone interview just hours before performing in Vancouver, Canada, on a tour for "Crowing Ignites," an all-instrumental CD that came out in September.
Cockburn, 74, is joined for this tour by his nephew, John Aaron Cockburn, who is adding accordion and harmonies to Cockburn's music and will be with Bruce.
Touring with his nephew "has been real fun," Cockburn said. "It's been working quite well."
And as a bonus for people who previously have been to a Cockburn show, "they won't have seen this particular presentation before," he said.
"We're doing a few pieces from the new instrumental album, but there is a cross section of songs from through the decades," he said.
Those decades, which start about 1970 with the Canadian musician's debut release, include more than 30 albums and hundreds of songs with Cockburn's genre-crossing guitar playing, dynamic lyrics and songwriting that has run the topical gamut from relationships to political and environmental activism.
His discography reflects a man constantly on the move, both professionally and mentally. While Cockburn isn't slowing musically, he has made changes in recent years to his touring schedule.
"I've got a young daughter at home and I want to be home sometimes. My touring is structured so I can do that," he said.
Instead of six weeks or more on the road, "now we go for a couple weeks and take time off," he said.
Any longer than that and Cockburn might need a trailer for all the books he has been given.
Right now he's struggling to focus on books with "serious stuff," he said.
"I read way too much news and magazine stuff," Cockburn said. It's interesting, informative and mind-widening, "but a lot of it is an invitation to wallow in the worst of humanity."
But he still can put a James Lee Burke novel away in a couple of days. He was given "Collected Stories" by Raymond Chandler for Christmas last year and "that was fun reading through those and it took very little effort," he said of the noir mysteries. "They're just fantastic."
He did bring his own reading material for this tour, before the two bags of "wonderful" book gifts.
The first was "Laphman's Quarterly." It looks like a trade paperback, but it's a magazine, he said.
"Climate" is the fall theme for the quarterly, with all kinds of juxtaposing articles, one by an ancient Greek writer, another by a current writer and so on.
It's interesting reading and works well with being on tour because you can read a bit at a time, Cockburn said.
The other book he brought is the biography "Hitler's Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth and Neo-Nazism" by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke.
It was sent to him by a friend, who looked over the book and wrote, "It talks about God and war and it sounds like it's right up your alley," recalled Cockburn with a chuckle.
"It's an interesting and disturbing book," he said.
But books aside and on to Grand Junction, where he last performed about 10 years ago. "I'm looking forward to coming and playing," Cockburn said.
Grand Junction Sentinel
6 November 2019 - “The original was to do Speechless Two,” Bruce Cockburn explains, while describing the origins of his new record, Crowing Ignites. On 2005’s Speechless, he recorded some of his prior instrumental compositions, placing a particular focus on his stellar acoustic-guitar work. (Speechless earned him a Canadian Folk Music Award for Best Instrumentalist.) But, while Crowing Ignites once again finds Cockburn on an acoustic, this time the 11 compositions are all new. He explains, “We had a lot of unreleased material, including recordings that didn’t make it on Speechless. But, once I started coming up with a few new pieces, they just didn’t stop coming.”
I wasn’t there but, apparently, when you performed in the Relix office, some of our younger staffers were unaware that your song “Waiting for a Miracle” was not a Jerry Garcia original.
Yes, the kids recognized the song because they are paying attention to the Dead and Jerry’s music. That association is entirely complimentary—it’d be nicer if everyone went, “Oh, yeah, great song,” but that’s the way it goes. I was at the home of someone I know in Oakland, playing some songs to help cheer up his son, and this woman from next door sat down for a while. She was a big Dead fan and, when I played that song, she had no idea it wasn’t a Jerry Garcia song. She was quite skeptical of me claiming that I wrote it. I said, “Yeah, it’s my song,” and she looked at me like, “He’s bullshitting me.” [Laughs.]
These things happen. They don’t happen to me very often because, compared to other songwriters, not a huge number of famous people have recorded my songs. Some have tried, but I don’t know if I’ve ever met a Jimmy Buffett fan, for instance, who has made the connection that he’s recorded some of my songs.
As a young person, it didn’t really matter to me who wrote the song. “Ivory Joe Hunter, who the hell was that?” Now, it’s a bit more fashionable to pay attention to those things, but it’s not that big a deal.
I imagine that some people have been surprised that you released an all-instrumental record during this politically charged era?
Yes, apparently everybody’s expecting me to say something bad about Donald Trump. But everybody else is doing that already; I don’t need to do that, too. He gets enough attention.
Plus, when I look around, everyone’s nattering away: Liberals are bad. Liberals are weird. Liberals are gonna do something bad to my kid. And then, on the liberal side of it, all the conservatives are gonna do these bad things. It’s ridiculous. But who’s listening? We’re all only listening inside our little echo chamber.
What we need is something that promotes unity, something to pull us together and to allow to look at each other and go, “Hey, we all appreciate the same thing here.” That happened in a different kind of way in the 1980s, with Stealing Fire. In the Reagan era, I’d play these shows, and I’d look out at the audience. In response to songs like “Nicaragua” or “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” people were looking at each other going, “I’m not alone here” because there was no media coverage at that time with a dissenting view. But when all these people were in a concert hall and listening to this music, they were looking at each other and going, “Oh, yeah, all these people feel the way I do about it.” It’s empowering, and a great feeling for me, to witness something like that.
What we need now is something that will come out and do the same thing in a much more difficult context, where you’re dealing with people that just don’t agree with each other. Many of us are coming to recognize that it’s not sustainable to continue like this. There are people interested in exploiting this intentional fragmentation. We’ve got to fix it. I don’t think a song can fix it, but I think a body of popular sentiments expressed in song might.
The song “Bells of Gethsemane,” on Crowing Ignites , features a number of singing bowls. How did that came about?
I went into the studio with all the pieces composed, except for that one and “Seven Daggers.” Over the years, I’ve accumulated a number of singing bowls. They sound so beautiful, and I’ve just always wanted to use them for something. But, the application of them to my normal music is kind of limited because I can’t play the guitar and play those bowls at the same time. Also, they’re not tuned to A440; they’re tuned to whatever they’re tuned to and they’re suggestive of notes, but they are not very clear that way. You have to establish a context. I just thought, “I want to make a piece out of singing bowls. I want to build something using those.” I have all these other things—orchestral chimes, and various other ring-y things that I’ve accumulated. The intention was to build a piece out of all that stuff. So, I put down a couple layers of singing bowls, chimes and various other things, and added the baritone guitar over the top. I was very pleased with how it came out. It’s exciting for me to get that rich sound into a recording.
Your songs often have overt political messages. How do you respond when people receive them in a way that doesn’t entirely align with your intent?
I have to let go of my intentions for a song once it’s out there. I’d go crazy trying to understand where everybody could possibly take my ideas, or how they want to interpret them, unless it’s something really flagrant or they’ve completely got it backward. If someone came up, for instance, and said, “Oh, I really like that ‘Rocket Launcher’ song. I really want to go down and kill Guatemalan soldiers; it gave me all kinds of energy to do that,” then I’d have to take them up on it. I’d have to say, “Oh, no, that’s not the idea.”
Think of an abstract painting. If someone were to have a conversation about Salvador Dalí and his melting clocks, I’m sure he would have something to say, but it would be foolish if he thought that what he understood those things to represent was universally grasped by everyone. It’s true no matter how simple an idea seems to be. Something like motherhood means different things to different people. We can talk about motherhood and apple pie, but there are some people who didn’t have a very good time with motherhood or don’t enjoy apple pie. You have to have a lighter grasp of your intentions, once the piece is out there. Once it’s out, it’s up for grabs.
7 November 2019 - Cockburn's new album is a full batch of recently written glory showcasing his fingerpicking prowess, knack for texture and masterful sense of melody.
"Once the lucky accident of finding an interesting riff happens, then I’ll get down to the more deliberate work of figuring out what’s going to happen next,” Bruce Cockburn explains. The national treasure from the Great White North won the 2018 Canadian Folk Music Awards Solo Artist of the Year honor for his 33rd album, Bone on Bone, and now the outrageously prolific fingerpicker has a deep new album of acoustic instrumentals on his hands called Crowing Ignites (True North).
Cockburn, who relocated to San Francisco five years ago, is a consummate singer-songwriter, as renowned for his lyrical poignancy as for his exceptional electric and acoustic guitar skills. His albums usually contain an instrumental gem or three, and his last all-instrumental affair, 2005’s Speechless, was a compilation of mostly previously recorded material. Crowing Ignites, on the other hand, is a full batch of recently written glory showcasing Cockburn’s fingerpicking prowess, knack for texture and masterful sense of melody.
The album’s enigmatic title is a nod to Cockburn’s Scottish heritage and a literal translation of the Latin motto, Accendit Cantu, which appears on his family crest. The guitarist says he appreciates the qualities it conveys, calling it “energetic, blunt, Scottish as can be.”
“Bardo Rush,” the album’s kickoff cut, exemplifies Cockburn’s ability to maintain a driving rhythm while wheeling through melodic double-stops. “April in Memphis” reveals another side of his fingerstyle technique, consisting of cascading arpeggio rolls and free-time linear licks that ebb and flow. Throughout the proceedings, long-time producer and multi-instrumentalist Colin Linden adds welcome layers to Cockburn’s canvas, such as the bluesy Dobro on “Blind Willie.” The duo cut the record over a week in March of this year, at a converted condo that formerly housed a firehouse in San Francisco.
What inspired you to reconnect so heavily with the guitar?
The original concept was to do Speechless II, because people had responded well to the first one. But once I started actively looking for instrumental ideas, I ended up with so much new stuff that it became its own thing.
Do you tend to write tunes on the instrument that you ultimately use to record them?
A song often ends up being attached to the instrument, unless it’s an acoustic six-string, because I have several and they are interchangeable from a compositional point of view. But it makes a big difference if a song is written on an electric guitar, the 12-string acoustic, or something as unique as the dulcimer or the charango, because then the instrument’s characteristics become part of the song.
For instance, “Seven Daggers” starts with a layer of charango providing a rhythmic ostinato that runs through the entire piece. It’s kind of the South American equivalent of a mandolin, but instead of eight strings in four unison pairs, it’s got 10 that are tuned in a peculiar way, with the lowest-pitched string in the middle. The charango was the first instrument I had Linda Manzer make for me back in the ’80s. I’d gotten to know her from a distance when she was apprenticing for John Larrivée in the ’70s, which was when I got my first handmade guitar. Subsequently, she made me a couple of electrics and a couple of acoustics.
I layered a Manzer 12-string part on “Seven Daggers.” “Bells of Gethsemane” started out with a track of Tibetan singing bowls, and then the jangly parts were layered, including a track I played on a baritone guitar made for me by Tony Karol. All of the other songs on Crowing Ignites were written from practicing and exploring on an acoustic six-string.
Was there a particular workhorse for the recording?
Actually, I recorded all of the six-string parts using a little guitar from Boucher, which is a small company in Quebec. When I was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in the fall of 2017 at an event in Toronto, a guy from Boucher gave a guitar to each of the guitar players, including Neil Young, Michel Rivard from Beau Dommage and myself. I didn’t expect much of it, because promotional giveaway items aren’t usually the best, but this Boucher guitar turned out to be fantastic.
I had a Martin 00-18 a long time ago, and this guitar reminds me of that one. It’s proportioned in a way that my aging, arthritic hands can get around the neck a little more easily. I’m having so much fun playing it. [Boucher says Cockburn received a custom shop version of its SG-161-U, featuring unique inlays and special appointments. The guitar is based on an OM Hybrid from Boucher’s Studio Goose series and personalized with the company’s Ultimate Pack, which includes a master grade Adirondack red spruce top and AAAAA-grade Canadian flamed maple back and sides.]
How did you develop the opening track, “Bardo Rush”?
I started out fooling around on my 12-string, which I normally keep tuned to double-drop D, but a whole step lower, so I guess that’s double-drop C. But when I tried it on the six-string, I felt it had a better vibe and more fluidity, so “Bardo Rush” ultimately wound up on the Boucher tuned to double-drop D. The main melody section is made up of double-stops. It’s a harmonized riff that starts off in the fifth position and moves down from there. Underneath all the melodic stuff, I’m hitting quarter notes with my thumb on the sixth string in a Big Bill Broonzy or Mance Lipscomb kind of way, to keep a low drone going.
It’s interesting how you anchor your plucking hand with your pinkie underneath the soundhole while you hit bass notes with your thumb and the middle strings with your middle fingers.
It’s terrible technique from a classical perspective to have your pinkie anchored like that. But to be able to dig in to the groove the way I want to, I need that anchor. It helps me keep the thumb rhythm intact.
What’s the story behind “April in Memphis”?
On Martin Luther King Day of this year, I was at home and exploring on the guitar, and I simply tuned the second string down from B to A while leaving the rest in standard. A large part of using alternate tunings is to get open strings ringing out and notes running against each other that you don’t have access to in standard tuning. In this case, with an A on the second string, I found that if I played an E minor–style chord, I got this interesting effect of the 4th coming up all the time, especially when using a rolling, arpeggiated picking pattern.
Once again, I use double-stops to play the melody. Different picking approaches deliver different emotional effects, and this piece came out a bit wistful and mournful, in a way that seemed to reflect the poignancy of how Martin Luther King’s life ended so unfortunately, with his assassination, during the month of April, in Memphis.
“Sweetness and Light” has the opposite feeling. It’s simply beautiful.
Yeah, and that came from fooling around with using opposing motion in DADGAD. I’ve got fingers on the first and third strings, two frets apart. It makes something that resembles a chord. When you move it over a string, you’ve got another thing like that. But then I thought, What happens if I reverse them?
I had the first finger on the third string and the fourth finger on the first string, and then I switched them. So that top moves down a whole tone while the bottom note moves up a whole tone. And then I move it over a string and I do the same thing. The melody builds from that series of moves. It happened really fast, and I didn’t have to give any thought at all to the title. The song popped out and wanted to be called “Sweetness and Light” right away.
“Blind Willie” is a fun bluesy number named after Blind Willie Johnson. Care to share some insights?
It’s in the same tuning as “April in Memphis,” with only the second string dropped a whole step from standard. The tune is in the key of A minor. The idea was to arrange something like a gospel tune in structure, which would have the equivalent of a repeating chorus with all sorts of melodic improvisation in between. Once again, I’m thumping quarter notes in the bass. Other than the main riff, the tune was essentially improvised with Colin Linden playing slide on my Dobro.
He’s produced many of your albums and plays lots of different instruments. What do you do on tour when you don’t have him on hand to act as your Swiss army knife?
Good question. The solo pieces obviously are not much of a problem. The only problem they present is how to put them into a band show like I’m doing right now without losing the momentum. I can pull off a piece like “Blind Willie” on my own, but it is better to play it along with someone else. The fall tour starting in September when Crowing Ignites comes out will be a duo with my nephew John Aaron Cockburn, who plays guitar and accordion.
What’s your amplification strategy?
I play Manzer acoustics equipped with Fishman electronics. It’s one of their older systems that incorporates an internal mic as well as an onboard pickup. I had those signals split into two output jacks. I run an XLR from the microphone straight to the house. The pickup signal runs through a few effects including a Moog tremolo, TC Electronic chorus and reverb pedals, and a couple of Boss echo units that feed into a passive stereo D.I. That stereo signal blends with the microphone signal to give the full sound to the P.A. system. I use in-ear monitors so I don’t have to worry about feedback.
Are you in full instrumental mode?
I’ve got this instrumental album coming out, so it will be the focus, but it’s not like the whole show is going to be instrumental. People want to hear songs they’ve heard before, and I want to sing them, so the material will be a mix of new and old.
~from GuitarPlayer.com - Jimmy Leslie
Editor note: This interview most likely took place summer of 2019
17 October 2019 - The way food is grown and distributed today means exploitation, displacement and hunger for nearly 1 billion family farmers.
Longtime SeedChange (formerly USC Canada) champion, Bruce Cockburn wants that to change. Listen to his message below and let’s remember who grows our food. Let’s work toward justice for small-scale farmers.
Besides being a legendary Canadian musician, Bruce Cockburn has been a donor and champion of our work for nearly 50 years. He became the voice of our public service announcements when SeedChange founder, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova, retired. He also travelled to our programs in Nepal and Mali, witnessing first-hand the impact of donors’ support.
~from https://weseedchange.org/ (was USC Canada)
16 October 2019 - Canadian singer-songwriter and instrumentalist Bruce Cockburn has given us a lifetime of deep songs and engaging performances. His newest effort is an all-instrumental album called Crowing Ignites. The odd phrase is a literal translation of the Latin expression that is on the Cockburn family coat of arms.
Click through for an audio interview : WFUV.org
That anchor in tradition and Cockburn's identity drives the new music, which he says invites participation. As a songwriter who skips the words on this go-around, the listener is challenged to use their imagination to fill in the blanks.
In Studio A, Cockburn performed the flamenco-tinged "Angels In The Half Light," and he also sang "States I'm In," from the 2017 release, Bone On Bone.
(click through for the videos of the instudio performance)
As he also told me in our conversation, life and his music is a journey that finds it's own path. Fifty years after his debut album, Cockburn recalls his own 50th birthday, and how life magically got easier and more rewarding because so much of the heavy lifting was already done.
Recorded: 7/18/19; Engineer: Sam Lazarev; Producer: Sarah Wardrop; Photo: Nora Doyle/WFUV
~ from WFUV.org
11 October 2019 - Musician Bruce Cockburn has been a singer and songwriter of poetic lyrics and bon mots for more than five decades.
Click through for video interview
There are times when being a part of history, albeit a tumultuously famous (some might even say infamous) one, becomes a badge of honour, the tipping point from which many other seismic life events are launched. Toronto’s Yorkville scene in the mid-to-late 1960s and early 1970s was such a place. Although today’s well-heeled visitors to the area might not be able to fathom it, Yorkville in those earlier days was comparable, on a smaller scale, to New York’s bumping Greenwich Village. The hub of a creative, nonconformist, bohemian, longhaired subculture, Yorkville’s hippie scene was entrenched in a tie-dye plethora of folk, rock and jazz music, suede and leather-fringed jackets, a surfeit of free love and, oh yes, a lot of marijuana smoking, which five decades later would become legal — a fact that no one would have imagined at the time.
One of Yorkville’s greatest contributions to music aficionados was the exceptional quality of musicians who got their start in the 40-plus coffee houses and bars that dotted the streets of the Yorkville scene, which encompassed Hazelton Avenue, Cumberland Street, Avenue Road and Bay Street. The famed Penny Farthing coffee house attracted big-name talent such as James Taylor, and Simon & Garfunkel. And the renowned Riverboat Coffee House, where stars such as Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young played, is also where Ottawa native Bruce Cockburn — folk singer, songwriter, author and multiple Juno awardee — often played. On the big stage, the singer shared a concert bill with a who’s-who of musical proficiency, including The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream. With his ever-present round-rimmed spectacles, and his long, dark hair curling out from underneath a fedora trimmed with leather strips, Cockburn’s gentle, commanding voice and poetic lyrics captivated audiences. They knew all the words to his wildly popular, songs-for-the-decades hits, such as “Wondering Where the Lions Are” (1979), “Rumours of Glory” (1980), “The Trouble with Normal” (1983), “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (1984), “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” (1984) and “Call It Democracy” (1986), to name just a few.
A man whose words shone like beacons in his lyrics, Cockburn’s ability to interact with others throughout his younger years was one that was fraught with angst and rage. “I was wrapped up in myself — not in a narcissistic way, but in terms of mistrust of the world. I was not open to other people,” Cockburn says. “A lot of my adult life has been a big learning curve in terms of empathizing and loving people. In the process of navigating through life, I have learned things — sometimes quickly, and sometimes as an uneven trickle. Every time there has been a discovery, there has likely been a song. We all have a lot in common throughout our lives, including scars. None of us gets out of our childhood/youth without some damage. The scars unite us; if we find those scars in a person and are open to the energy they offer from that place, then it is a binding agent. We are all in this together.”
After spending some time in Paris performing as a street musician, Cockburn attended Boston’s esteemed Berklee College of Music, where he spent a few semesters before quitting. “I was learning things at Berklee, but I had this strong feeling, a prompting that I needed to be elsewhere, do something else, which I’m still doing. Whatever predisposed me to listen to those promptings, it all worked out pretty well.”
Ironically, many decades later, Cockburn was awarded an honorary doctorate of music from Berklee. (One of many he has been awarded.) “I didn’t have to do the work and I got my degree,” he laughs. Cockburn’s awards are many: he is an inductee into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (2001); recipient of the Allan Slaight Humanitarian Spirit Award (2014); an inductee into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (2017); and the 2017 recipient of the Folk Alliance International People’s Voice Award. All of these awards are certainly balms that boosted the confidence of Cockburn, who, throughout his 20s and 30s, felt like a stranger in a strange land. “It certainly softens the effect of feeling like a loner,” he says. “But the feeling of affection and embrace that comes from the audience is really what fills me.”
For an extensive part of his career, Cockburn was known as much for his sense of rage as he was for his mastery of music. He credits acquiring a sense of perspective on that rage as a part of growing up. “A lot of what I have written comes from that place [of rage],” he says. “When I wrote ‘If I Had a Rocket Launcher,’ I didn’t feel like I was venting. I know the song was the cause of head scratching for some people, but for me it was an expression of pain and outrage at what I felt — what I empathized with — which was the plight of the Guatemalan refugees. I was trying to paint an emotional picture of what I felt — it came from a deep place. How it was perceived by people who weren’t familiar with the situation was really an expression of their rage. The radio success of that song was a big surprise to me.”
“Every Time I Hear That Music I Am Transported To Some Windswept Headland, Sipping Whisky Out Of A Seashell”
Like many of his activist peers in the ’70s and ’80s, Cockburn used his music as a commentary on political events that were concerning to him. He does not consider himself an activist per se (he considers himself more in the domain of reactivism than activism), but his political voice and opinions have definitely resonated in an impactful way on a wide range of issues over the years, including native rights — particularly the Haida peoples’ struggles around land claims in British Columbia — as well as human rights atrocities in third-world countries, third-world debt and the ecological decline of the environment. His politicking has taken him to Guatemala, Mali, Mozambique, Cambodia, Vietnam and Nepal, to name a few. And while some of his politically active counterparts, such as Buffy Sainte-Marie, felt that their careers were impacted by their activism (Sainte-Marie discovered that the FBI had a file on her in the 1980s), Cockburn feels his outspokenness did not affect him. “I was inducted into the Order of Canada (1983), and then promoted to Officer of the Order of Canada (2003), so I don’t think that suggests any kind of repression,” he says. “I have allowed my mouthing off to be used for people who are truly activists, and I feel good about being allowed to be used that way, if the cause is good.”
The most active cause Cockburn is currently involved in is the raising of his daughter, Iona, who is seven. “I have limited time to be in her life and I want to make the most of it,” the singer says. Cockburn, 74, married his current wife, Mary Josephine (M.J.), an attorney, in 2014. “A lot of the kids think I am Iona’s grandfather,” Cockburn says, with not a twinge of awkwardness in his voice. A proud father, Cockburn describes Iona, who is bilingual, as sharp, independent and a constant source of amazing stuff. “She learns songs really fast and knows all of the lyrics to my songs; her favourite is ‘Call It Democracy,’ although I am not sure why.”
Jenny, now 43, is Cockburn’s daughter with his first wife, Kitty Macaulay. “When I was a parent in my 30s, I don’t think I was good at it. I was self-involved and focused on my art. But it all came out OK. Jenny has her PhD and teaches at a college in Montreal.”
Crowing Ignites, which is to be released in September, is Cockburn’s newest album. It was produced by Cockburn’s long-time friend and collaborator, guitarist and songwriter Colin Linden, whom the singer has known since he was 14. A fully instrumental album, Crowing Ignites (a literal translation of the Latin motto Accendit Cantu) embraces Cockburn’s Scottish heritage, one with which he feels a deep kinship. “As a Scottish Canadian, I feel like I am part of a continuous line, one that runs through from earlier times, and will hopefully continue. Somewhere, I am a little bead on that chain,” Cockburn says.
This newest album of Cockburn’s embodies a journey of musical experiences, including Tibetan cymbals, chimes and singing bowls — and, of course, the classical bagpipe music of Scotland, featuring a style of bagpipe musical effects called pibroch. “Every time I hear that music I am transported to some windswept headland, sipping whisky out of a seashell,” Cockburn says with a smile. “The effect is hypnotic and meditative — I get a rush when I hear it.”
Cockburn’s philosophy on life centres on taking what understandings and glimpses of life he experiences and sharing them through his songs. “I am the person I am because of all the stuff that I have been exposed to, which has resulted from the choices I have made, and the choices that I have been handed. I have always tried to be available to the next thing,” he says.
The anger and sense of rage that have been a lifelong and intrinsic part of Cockburn’s personality — the undercurrent that drove many of his lyrics, as well as his outspoken championship of many causes — seem to have been pinpricked, dissipating the pent-up helium of wrath. In its stead, there is an increased aura of thoughtful insight, a wry sense of humour and a relaxed sense of openness. In fact, I noticed in Cockburn a significant change from the 2016 interview I did with him (albeit over the phone). He feels warmer, more loquacious and willing to share an easy laugh.
“Behind the pain-fear etched on the faces, something is shining, like gold but better.” Certainly, these celebrated lyrics to “Rumours of Glory,” which Cockburn penned and sang with such elegance in 1980, seem to have come full circle, becoming a prescient way of life for the singer — whom author Nicholas Jennings called “a troubadour for the common man.” But says Cockburn with a laugh: “I really don’t know what that means.”www.brucecockburn.com
~ Dolce Magazine - Bruce Cockburn. Photos Carlos A. Pinto.
2 October 2019 - Bruce Cockburn’s 34th studio album, Crowing Ignites, was released on Friday, Sept. 20 on True North Records. The instrumental album contains 11 original songs and was produced, recorded and mixed by Bruce’s long-time confidant, Colin Linden. The album was recorded in a former fire hall located just a few blocks from Bruce’s home in San Francisco.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Bruce about his latest album, the upcoming North American tour, and what comes next for a guitar legend.
Ted: The liner notes explain that the title, Crowing Ignites, was translated from Accendit Cantu, a Latin phrase that appears on the Cockburn family crest. I’m curious to know whether you’ve always been aware of this part of your family history or was this a more recent discovery?
Bruce: Not exactly recent, but it doesn’t go all the way back either. I’ve always been aware of, and always felt kind of connected to, my Scottish ancestry, but I had not ever particularly researched the family history. My Dad did that in the ’70s and ’80s … but I think it was actually my brother who came up with the family coat of arms with that motto on it. It was initially translated as music excites, which I thought was very exciting, and so does he, because what more appropriate (laughs) family motto could I have? But later on I came across other versions of it that weren’t – it was clear that none of these were actually translations. So I actually just went back and translated the Latin, and it came up “crowing ignites,” which I thought had a much better ring to it than the other versions in English. [It’s] just a strong poetic phrase. As far as the ancestry side goes, my Dad actually put it together in a kind of self-published book. He’s the one that did that work; not me. But the connection to Scotland has always been there and remains. It was in the ’90s when we discovered that motto, but the translation was only this year … I was looking at that Latin phrase and thinking … “It doesn’t say ‘music excites,’ and it doesn’t say ‘he arouses by crowing,’ and it doesn’t say a couple other things that people claimed it said. So I got excited and went after it and translated it. And then when I discovered what it really said, I got much more excited … Then my wife said, “You gotta use that for your album title.” So I did.
Ted: Was the concept for Crowing Ignites being an instrumental album in place before the selection of the album title?
Bruce: Oh yeah. It’s not a concept album other than the fact that it’s all instrumental, and that was the intention to do that. Instrumental music, for me at least, isn’t really about anything in particular. It’s about itself … It exists, and it has the capacity to touch you in whatever way it does, and that’s it. … Pieces get titles because you have to call them something, and sometimes you get lucky and think of a title that really fits the piece. Sometimes the titles are obvious right away, and other times you have to struggle with it for a while. But in terms of the album as a whole, the plan was to initially to make a Speechless Two. We were going to collect the various previously released instrumental pieces that weren’t on Speechless and then add some new pieces to that and basically do the same thing we’d previously done ’cause there seemed to be some interest on people’s part on having that, and it appealed to me. But then I started writing pieces, and they just kept coming. So it became Crowing Ignites instead of Speechless Two.
Ted: You recorded the album in a former fire hall in San Francisco. Did you encounter any challenges converting the space into a functioning recording studio? From the photos that I’ve seen online, it looked like there were several hard surfaces you may have had to contend with.
Bruce: No, actually, far from it. It was the easiest thing. Kind of the most hassle-free recording I think I’ve ever done. … The room sounds great as it is. It’s true when you look at pictures you see a cement wall, but the cement wall is very heavily textured so it doesn’t reflect the sound … at all. And there’s a lot of wood in the room, so it really sounded nice. I had heard music in there before, and so I knew that it sounded like it did, and it just seemed like the combination of that and its proximity to where I live and my daughter’s school and so on it made it very convenient. My friend, who owned the place, was very happy to let us use it. Colin … went out and rounded up the gear and brought it in and set it up. It didn’t take much. It came in suitcases and it set up on a table, and there it was. I brought in all my stuff that you can see in the pictures: chimes and Tibetan singing bowls and all sorts of things with strings on them, and then we just – we spent a great week making a record.
Ted: While it sounds like the studio came together quite well, did any particular song present any unique challenges? I understand that “Seven Daggers” and “Bells Of Gethsemane” were constructed in the studio, and you used a vast assortment of unique instruments on each song. Did you have any difficulty putting them together, micing and recording them?
Bruce: Well, … not beyond what you’d expect. Let’s put it that way. I mean, everything’s a challenge. You’ve got to get it right, but there [were] no real difficulties at all. The most complicated one is “Seven Daggers.” We constructed that one and “Bells of Gethsemane,” as you pointed out … in the studio. All the other pieces, I knew what I was going to do when I went into the studio. But with those pieces, all I knew was that I had an idea for certain kinds of layering that I wanted to do. In the case of “Seven Daggers,” I wanted to use little kalimba things that I have, and the charango. … The charango can be tuned so it will play in A minor with the kalimbas. So we created loops out of those and made a layer out of that and then just started adding things to it. [Then] Colin put on the baritone guitar part, and I played the 12-string over top. That was the most elaborate of the constructions. “Bells of Gethsemane,” I just put down a layer of singing bowls and then another layer of singing bowls and then a layer of chimes and some other stuff and just played over top, playing the baritone myself on that one. So I wouldn’t call them challenging. There’s a process, but the only real challenging part, which is always there, is to get past the conditions of the day … How tired are you? Or how imaginative do you feel at this moment? … Those kinds of things. But that’s always there.
Ted: I recognized a few of the musicians that perform on Crowing Ignites. However, one name that I didn’t recognize was Bo Carper’s. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about him.
Bruce: Bo Carper is a guitar player that I’m acquainted with here in San Francisco – a very good guitar player actually. We met at a social gathering, and we ended up jamming together, so that’s how I found out what kind of guitar player he is. Because I don’t really know many people in the music scene here, I [contacted] him and asked him if he knew any percussionists, because I was interested in having somebody play percussion on some of the pieces. He gave me a couple of names. … One I didn’t get a hold of, and the other one … was already booked for the time period that we needed him for. So that didn’t pan out … I let Bo know that, and he said, “Well you know I’m a really great shaker player.” I had never heard anyone say that about themselves before, so I immediately perked up. And so he came in and played shaker. I thought this will be fun to try, or whatever. It’s not what I was exactly looking for, but it might work really well. And I think it does, and I think he did a fantastic job. A couple of the pieces we played live together, and then a couple of them he did as overdubs. Colin was involved in every aspect of the album, and he plays on the aforementioned “Seven Daggers” and also on “Blind Willie,” putting a great slide guitar part on that. And then Janice Powers, Colin’s wife, plays keyboards, as she’s done a lot of times before for me on other albums. She’s really great at coming up with these atmospheric keyboard kind of landscapy parts that I think contributed greatly to the overall effect of things.
Ted: Another person listed on one of the tracks is your daughter, Iona. What was it like including her in the recording of the album?
Bruce: It was fun. She got to clap along, and she was excited to be able to go in studio and clap her hands. I don’t know if it’ll mean too much to her in the long run, but it was fun at the time.
Ted: Let’s talk about a few of the songs from Crowing Ignites. The press release states that “Bardo Rush” came after a dream. Would you like to discuss the contents of the dream that inspired this particular song?
Bruce: The title was inspired by a dream. The piece is a piece. The piece wasn’t inspired by anything except I’m playing the guitar, I think … “This could be a piece [and it] sounds like a good idea.” All the pieces really are independent from other influences in that way. Sometimes I feel a connection … I’ll just sidestep here for a moment. A piece like “April In Memphis” was written on Martin Luther King day this year. “Easter” was written on Easter Sunday last year, and the fact that those pieces came on days that were sort of special days and had a certain mood that seemed to go with those days suggested that the titles should reflect that. In other cases, it was a matter of finding … a verbal phrase that somehow caught the feeling of the piece or that seemed appropriate to something in some way, some mysterious way. [Returning to] “Bardo Rush,” I do dream work. It’s sort of Jungian based dream analysis, you could say, and the Bardo plane is something that’s referred to in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, quite apart from Jung and everything. Jung used that, and other psychology uses that, as a metaphor in a way. The Bardo plane is where you end up when you die and don’t go to Nirvana, and it’s kind of analogous to being in limbo in Catholic terminology. It’s like kind of waiting, wandering in this dead place, and you can be drawn back into the Buddhist frame of reference, of course. You can be drawn back into other lives, new lives. What you want to do is try to get out of that, if you can, so that you can just not have to go through it all. So for the purpose of the Book of the Dead, it’s recited in the presence of the newly dead, assuming that they’re still hanging around and can hear this, and it’s intended as a kind of a … travel guide in a way to navigate the Bardo. … I liked “rush” because it’s a fast piece, and it seemed to fit … Wandering into Bardo is not necessarily associated with rushing, but because the piece was fast, it made a good phrase … “Angels In The Half Light” – that title did come from a dream. [It was] a specific dream, in which I was being girded for battle, basically by angels. The angels were in battle dress … They weren’t glowing figures with wings, but they were clearly angels, and they were getting me dressed up in some sort of bunker to go out and face some sort of adversary. I don’t remember what I thought was out there … It was a dark and spooky dream, but I had the clear support of this contiguous of angels, which made it feel pretty good. So there’s a case where a title actually was lifted from dream imagery directly.
Ted: The song “The Mt. Lefroy Waltz” was written for the Lawren Harris-inspired guitar that luthier Linda Manzer created as part of The Group of Seven Guitar Project. Did you play that guitar on this recording?
Bruce: No. I played my guitar, but I did play that guitar, Linda’s guitar, at the event that opened that show at the McMichael Gallery. All of the luthiers had somebody come in and play their instrument as part of the event. So I kind of wrote the piece for that event and then played it on her guitar then. But no, in the studio it … was an electric guitar. It was my big fat Gibson electric that I used on that.
Ted: The press release states that “The Mt. Lefroy Waltz” was originally slated to be included on the Bone On Bone album but wasn’t released.
Bruce: It was recorded and mixed then [and] with the band that appears on the rest of that album (Bone On Bone). It was a bit of an anomaly, but it seemed to fit well, and I wanted to put it out because I just loved Ron Miles cornet playing on it. It’s so beautiful, and I regretted having left it off Bone On Bone – not because it weakened Bone On Bone, because I think we did the right thing, but it was just too bad not to have it out there. So to get another chance to let people hear it was a good thing.
Ted: The song “The Groan” was originally composed for a Canadian documentary entitled La Loche. I recently watched the film about the aftermath of the shootings that took place in the northern Saskatchewan community in 2016. What lead you to the producer Les Stroud and this particular project?
Bruce: I had met him before …We were at some awards event together, and he performed in Toronto some years back … He got in touch and asked if I was interested in doing a score, and I was. But that piece, “The Groan,” as you would’ve seen, is not in the movie, but it was the first thing I thought of when we first started talking about it. He had used what he considered to be sort of stock stuff of his TV show that he had put in there as his kind of sample score, so we had a model to work to … It was a little bit bluesy and stuff, and I thought that was a good way to go, and that piece, “The Groan,” just kind of came to mind. But when I played it for Les he wasn’t sure about it in the film, and when I started really putting music together with film it was clear it wasn’t the right kind of thing for the context. But I had this piece … which I liked … The handclaps and the drums and stuff like that – it was just a guitar piece, but I did want Colin to play mandolin, old bluesy mandolin, and I kind of knew that going in. So I kind of had that in mind. But the handclaps and the drum thing were an add on.
Ted: Speaking of instruments, you used several instruments from quite varied origins on Crowing Ignites. As you previously stated, the concept for the album came before the title, but as a listener, I found it intriguing that an album titled after the motto of a Scottish clan would feature instruments from such places as Africa, South America, Nepal, France and the Appalachians.
Bruce: It is a bit weird because it’s everything but bagpipes (laughs). There’s no actual Scottish instruments there anywhere. But this is what I have. I have a room full of this stuff, and I wanted to use it all, or as much of it as made sense. So we just brought it all into the studio and set up. But the singing bowls and Tibetan element … there was [a] concept going in that I wanted to build a piece using those, because I love the sound … I had the same idea with the kalimbas and the charango. But Appalachian dulcimer … I don’t use it in the traditional way exactly. I’m playing it as if it’s a hammer dulcimer, but I don’t know how to play hammer dulcimer. So it just does a drone thing in “Pibroch.” … I’ve been interested in music from everywhere for as long as I can remember really seriously thinking about music … Over the years I’ve acquired these various instruments, and it’s nice to be able to put them to use.
Ted: Bernie Finkelstein (Bruce’s manager) mentioned that you’ve been rehearsing with a new sideman for the upcoming tour. I understand that you’ll be performing with your nephew, multi-instrumentalist John Aaron Cockburn.
Bruce: Yes. He was in the band on the Bone On Bone tour. But doing a duo thing is kind of a new thing for me. I did it once before … I’ve done isolated gigs like that here and there. Colin Linden and I have done a couple things where we played together … But the only other time that we really set it up as a tour that I can recall was Salt, Sun and Time. I toured with Gene Martynec, who plays on that album, and the album is … just guitar. There’s a few other little bits and pieces, but mostly it’s just the guitars playing on the songs, and we toured like that … You know, that’s like 40 years ago. It’s been a while. I’m looking forward to it quite a bit.
Ted: What can fans expect to see at any of the forty-plus dates on the upcoming North American tour?
Bruce: Well, we’re still working out exactly what we’re going to do, but it’s not going to be very different in terms of the content or the song list … from a regular show of mine. There’ll be some old stuff and some new stuff. There’ll certainly be some pieces from Crowing Ignites. But it’s not going to be a night of instrumentals. I think that people would be disappointed if they paid money for a ticket and that’s what they got. Most of the people that pay attention to me would want to hear lyrics, I think. And I do like singing songs. So it’ll be a mixture of things.
Ted: Looking to the future, any plans that fans should be looking forward to following the Crowing Ignites tour?
Bruce: I’ve never been very good at making plans, and I haven’t given it any thought at all other than the fact that this tour is going to run, and then we haven’t booked anything for the first part of next year at all. So I’ll be taking some time off. But what I’ll do in the time off, and any plans for future recording and all that sort of stuff remain unknown. I expect that, unless I’m incapacitated in some way, I’m going to keep on doing what I do … Eventually, there’ll be something else, but right now I’m just thinking about the stuff at hand.
Ted: Once again, congratulations on Crowing Ignites. I’ve listened to it several times while preparing for the interview, and I think it’s beautiful. It truly highlights your passion for the guitar. I wish you all the best on the upcoming tour, and I appreciate your chatting with me today.
Bruce: Well, thank you. I appreciate your interest, and thanks for the kind words. Nice to talk to you.
See Bruce live - Tour Dates
~from Roots Music Canada.
23 September 2019 - One of Canada's finest lyricists has decided to lose the words — at least for the moment.
Bruce Cockburn's new album, Crowing Ignites, is his second foray into instrumental music. Instead of lyrics, Cockburn's deft and soulful guitar playing takes centre stage. He dropped by the q studio to perform songs from the new album, including a duet with our own Tom Power.
Bruce Cockburn wordless on instrumental 'Crowing Ignites'
By Andrew S. Hughes South Bend Tribune
20 September 2019 - Bruce Cockburn’s 34th album, “Crowing Ignites,” comes out Friday, a few days before he performs Tuesday at Goshen College.
His longtime fans may be surprised, however, to learn that it’s his second instrumental album, following 2005’s “Speechless,” because now would seem to be the perfect moment for a Cockburn album with lyrics.
The Canadian guitarist and singer-songwriter, after all, has written some of the most searing, poetic and incisive topical songs of the last five decades.
That includes three of his most popular songs: “Call It Democracy,” about the International Monetary Fund and how it creates insupportable debt in the Third World; “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” about military attacks on Guatemalan refugees; and “If a Tree Falls,” about the destruction of the Amazon.
But Cockburn has chosen, for now, not to use his music to address Donald Trump’s presidency or the general, global rightward shift away from democratic ideals.
“There’s so much blather out there that I’m not sure more words are the point,” he says by phone from San Francisco, where he has lived for the last several years. “What we need to find from a societal point of view is some bonding agent, whether it’s more words or something else. I could get up there and say all the bad things I feel about Donald Trump, but what’s the point?”
Cockburn (pronounced Co-burn) makes it clear, however, that he’s taken that position for himself, not everyone.
“That’s not to say people shouldn’t write great songs about whatever gets their attention,” he says. “It’s just not me right now.”
But he isn’t entirely “speechless” on the subject of current events when asked.
With the Amazon being ravaged by fires this summer, Cockburn acknowledges that “If a Tree Falls” is relevant again 32 years after its release, and that time is running out to protect the environment.
“I feel like we’re getting pretty close to that wall, not Trump’s wall, the real wall,” he says. “I’ve got a young daughter and grandkids. I’ve got a vested interested in this. … I’ll probably be gone when the (excrement) really hits the fan, but my daughter and grandkids will be here. It’s a daunting prospect.”
And Cockburn, who became a Christian in the early 1970s, says evangelical Christians who support Trump are “extremely misguided,” while the people who call the shots in the evangelical community “feed off power.”
“The world doesn’t need a theocracy,” he says. “It didn’t need one before, and it doesn’t now. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put God at the center of our lives; we should, but that’s personal. … I think any one-issue campaign is dangerous, no matter what the issue is, because it ignores a lot of other things.”
Cockburn has ignored little around him in his music career, and because of that, he’s never been easy to categorize.
A finger-picker, he has moved seamlessly through a number of genres, including folk, blues, world music, reggae, jazz, rock and pop.
His lyrics have been just as restless in their subject matter, including — but not limited to — love and romance, pastoral descriptions of nature, war and war zones, the environment, poetry and music, Native people’s rights, refugees, land mines, and general slices of life. Sometimes, he delivers them in French, rather than English.
After Cockburn became a Christian soon after the 1970 release of his eponymous debut album, Christian themes and imagery then became a hallmark of his lyrics — never in a dogmatic, preachy or proselytizing way but as an interrogation of faith and ethics.
As a result, he hasn’t enjoyed much commercial success in the United States — just one single, 1979’s “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” has made it into the Top 40, peaking at No. 21. “Call It Democracy” reached No. 88. That’s it for “hits” here.
But his concerts tend to sell out, because his fan base is devoted.
“I love them,” he says about his audiences. “I don’t have any problem. There’s no artifice. I’m grateful they’re there. I love the interchange of energy.”
Cockburn turned 74 in May, and he says playing guitar has gotten more difficult.
“I’m getting away with it so far,” he says. “But sooner or later, that’s another wall. It’s not here yet, but I have to play a lot. I used to be able to not pick up a guitar for four or five days and be just the same as the last time I held one. It takes hours of playing to get back to where I was if I take time off.”
And yet “Crowing Ignites” shows no diminution of his beguiling skills or his musical curiosity across its 12 songs.
Although primarily an acoustic guitar album, “Crowing Ignites” includes such other instruments as chimes, dulcimer, singing bowls and kalimba.
The music ranges from the jaunty, upbeat “Sweetness and Light” to the traditional Scottish-inflected style of “Pibroch: the Wind in the Valley,” from the electric jazz combo of “The Mt. Lefroy Waltz” with its yearning cornet solo by Ron Miles to the blues of “Blind Willie,” named for and in the style of Blind Willie Johnson, one of Cockburn’s main influences on guitar.
When he decided to make the new album, he thought it would be “Speechless 2” — an album of instrumental versions of previous songs with lyrics and a few new compositions.
Instead, it’s entirely new.
“There was lots left over from ‘Speechless,’ and lots of instrumental stuff had been recorded since ‘Speechless,’” he says. “Then I would write some new stuff, but I wound up with so much new stuff, that it just became its own album.”
For the “Crowing Ignites” tour, Cockburn has his nephew, John Aaron Cockburn, with him on accordion and guitar — he also had played in Cockburn’s band for the 2017-18 “Bone on Bone” tour. Together, they’ll play songs from the new album, as well lyric songs from throughout Cockburn’s career.
“I love the band, but I’m quite happy to be doing this scaled-down thing, because it’s different,” he says. “The relationship with the audience is different.”
The duo arrangement also is different for him.
“I’m not sure how this will feel,” Cockburn says. “But, generally, the less flashy the show is, the more the people get into the music and there’s more focus on the songs. I don’t know if this will be true with the duo, but there’s a feeling of more of one-on-one with the audience in a solo show.”
The album takes its title from the Latin motto on the Cockburn family’s Scottish crest: “Accendit Cantu.”
“I think the person who came up with it probably intended it to mean something like ‘Music excites,’” he says. “This is conjecture, but I think what they meant was the rush of martial blood that bagpipes have on people of Scottish descent. The pipes have a visceral effect on me. People who aren’t horrified by them find them to be quite beautiful.”
Of course, Cockburn says, there may be another, simpler interpretation: “Maybe the guy just liked to dance, swill that whiskey and cavort.”
~from South Bend Tribune
18 September 2019 - TORONTO — If anyone is looking for activist folk singer Bruce Cockburn to deliver a passionate lyrical rebuke for our tumultuous times, they’re not going to find it on his newest album.
The 74-year-old musician has a respected history in the craft of protest songs, but he’s not taking the bait anymore. He doesn’t find inspiration in the anger that’s spewed by the U.S. president, he says, nor does he feel the necessity to acknowledge the latest outrage.
Half a century into his career, the songwriter behind “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” and “If a Tree Falls” might seem a little jaded — but he sees it differently.
“I’m more frustrated than fired up,” he explains while sitting in the lobby of a Toronto hotel.
"I’ve gotten angry so many times over so many things. Really the stuff that would make me angry now is all the same.”
Cockburn acknowledges that might be him showing his age. The energy that once fuelled his inner fire is being redirected, mostly to raising his young daughter. The Ottawa-born musician, who resides in San Francisco with his wife, also walks with a cane due to hip and foot problems.
Cockburn says he doesn’t want to recycle the agita that established him in the Canadian cultural canon. It seems he would rather seek solace from today’s political discord in the strings of his acoustic guitar.
On his 34th album “Crowing Ignites,” due for release on Sept. 20, Cockburn lets the music do the talking. The all-instrumental project is his first since “Speechless,” a wordless collection of mostly covers of his own songs released 15 years ago that firmly established Cockburn as a formidable picker. His latest further entrenches his skills beyond the written word.
But “Crowing Ignites” isn’t an island of work. The collection of 11 original tracks plays like a meditation on our careless existence, though it leaves most of its interpretation up to the listener.
Cockburn offers some direction in the song’s titles: “April in Memphis,” evokes the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and “Blind Willie” is an homage to pre-Depression era American gospel singer Blind Willie Johnson, whose troubled life led to an early death at 48.
“Seven Daggers,” named in reference to Roman Catholic imagery of the Virgin Mary, is a dreamy journey where Cockburn’s guitar lingers among the sounds of kalimbas. And the hypnotic “Bells of Gethsemane,” takes his instrument drifting along a sea of Tibetan cymbals, chimes and singing bowls.
“To me, the nature of instrumental music is that it exists on its own terms,” Cockburn explains.
“It may suggest things to you, or conjure up feelings, but you can’t really control how it does that.”
Yet it’s difficult to separate “Crowing Ignites” from the social fabric it’s built from, which makes Cockburn’s insistence on ambiguity all the more bewildering.
When asked about politics, he offers a clearer sense of what might’ve led him to return to instrumentals. He expresses dismay over how “polarization” and “fragmentation” have split people along political party lines and isolated both sides from each other.
“The whole idea that liberal and conservative have become pejorative — they’re not descriptive terms anymore, they’re labels to refer to people you hate. How can you have dialogue when the language can’t accommodate a different point of view?” Cockburn says.
“Maybe that was in the background somewhere in the choice of doing an instrumental album. It wasn’t conscious. But we have to do our best to promote community and dialogue.”
It’s one of the reasons he hasn’t released a song about Donald Trump, who he believes promotes “chaos.” He refuses to give the U.S. president any more oxygen.
“The world is talking about Donald Trump by his invitation — he doesn’t need any more attention,” he says.
Cockburn hopes for the sake of his eight-year-old daughter the world digs itself out of its troubled state.
“In a way, I feel guilty for having had a kid, not from the point of view of population, but for inflicting the future on that child,” he says.
“I worry about that. But I probably won’t even be here when she’s hitting the worst of that, so it’s kind of hard to think of it in concrete terms.”
David Friend, The Canadian Press - Follow @dfriend on Twitter.
Interview: Bruce Cockburn on “Crowing Ignites,” Meeting Jerry Garcia, and ‘Little Ass’ Bells
AmericanaHighways.org - Melissa Clarke
17 September 2019 - Americana Highways recently spoke with Bruce Cockburn about his new instrumental album, Crowing Ignites, due to be released September 20th. Here is what transpired.
AH: The title of the album is Crowing Ignites. Tell us the story behind this title!
BC: My brother discovered that the Cockburn family motto as part of the coat of arms is “Accendit Cantu” which is a Latin phrase. We were all excited because it was translated for us as “Music Excites” which seemed like a really fortuituous circumstance, especially for somebody like me. But awhile later I was looking up information on the family and it was translated differenty; it was translated as “He Arouses Us By Crowing” and there were some other variations, so finally I looked it up myself, and translated it myself and it came out “Crowing Ignites”! And it was such a punchy phrase it was exciting. My wife suggested I use it for my album title and I thought “yes I should”!
AH: This album is instrumental, as was your earlier album Speechless. In the absence of spoken human language, what does music, on its own, convey?
BC: It’s unusual for music without a lyrical content attached to it to convey a specific idea. But it certainly carries feelings. And it contains the capacity, depending on how the listener approaches it, to transport the listener to a place of their choosing. If I listen to mournful sounding Baroque pieces, for instance, I get a tremendously wistful peacefulness from that music. And there’s music that gets you all fired up and other music that makes you uncomfortable and so on. So it has that capacity as well.
In making music, basically what you hope for is that a listener will get out of it what you put into it, but there are of course no guarantees there. Fundamentally everyone experiences any kind of art through their own filter, and they are going to bring their own understanding of how it fits into their lives to the picture.
You can steer them by your title. But even there, does “Sweetness and Light” mean the same thing to me as it does to everybody out there? Probably not. So you’re always at the mercy of that subjectivity. But that’s both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand you can be specific about what you want to say but on the other hand there is still a universality to the absence of words because nobody has to get stuck on language, which can be another source of various interpretation. And then half the time people don’t understand the words anyway either.
AH: The song “Seven Daggers” has these wonderful layers, and different world instruments. I wasn’t even sure what one of the was when I saw the instrument list. How did you come to choose them?
BC: It was constructed in the studio. As is the pattern for me, I generally don’t go into the studio to make an album until I know what’s going to be on the album. For this album this was the case, but there were two songs, and this was one of them, that existed in my mind as a concept and had to be developed in the studio, because it was all about the layers.
I had this charango. A charango is a stringed instrument that is a little bit like a mandolin but is native to the Andes region of South America. You’ll hear Bolivian street bands in Europe playing it. I came across this in Chile in the early ‘80s, and I had one and I got another one, and now I have a solid body electric charango which I got in the late 80s that was made by Linda Manzer whose guitars I also play a lot. It’s traditionally tuned to an open A minor 7 chord. And so I thought I also have this sansula, which is kind of like an African thumb piano, and this is a particularly nice version of that with a skin head and it plays so nicely. And its tuned to A minor.
So I had these two instruments that are built to play in A minor, and I thought I can make a pattern here, there’s a piece here. So that’s how it started. And there’s another African instrument in there too, the kalimba.
AH: What about the “little ass bells” you credit in the liner notes? How little are they?
BC: They are quite small! (laughs) Those are a variation of the Indian cowbells you see around in yuppie gift stores sometimes. There was a store in Vermont where I spent a lot of time. This particular store had an incredible array of these bells. The buyer for the store had gone out of her way to get really nice sounding ones, they weren’t clunky at all. These are not tuned in a Western way but they have a really pretty sound to them. So I bought all of them! One of each of the different pitches. Some of them were actually quite large, they were practically a foot long and a few inches around and others that were tiny. I bought a whole selection. And I strung the tiny ones on a metal rod, and you can shake them that way, and that’s what you hear on the record. There are ten of them strung on this thing and they work in a way like sleigh bells, except they don’t sound anything like sleigh bells. They are much prettier.
AH: About the song “Pibroch: the Wind in the Valley,” you say in the liner notes that the bagpipes there remind you of sipping whiskey from a scallop shell, which is really just poetic and an intriguing statement.
BC: Pibroch is the name for the classical bagpipe music of Scotland. It’s a very hypnotic ancient sounding music, you know Scottish bagpipes aren’t capable of playing very much of a melody. They can, but everything is in that 5 note scale and it’s limited. But the Pibroch music uses that limitation to create a hypnotic landscape where the pieces might last 20 minutes or more and there are these tiny variations and by end of the piece it’ll be quite complicated and ornamented but at the beginning it starts out this simple motif. So I was describing that sensation of being on some ancient Scottish coastline which is what I was experiencing for this song.
AH: You have a mix of religious themes in the album also, you have Tibetan Buddhism in some place, with “Bardo Rush” which is the lead track.
BC: The Bardo is from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which I read back in the 60s. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is designed to be read to the newly deceased so that their spirit will go where it needs to go and not be caught up in various demonic distractions. And the Bardo is the plane in which that spirit is wandering. This song is a reference to that. I think there’s a lot about Buddhist teachings that are very valuable but I don’t think of myself as a Buddhist. But that wanted to be the title of that piece.
AH: It’s very lively, it’s like a dance, which turns the Bardo into an uplifting idea.
BC: Yes, I think the low rumbling keyboard gives it a sinister quality but yes, it is a pretty peppy little piece. You could think of is as the Bardo meets the Day of the Dead. (laughs)
AH: You also have Judeo-Christian themes. We already mentioned “Seven Daggers,” which was named for a near a chapel.
BC: It’s named for a little chapel that’s in a convent next door to my daughter’s school.
AH: And then you have “Easter,” and “Bells of Gethsemane.” What inspired “Easter”?
BC: It’s called “Easter” because I wrote it on Easter. The slow part was written on Easter. That tempo seems to me to be in keeping with the idea of resurrection. When I’m writing these pieces I have a feeling in mind, and I think very mechanically about the music, about what note is going to be nice after that note that was just played. The concepts kind of come in after the fact. But because this song was written on that day, it just wanted to be called that.
It goes from a kind of a mournful little waltz into a more uptempo happier thing, and that seemed appropriate.
AH: You’ve been playing since the early 1970s. You weren’t really involved with the Haight-Asbury San Francisco scene, but then Jerry Garcia covered your song “Waiting for a Miracle.” And not just a little – that song is very widely associated with him, he played it a lot. Did you meet him?
BC: I did meet him, after he recorded the song. I was in New York doing PR for something and the Dead were about to start several shows at Madison Square Garden. And I got taken to meet Jerry. And he was doing what was described as meditating onstage. He had a tent set up onstage behind the backline of the amps and stuff. I had to wait until he came out of his tent. (laughs)
He did, in due course. And he was very friendly, we didn’t talk very long because he was getting ready to play. And apparently he was very nervous, he would get very nervous before those big gigs. He was trying to calm himself down so it was a short encounter. But he said “oh man, beautiful song, I hope I didn’t screw the lyrics up too much.” I said “actually I was going to wait until the second time I met you before I brought that up.”
When I first heard his version of the song I was kind of dismayed at that but then I realized he did that with everybody and that I was in good company. (laughs) I’m glad he did it.
In New York a couple weeks ago we did a thing for Relix magazine, it was in their office, and there were several young people in the office working on computers, nobody was paying much attention. But I sang that song because it seemed appropriate to the occasion. And all of a sudden they all stopped and they were all listening! And the guy who was recording said to my tour manager: “Why’s he doing a cover?” (laughs). None of them knew!
It’s an honor that the song found a favorite place with him. But that was so ironic!
AH: Your music does get very improvisational in style and a lot of fans of jambands like your music too. On this album, “The Mt Lefroy Waltz” is an example. Are you improvising? Or are those paths you’ve already worn.
BC: My influence and background is a 50/50 mix between the kind of folk music which is now Americana, and jazz. I’ve never considered myself a jazz player, I don’t think I have the chops or the knowledge to be an effective jazz player per se. But improvisation has always been a part of what I like to do.
“The Mt Lefroy Waltz” has a composed part, of course that’s the part where you hear the guitar and the trumpet playing together the same melody. That was written. But once the melody was stated, there is some improvising and then it returns to the melody again. A lot of the songs are like that, “Bardo Rush” is like that. It’s something that I can do better in an instrumental context than with a song. When there’s a song with lyrics, the lyrics want to be obeyed. They demand their rightful place in the song.
To return to a comparison with the Grateful Dead again, my approach is a little more rigid than I think they were. When there’s a song there’s a structure that must be obeyed, and sometimes that stucture allows for some improvising but in the instrumental pieces there is a lot more freedom.
AH: The songs sometimes have a tone of darkness or foreboding. What is your sense of the direction society is moving in? Because when you did “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” there was a specific message. Are there political messages to your songs on this album?
BC: Well that song in particular had a very specific trigger. Had I not been in the Guatamalan refugee camps in Mexico that inspired that song, I would have never written it. It wasn’t written as social commentary. It was written as a shocked emotional response to a situation. And most of my stuff is like that. “If a Tree Falls” was more commentary and a lament for the state of things.
I look around and I see a lot of beauty in the world but there’s also a precariousness to it that’s very worrisome. And I think of my young daughter, and my grandkids – my older daughter’s kids, and I think what a f—ed up world we are handing them.
And the world has never been a safe place, we know that. History is full of terrible events and terrible effects on people of those events. But that doesn’t change the desire to have it work better than it does, or to not have it get worse than it is. And so, a lot of the songs are coming from that place of concern.
AH: Are you a cyclist?
BC: I did a lot, yes, but I am not doing it so much anymore. Getting older is better than being dead I think (laughs) but it has its price.
AH: Are you reading a good book at the moment?
BC: I am reading a book my friend Greg King sent me called Hitler’s Priestess. I have not delved into this subject matter before but it’s basically the biography of a woman who was born of Greek-French-Indian parents, and she became kind of a spiritual figure for the Neo Nazi movement in the United States. She was a big Hitler fan in the 30s and moved to India and was all tied up with the Aryan mythology that she felt that Hinduism had preserved whereas she thought that it had been lost in Europe. There is a thread that runs into the modern Neo Nazi movement.
AH: What’s on the horizon for you?
BC: With the imminent release of Crowing Ignites there are a lot of tour dates. My nephew John Aaron Cockburn is coming with me, it’s a duo. He plays accordion and guitar. We’ll be rehearsing and then going on tour. I’m starting to feel an itch to write more songs too.
The album, Cockburn’s 34th, comes out on September 20th. Find more about it, here: http://brucecockburn.com
FEATURED:Bruce Cockburn's 34th album
12 June 2019 - Release date: September 20, 2019
Listen to / share “Blind Willie” from Crowing Ignites and pre-order here.
In 2005, Bruce Cockburn released Speechless, a collection of instrumental tracks that shone the spotlight on the singer-songwriter’s exceptional acoustic guitar playing. The album earned Cockburn a Canadian Folk Music Award for Best Instrumentalist and underscored his stature as one of the world’s premier pickers.
Already, The New York Times had credited Cockburn with having “the hardest-working right thumb in show business,” adding that he “materializes chords and modal filigrees while his thumb provides the music’s pulse and its foundation—at once a deep Celtic drone and the throb of a vigilant conscience.” Acoustic Guitar magazine was similarly laudatory in citing Cockburn’s guitar prowess, placing him in the prestigious company of legends like Andrés Segovia. Bill Frisell, Django Reinhardt and Mississippi John Hurt.
Now, with the intriguingly titled Crowing Ignites, Cockburn has released another dazzling instrumental album that will further cement his reputation as both an exceptional composer and a picker with few peers. Unlike Speechless, which included mostly previously recorded tracks, the latest album—Cockburn’s 34th—features 11 brand new compositions. Although there’s not a single word spoken or sung, it’s as eloquent and expressive as any of the Canadian Hall of Famer’s lyric-laden albums. As his long-time producer, Colin Linden, puts it: “It’s amazing how much Bruce can say without saying anything.”
The album’s title is a literal translation of the Latin motto “Accendit Cantu” featured on the Cockburn family crest. Although a little puzzling, Cockburn liked the feeling it conveyed: “Energetic, blunt, Scottish as can be.” The album’s other nod to Cockburn’s Scottish heritage is heard on “Pibroch: The Wind in the Valley,” in which his guitar’s droning bass strings and melodic grace notes sound eerily like a Highland bagpipe. “I’ve always loved pibroch, or classic bagpipe music,” says Cockburn. “It seems to be in my blood. Makes me want to sip whisky out of a sea shell on some rocky headland!”
While Cockburn reconnecting with his Gaelic roots is one of Crowing Ignites’ more surprising elements, there’s plenty else that will delight followers of his adventurous pursuits. Says Linden, who’s been a fan of Cockburn’s for 49 years, has produced 10 of his albums and played on the two before that: “Bruce is always trying new things, and I continue to be fascinated by where he goes musically.”
The album is rich in styles from folk and blues to jazz, all genres Cockburn has previously explored. But there are also deepening excursions into what might be called free-form world music. The hypnotic, kalimba-laden “Seven Daggers” and the trance-inducing “Bells of Gethsemane,” full of Tibetan cymbals, chimes and singing bowls, are highly atmospheric dreamscapes that showcase Cockburn’s world of wonders—and his improvisational gifts on both 12-string and baritone guitars. Each track was wholly created in the makeshift studio he and Linden put together in a converted fire station in Cockburn’s San Francisco neighbourhood.
Singing bowls, Cockburn explains, are an endless source of fascination to him, dating back to a trip he took to Kathmandu, as seen in the documentary Return to Nepal. There, Cockburn stumbled on a man selling the small inverted bells sometimes used in Buddhist religious practices and became instantly captivated by their vibrational power. “I had no particular attraction to them as meditation tools or anything,” says Cockburn. “I just thought they had a beautiful sound.” After buying half a dozen in Kathmandu and more since, he now has a sizeable collection.
Two tracks on Crowing Ignites had their origins elsewhere. “The Groan,” a bluesy piece with guitar, mandolin and some collective handclapping from a group that includes Cockburn’s seven-year-old daughter, Iona, was something Cockburn composed for a Les Stroud documentary about the aftermath of a school shooting and the healing power of nature. And Cockburn wrote the jazz-tinged “The Mt. Lefroy Waltz” for the Group of Seven Guitar Project on an instrument inspired by artist Lawren Harris and custom-made by luthier Linda Manzer. It was originally recorded, with cornet player Ron Miles, bassist Roberto Occhipinti and drummer Gary Craig, for Cockburn’s 2017 album Bone on Bone, but not released until now.
Cockburn doesn’t set out with any particular agenda when composing an instrumental. “It’s more about coming up with an interesting piece,” he says. “Who knows what triggers it—the mood of the day or a dream from the night before. Often the pieces are the result of sitting practicing or fooling around on the guitar. When I find something I like, I work it into a full piece.”
“Bardo Rush,” with its urgent, driving rhythm, came after one such dream, while the contemplative “Easter” and the mournful “April in Memphis” were composed on Easter Sunday and Martin Luther Day respectively. “Blind Willie,” named for one of Cockburn’s blues heroes, Blind Willie Johnson, features a fiery guitar and dobro exchange with Linden (Cockburn has previously recorded Johnson’s “Soul of a Man” on Nothing But a Burning Light). And the idea for the sprightly “Sweetness and Light,” featuring some of Cockburn’s best fingerpicking, developed quickly and its title, he says, became immediately obvious.
Meanwhile, “Angels in the Half Light” is steeped in dark and light colors and conveys ominous shades as well as feelings of hopefulness, seemingly touching on both spiritual and political concerns—hallmarks of Cockburn from day one. “It’s hard for me to imagine what people’s response is going to be to these pieces,” he says. “It’s different from songs with lyrics, where you hope listeners will understand, intellectually and emotionally, what you’re trying to convey. With instrumental stuff, that specificity isn’t there and the meaning is up for grabs. But I’m glad if people find a message in the music.”
More than 40 years since he embarked on his singer-songwriter career, Cockburn continues pushing himself to create—and winning accolades in the process. Most recently, the Order of Canada recipient earned a 2018 Juno Award for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year, for Bone on Bone, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from SOCAN, the Peoples’ Voice Award from Folk Alliance International and was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2017. Cockburn, who released his memoir, Rumours of Glory, and its similarly titled companion box set the same year, shows no sign of stopping. As his producer-friend Linden says: “Like the great blues players he admires, Bruce just gets better with age.”
~ True North Records. Photo Daniel Keebler. Cover art Michael Wrycraft.
April In Memphis
The Mt. Lefroy Waltz
Sweetness And Light
Angels In The Half Light
Pibroch: The Wind In The Valley
Bells Of Gethsemane
19 July 2019 - Over a career spanning five decades, Bruce Cockburn has traversed an extraordinarily wide landscape on the guitar, from fingerstyle folk, country blues, and gospel to edgy rock and exploratory jazz—all in the service of his songwriting muse. What’s even more remarkable is that he’s done all this not just as a bandleader but also as a solo acoustic performer. In Cockburn’s hands, the guitar becomes a true band in a box, delivering powerful grooves, riffs, melodies, harmonized lines, and improvised solos in real time.
WATCH GUITAR LESSON
And at 74, Cockburn is certainly not done exploring the instrument, as is obvious from a spin of Crowing Ignites, his 34th album and first-ever collection of all new instrumentals (2005’s Speechless compiled previously released instrumentals along with a few new tracks). The title Crowing Ignites is a rough translation of “Accendit Cantu,” which adorns the old Cockburn family crest. As does so much of his music, the album ranges across folk, blues, jazz, and shades in between, with virtuosic playing primarily on six-string, 12-string, and baritone acoustics.
Getting a handle on Cockburn’s multilayered guitar style isn’t easy, even for Cockburn himself. “I don’t think about how I do it—I just do it,” he says on the phone from his home in San Francisco. “But it’s actually quite interesting to try and make it into something communicable.” That is exactly what Cockburn accomplishes in this lesson: He breaks down the key components of his style and demonstrates them through a series of examples drawn from his songs.
Below, you can learn the core guitar parts from some of Cockburn’s best-known songs, such as “Wondering Where the Lions Are” and “Pacing the Cage,” as well as other gems from across his career. At acousticguitar.com, you can not only check out the video of Cockburn sharing excerpts from these songs, but you can see him perform a complete version of “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (transcribed on page 60 of the print/digital issue) as well as two instrumentals from Crowing Ignites. The result is perhaps the closest and clearest view ever of this guitar master at work.
The Alternating Bass
In Cockburn’s view, the logical way to break down his approach to guitar is not by style or genre—he’s always been dedicated to crossing stylistic boundaries anyway—but by picking-hand technique. Though the details and feel vary, most of his songs can be boiled down to a few right-hand fingerstyle techniques—one of which is the classic alternating bass style, as he learned especially from his early woodshedding with the music of Mississippi John Hurt. He began his video session, in fact, with a verse of Hurt’s “My Creole Belle,” in which the fingers double the vocal melody over the alternating bass—an idea that Cockburn has employed in many songs over the years.
In a similar vein, Example 1 comes from literally the beginning of Cockburn’s recording career: “Going to the Country,” track one on his self-titled 1970 debut. He plays in standard tuning out of G shapes, with his thumb holding down the sixth string at the third fret (more below on his extensive use of the thumb for fretting). The example shows the intro, where he picks a melodic line on the top two strings that harmonizes with the vocal. During the verses, his guitar doubles the vocal melody.
Before taping this session, Cockburn hadn’t played this song in many years and pointed out that he can’t fully reproduce the original recording, on which he used fingerpicks—an approach he soon abandoned. “When I first started using picks I liked the tone,” he recalls. “But I soon discovered that with fingerpicks on, you can’t really do downstrokes with your fingers, because the fingerpicks go flying into the audience’s drink.”
Playing with bare fingers, as Cockburn has done ever since those earliest days, gives the flexibility to combine upstrokes and downstrokes, picking, and strumming. Bare fingers also help create the kind of warm, round tone that was characteristic of Hurt’s music.
Perhaps even more in the Mississippi John Hurt style is “Pacing the Cage,” a luminous ballad from Cockburn’s 1996 album The Charity of Night. In Example 2, capo at the fourth fret and use C shapes—as Hurt himself often did. In the song’s main pattern, alternate the bass between the fifth and fourth strings as the chords move from C to G/B to Fsus2/A. On the treble side, pick double-stops on the first and second strings for the C and G/B, and then add in the third string on the Fsus2/A. In measure 2, Cockburn uses a fourth-finger barre on top of the G/B chord, but you may find it easier (as I do) to use the third and fourth fingers together on those top strings instead.
The alternating bass is also at the root of “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” from his 1979 breakthrough album Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws. With its infectious reggae-like groove (delivered in the studio with the help of a Jamaican rhythm section), “Lions” became a Top 40 hit in the US. Drop your sixth string to D, capo at the second fret, and try the main rhythm pattern in Example 3. For much of the song, your fretting hand stays five frets above the capo.
Again, you need your thumb for fretting the G shape. “When I was first taking lessons eons ago, I was taught that it was a terrible thing to fret with your thumb,” Cockburn says. “But then I saw some great old blues guys doing it, and I thought, that doesn’t sound so terrible to me. So it just became part of my toolkit, and it eventually became an indispensable part.”
The Drone Bass
The other main picking-hand technique in Cockburn’s music is the monotone or drone bass, as heard particularly in blues—in which the thumb plays a rhythmic pulse on a single string, often with palm muting for a more percussive effect.
At times Cockburn does use the drone bass in a straight-up blues context. Crowing Ignites has two great examples. In “The Groan,” he plays a steady bass on the fifth string, with a 12/8 blues shuffle feel, using what he refers to as Gsus tuning (D G D G C D). And in “Blind Willie,” a blues in A (for which he tunes the second string down to A), he plays a quarter-note pulse on the open fifth string for the entire song. Example 4, from “Blind Willie,” shows a sample of the kind of riffing that you can do up and down the neck over the open-string bass.
The basic idea of playing over a drone bass, though, can apply far beyond blues, Cockburn notes. “Way back in the day when I was ‘studying’ jazz at Berklee—I’m putting the studying in quotes because I wasn’t a very good student—I discovered that I really didn’t like chords that much,” he says. “I don’t feel exactly like this now, but I was much more drawn to Asian music of various kinds that doesn’t use Western harmonies, where the intervals that you might think of in a harmonic way are measured against a droning bass rather than against each other as they move around. So a lot of what I do is informed by a desire to make use of that phenomenon.”
The new song “Bardo Rush” runs with this idea. Tuned to D modal or double dropped D (first and sixth strings to D), Cockburn plays a monotone bass on the sixth string for the entire song, adding all sorts of chord melody and jazzy riffs on top. Try an excerpt in Example 5. Play the harmonized melody with your fingers over the driving bass drone.
In learning any of Cockburn’s songs, whether with an alternating bass or a drone bass, the bass line is the best place to start. Practice the thumb until its movement is automatic, then work on adding the treble side.
Drone Bass With Chords
Cockburn also uses the drone bass technique in songs that do change chords. A famous example is “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” written in response to Cockburn’s visit to a Guatemalan refugee camp in Mexico in the early ’80s. As you can see in the full transcription of his AG studio performance on page 60, Cockburn keeps a steady bass going throughout. In the instrumental section, he employs his thumb to fret the bass note under the C so he can continue to solo with his other fingers.
In the videos you’ll notice that Cockburn often anchors his right-hand pinky on the pickguard—either keeping it planted or dropping onto the top when he digs in a little harder. This support, he finds, is essential for creating the kind of rhythmic momentum he’s looking for. “When you want to bear down on a bass rhythm, you kind of need [the anchor], whether it’s an alternating bass or a single-note bass,” he says. “I need that anchor to really crunch into it.”
Another song that uses a drone bass under changing chords is “Last Night of the World,” originally released in 1999 on Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu. That track featured full band backing, but as you can hear in the solo version on Slice O Life, or in Cockburn’s AG demo, the guitar part sounds complete on its own. In Example 6, drop your third string a half step to F#, and leave all the others at their standard pitches, for the signature tuning Cockburn calls drop F# (see “A Cockburn Tuning Sampler” below). Capo at the third fret. Thump out a rock rhythm with your thumb, staying on the open sixth string until the last phrase of each verse. The example shows the riff that serves as the intro and continues under much of the verse. As in so many of Cockburn’s songs, your fingers create a little melodic motif on top of the bass.
Mixing It Up
The last two songs in this lesson use a mixture of picking approaches. “After the Rain,” also played in drop-F# tuning, comes from Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws, and is a great example of Cockburn’s fusion of acoustic folk and jazz. Much of Example 7 uses a drone bass, with single-note melodies and jazz-flavored chords on top. There’s also a popping fingerstyle rhythm that Cockburn often uses, where you play quick, staccato bass notes and chords with a percussive slap on the backbeats, as in measures 7–8. At the end the chorus, there’s a bit of strumming—a rarity in Cockburn’s music. He is much more apt to pick multiple strings simultaneously than strum across them.
As an interesting aside, the inspiration for “After the Rain” came from an unexpected source: the Bee Gees. The song, says Cockburn, is “a very loose acoustic translation of the groove of ‘Stayin’ Alive.’”
The final examples come from “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” which kicked off the 1984 album Stealing Fire—a period in which Cockburn’s songwriting became more politically charged and, not coincidentally, more electric and band-oriented, too. Cockburn played electric guitar on the original track with a full band, strumming power chord shapes. That sound works with a band but would be boring in a solo context, Cockburn feels. So instead, he uses the rolling picking pattern in Example 8,which bears some similarities to his part in “After the Rain.” In the instrumental section, as shown in Example 9, pick pairs of strings with your thumb as you play fretted notes up the neck alongside open treble strings.
These examples are, of course, a tiny sampling of the music that Cockburn has created over the last 50 years. But the fingerstyle techniques at work here can be heard across his vast catalog, applied to various types of grooves, chord progressions, and melodies. As Cockburn puts it at the close of the video, “Other songs have different details, but the basic styles tend to rotate around that axis.”
Beyond covering Cockburn’s work, you can also apply aspects of his style to your own songs and arrangements. Rather than using thick chords, try reducing your guitar parts—start by establishing a bass line, and then add single notes and partial chords on top. Focus on the groove, which really starts with the bass. Use tunings and capo positions that give you open-string bass notes, and therefore freedom to travel around the neck. And try doubling or harmonizing with the vocal melody on the guitar. The key is to think of the guitar as a multi-voiced instrument—rhythm section, backup singer, and soloist all at once.
Please follow this link for the article with all the chords.
Please follow this link for the article with all the chords.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
~ from Video Lesson: Bruce Cockburn Teaches His Sophisticated Guitar Style - BY JEFFREY PEPPER RODGERS - the September/October 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar
19 July 2019 - Acoustic Classic: Bruce Cockburn’s ‘If I Had a Rocket Launcher’
In 1984, Bruce Cockburn scored an unlikely pop hit with “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” which describes the Canadian singer-songwriter’s fantasies of violent retribution following a visit to a Guatemalan refugee camp that was regularly shelled by government helicopters. Cockburn originally recorded the song in a rock-band setting, flush with electric guitars and synths, but when he stopped by AG’s studios to film a private lesson last spring (see “Band in a Box” on page 20 of the print/digital edition), he stripped the song down to just guitar and voice.
The transcription on the following pages captures that performance note for note. At a glance, the notation might appear dense and complex, but you can make things easier on yourself if you break the song down and approach it systematically. You could play the first ten bars of the intro exactly as written, but it would be equally effective to improvise the natural harmonics. What’s most important here is the continuous eighth-note stream of open E notes—play them as firmly and evenly as possible, using palm muting if you’d like.
The heart of the song appears in bars 11–14. Riff A is the harmonic sequence for the subsequent verses and guitar solo, so be sure to spend plenty of time learning to play it with precision. In bars 11 and 13, maintain a barre across strings 3–5 at the seventh fret; grab the ninth-fret B and E with your third and fourth finger, respectively, or barre them both with either of those fingers. For the C6/9 chord in measures 12 and 14, keep your second finger stationed on the eighth-fret C and your first finger barred at the seventh fret, while stopping the tenth-fret G with your fourth finger.
In his off-the-cuff-feeling solo, starting at bar 45, Cockburn continues the eighth-note bass action established in the intro, above which he adds lines based mostly on 16th notes. Key to playing an effective solo here isn’t necessarily playing exactly what’s on the printed page but understanding how it works. The solo might sound intricate, but Cockburn is simply playing notes from the E natural minor scale (E F# G A B C D) entirely in seventh position—notes within easy reach of the chord shapes in the main riff. (For the lowdown on soloing with chord shapes, see Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers’ Weekly Workouts in the June 2017 and March 2018 issues of AG.) Be sure to put in the time studying this approach, as it will pay dividends for you in solo-guitar settings in general.
~from Acoustic Guitar.
Find this article and lots more in the September-October Editon of Acoustic Guitar Magazine
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the September/October 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 60.