To join the website e-mail list for news and tour information, click here.
We often have videos and photos posted on our Facebook page that are not on this site.
19 October 2021 - Press release for Greatist Hits added to this page.
13 October 2021 - Walk of Fame article added to this page. Bruce signatory to preserve old growth in BC.
28 September 2021 - The Setlist Archives have been updated.
27 September 2021 - Articles that were on the front page have been backed up to the News Archive.
26 September 2021 - Articles that were on the front page have been backed up to the News Archive.
4 September 2021 - Paste live stream info added to this page, and also links to Spotify & Apple covers playlist.
28 June 2021 - New Tour Date has been added!
15 June 2021 - New Tour Date has been added!. Article about Gettin' Higher Choir added to this page.
6 June 2021 - Audio interview by mulliganstew.ca, audio clip Bruce remembers Le Hibou, and video Bruce on Junos 50 years added to this page. Benefit streaming concert for Mozambique added to this page.
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).
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.
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.
23 September 2020 - 'Don't try to give bruce a rocket launcher' added to this page.
21 September 2020 - Article-interview 50th Anniversay Box Set True North added to this page.
14 July 2020 - Statement from Bruce - Black Lives Matter added to this page.
31 May 2020 - Rich Kimbal interview audio and transcription 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.
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 - A transcription of the John Floridis interview with Bruce (December 2019) has been added.
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.
23 September 2019 - Link to q interview by Tom Power added to this page. The 2019 Setlist Archive has been updated.
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.
12 June 2019 - Crowing Ignites 34th album first listen and album bio 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 October 2021 - With 34 previous releases, 13 JUNO wins, two Hall of Fame inductions, countless honorary Doctorates, Officer of The Order of Canada — and new inductee into Canada’s Walk of Fame this year — all spanning a 50+ year career — it’s no small task to encapsulate Bruce Cockburn’s inimitable imprint when it comes to Canadian music and culture. But his newly announced double-album release, Bruce Cockburn Greatest Hits (1970 - 2020), is a good place to start.
Curated by Bruce Cockburn and set for release December 3rd, 2021 via True North Records, this definitive collection meticulously corrals the acclaimed singer/songwriter’s most favoured tracks — from songs that shot to the top of the charts upon release, to long-lauded fan-favourites requested on tour, time and time again.
Expect to settle in for a chronological journey from the legendary artist’s earliest offerings, to today; curated by Cockburn himself, the hand-picked selection of 30 songs revisit works from 1970 to 2020, and are accompanied by exclusive notes from the artist.
“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,” Cockburn shares. “Not unusual for a young person, I guess...
“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 fifty years of recording, performing, and travel — not to mention, relationships and personal challenges — 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!”
The release lands ahead of Cockburn’s “2nd Attempt” North American tour for his 50th Anniversary Concert, previously stymied by Covid restrictions.
TOUR DATES or HERE
Bruce Cockburn’s Greatest Hits (1970 - 2020) is available December 3rd, 2021 via True North Records.
You may sign up for PRE-ORDERS HERE
The first 100 CDs ordered from the True North Records labelstore will be autographed by Bruce.
12 October 2021 - SOCAN members Jully Black, Bruce Cockburn, and the late Salome Bey will be inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame, and SOCAN member Serena Ryder will receive the Allan Slaight Music Impact Honour, at Toronto’s Beanfield Centre on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, with a broadcast drawn from the event to air later in December on CTV.
“I’m so grateful for this opportunity to speak, to express, and to represent every little Black boy and girl who looked out and didn’t see someone who looked like them on television, or heard them on the radio, or seen them in film and TV, or saw them teaching in schools,” said Jully Black on learning of her induction.
“Being inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame feels to me like an excuse for a party,” joked Bruce Cockburn. “It feels wonderful. When I first heard the news, I was very excited. I was like, ‘What? Me?’”
Ajay Virmani (Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy) – Trailblazing between the streets and the sky, he became the Founder and CEO of Canada’s largest cargo airline, Cargojet, which has completed over 200 flights from China and other nations, bringing much needed PPE supplies for Canadians, and committed $3 million to healthcare initiatives and social justice causes.
Bret “The Hitman” Hart (Sports and Athletics) – A true champion and one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time.
Damian Warner (Sports and Athletics) – Fresh from his dominating performance at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and winning Canada’s first gold medal in the decathlon, Damian Warner has taken his place as the greatest athlete on the world stage.
Frederick Banting, Charles Best, John Macleod, and James Collip (Science, Technology, and Innovation) – The team that saved 300 Million lives and counting with the discovery of insulin.
Graham Greene (Arts & Entertainment) – One of Canada’s most beloved and iconic actors, an Academy Award nominee who’s had principal roles in Dances with Wolves, The Green Mile, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Transamerica, and The Twilight Saga: New Moon.
Keanu Reeves (Arts & Entertainment) – A global star and legendary actor, producer, and director, who’s entertained audiences worldwide for more than three decades, fronting blockbuster franchises like The Matrix and John Wick.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif will receive the new National Hero Honour, presented by Canada’s Walk of Fame to an individual whose selflessness, dedicated efforts, and outstanding contributions have made a significant difference in our society. As a star player with the Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs, Duvernay-Tardif made international headlines as the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020 season, as he deferred his $2.75 million salary to join the front-line pandemic efforts in his hometown of Montréal.
SOCAN members previously honoured by Canada’s Walk of Fame include Drake, the late Leonard Cohen, Andy Kim, Col. Chris Hadfield, the late Stompin’ Tom Connors, Michael Bublé, Rush, Sarah McLachlan, Blue Rodeo, The Tragically Hip, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Nickelback, and kd lang.
~from Walk of Fame 2021
8 October 2021 - Indigenous Leaders, Scientists, Business Execs, Artists, Athletes, Politicians Send Joint Message to BC Premier
Today, more than 200 prominent people, acclaimed in their respective fields, have issued an open letter to the Premier of British Columbia calling for the immediate protection of BC’s irreplaceable old growth forests. The signatories range from a former Prime Minister, former Environment Ministers, former NASA scientists, Indigenous leaders, Oscar, Grammy, and Juno award winners, Olympic gold medalists, and even a Star Trek Captain.
Continue reading https://canopyplanet.org/200-dignitaries-call-for-immediate-protection-of-british-columbias-large-old-growth-forests/
3 September 2021 - Paste Studio on the Road at Napa Valley: Sept. 3-5
Paste Studio on the Road heads west today for three days at the Dos Colinas estate in Napa Valley.
Read about the line up and more here: Paste Magazine
Each of the following sessions will be live-streamed on our Youtube and Facebook channels, as well as right here on PasteMagazine.com, where you’ll be able to go back and listen to all of your favorites whenever you like.
Saturday, Sept. 4
2:00pm – Bruce Cockburn
30 August 2021 - True North has just put up a great playlist of some of Bruce's covers. It ranges from kd Lang to Jerry Garcia and worth hearing. It's currently on both Spotify and Apple
Here's the links to get you there but of course you must be a subscriber to use it. ~ Bernie Finkelstein
15 June 2021 - Founded in 1996 by Siobhan Robinsong, the Gettin’ Higher Choir welcomes anyone with a desire to sing — no audition required.
The community choir, like every other non-profit, had to pivot when the pandemic hit, and while they did lose a few members who didn’t want to sing to a computer, co-directors Cathy Baker and Dick Jackson explain that they gained some members too.
“We have sisters in the choir” says Baker, “one who lives in Oak Bay, one who lives in Whitehorse. There’s also a young couple and their child, and now Grampa from Ontario has joined in.”
“We’ve got members in Japan, Sweden, Montana, Idaho, India…” Jackson proudly adds.
Since 1998, the Gettin’ Higher Choir has performed an annual fundraiser concert for a village in Mozambique.
“The choir has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for them over the 23 years that we’ve been connected” says Jackson.
“The original connection started with a couple of refugees from Mozambique that were living in Victoria, and it grew from there. From the school that they built in that small community, there are now nursing graduates, and it goes on and on…” adds Baker.
This year’s fundraising concert will be online, with a very special guest.
“We are thrilled to have as our guest artist Bruce Cockburn. A half hour set of music that he put together for us” says Jackson.
Cockburn, reached via Zoom, explains that was pleased to lend his name to the fundraiser.
“I have been to Mozambique a couple of times for different reasons, once in the mid-80s and again in the ’90s, so I have a certain sense of that country and a certain sympathy – I suppose you could say a great empathy – for them, because I’ve been there.”
[ Watch-Listen to Bruce's set here ]
Baker wants anyone considering watching this fundraising concert to know how thrilled they are that Cockburn said “yes” when they asked him to be part of the event.
“It’s better than front-row seats at a concert! Especially for guitar geeks – they are going to love this, because the camera angles? You get to see his hand movements on the fret board, you get to see his picking patterns and strumming styles! In addition to the content of what he’s singing, just watching him play that closely is phenomenal.”
“We have five songs that the choir has prepared,” says Jackson, “virtual choir videos, and then we’ll also have Bruce’s set, and we have some musicians from Mozambique as well.”
Click here to register for this fundraising concert on Saturday June 19 at 7 p.m.
~from Benefit concert from Gettin' Higher Choir
7 June 2021 - When Bruce Cockburn talked to me on Zoom for #cbcjunos5050 we decided at the same time to record a chat about his instrumental Crowing Ignites album... and the fact he won his first Juno 50 years ago... Playing it next plus a taste of the track "Seven Daggers".
The Junos 50-50 series starts with Alan Neal talking to Bruce Cockburn about the legendary coffeehouse. (Aired: May 21, 2021)
from Twitter - @cbcallinaday
1 June 2021 - The Junos 50-50 series starts with Alan Neal talking to Cockburn about the legendary coffeehouse.
(Aired: May 21, 2021)
~from CBC Ottawa Morning with Robyn Bresnahan.
6 June 2021 - Canada’s Music Awards – The Junos – take place Sunday night. 50 years ago, the first-ever Folksinger of the Year Juno Award went to Bruce Cockburn.
3 June 2021 - Legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn recounts his favourite #JUNOS moment - his induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame
~ from The Juno Awards - Twitter
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.
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
Part 2 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.