The Bruce Cockburn Newsletter Online
has contributed a new song called "3 Al Purdys" to The Al Purdy Songbook project
Photo: Recording at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA
May 13, 2015
Music review: A
life in music and words: Bruce Cockburn explores range of human
emotion at Iron Horse show
by Steve Pfarrer, Staff Writer
When you’ve been writing and playing songs for 45-plus years,
you have a lot of material to work with. In fact, you might have
so much that you’d need to write a memoir to put it all in
That’s just what Bruce Cockburn, the
venerable Canadian songwriter and guitarist, has done. “Rumours
of Glory,” which was published late last year, recounts his long
career as a musician, human rights activist, and spiritual
explorer. With 31 albums and a raft of musical and humanitarian
awards to his credit, Cockburn — who turns 70 May 27 — has a lot
of ground to cover.
He brought copies of his book, as well as
a new boxed set of CDs, to Northampton’s Iron Horse Music Hall
last Friday, the first of two nights he would perform there
before a sold-out house. He also brought four guitars — two
six-string acoustics, a resonator guitar and a 12-string
acoustic — to showcase his inventive finger-style work and the
jazz, world music, blues and folk sounds he incorporates in his
Cockburn is by his own admission a pretty
shy, introverted person — though he’s become somewhat less so
over the years — and he joked that he’d felt a little
self-conscious when he’d visited Northampton’s “local
bookstores” to see if they had copies of his memoir.
“My manager, Bernie, always used to tell
me to visit local record stores when I was on tour and check out
what they had of mine,” he said. “I never liked to do that.” He
added that he’d looked as unobtrusively as possible for his book
in Northampton’s stores “but I didn’t see any. But maybe they
bought 100 copies and sold them all.”
Not to worry. As one woman at the packed
Iron Horse called out, “We have it, and we love it!”
The crowd also loved Cockburn’s songs,
which he plucked from throughout his long career: 1973’s “All
the Diamonds in the World,” “Hills of Morning” from 1979,
“Understanding Nothing” from 1987, and 1995’s “Pacing the Cage.”
There was also the beautiful guitar piece “The End of All
Rivers,” one of the tracks from his 2005 instrumental album,
As good a guitarist as he is — Cockburn
often lays down a thumping rhythm with his thumb and plays
melodic leads with his first three fingers — he’s won much of
his acclaim as a lyricist, and his songs have been covered by a
wealth of artists, from Barenaked Ladies to Jimmy Buffett.
Whether writing about his own spiritual explorations or the
injustice he’s witnessed around the world, he brings a poetic
intensity and sense of the mystical to many of his songs. He’s a
Christian, he says, who has moved away from organized religion
but still stresses the importance of what he calls “the divine”
in his life.
Case in point: For the second song of his
set, he played “Strange Waters,” which is built around slow,
chiming chords and observational lyrics about a journey that
could be both literal and metaphorical: “I’ve stood in airports
guarded glass and chrome / Walked rifled roads and landmined
loam / Seen a forest in flames right down to the road / Burned
in love till I’ve seen my heart explode.”
At the Iron Horse, Cockburn’s voice
sometimes strained when he approached the top of his range. Yet
that lent a sense of urgency to songs like “Call It Democracy,”
a full-throttle attack on the International Monetary Fund and
its role in bracketing poor countries in debt: “Padded with
power here they come / International loan sharks backed by the
guns / Of market hungry military profiteers / Whose word is a
swamp and whose brow is smeared / With the blood of the poor.”
It was one of Cockburn’s more impassioned
moments during an otherwise fairly low-key set; he played the
song on his 12-string guitar, giving it some added drive and
volume and bringing the crowd to its feet at the end.
“I guess not a lot has changed since I
wrote this,” he said about the 1985 song. “I’m not sure when the
revolution is going to come.”
Then, when someone called out, “Let’s
start it now,” he paused for a moment, then quipped, “I’m in
danger of making a speech.”
In search of humanity
Cockburn, born and raised primarily in
Canada’s capital of Ottawa, took up the guitar in his late teens
and studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in the
mid-1960s, though he left without a degree. He later played with
a number of rock bands in Canada before concentrating on
songwriting, releasing a series of folk-oriented albums
beginning in the early 1970s.
In the 1980s, though, his music began to
embrace wider influences, and he also developed a reputation as
a “political” songwriter, in part from songs like “If I Had a
Rocket Launcher.” That 1983 tune was inspired by his visit to a
camp of Guatemalan refugees on Mexico’s border, people who had
fled the attacks of Guatemala’s military — many of whose leaders
had been trained by the United States — during the country’s
30-year civil war. Furious about the refugees’ plight, Cockburn
imagined shooting down Guatemalan helicopters that buzzed the
Over the years, he’s traveled to
countries such as Nicaragua, Mozambique and Iraq as part of his
activism, playing benefit concerts and jamming with musicians in
other nations. He’s also worked with organizations such as
Oxfam, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders and
Friends of the Earth.
Yet in his memoir, Cockburn, who now
lives in San Francisco with his second wife, says his songs
“tend to be triggered by whatever is in front of me, filtered
through feeling and imagination. I went looking for humanity in
all its guises ... the love, the meanness, the artists, the
farmers, the juntas ... the conflicts, the peace, the music.
That’s why I don’t think of the things I write as ‘protest’
Indeed, although the crowd at the Iron
Horse applauded all his tunes, the ones that seemed to bring out
the warmest feelings were the ones exploring the range of human
emotion, from regret and sadness to wonder and faith. He had the
audience singing along with the chorus of “Wondering Where the
Lions Are,” a lilting folk tune about a sudden feeling of
optimism that he introduced by saying, “Here’s one that came
back into the repertoire recently after being out of it for a
long time.” The tune, from 1979, was Cockburn’s only Top 40 U.S.
Though he played solo, Cockburn added
unusual textures to some of his songs by activating, through a
foot pedal, a pair of heavy steel chimes positioned on either
side of the stage. The chimes lent a particular resonance to
“The End of All Rivers,” the instrumental track, which Cockburn
played with reverb, echo and digital delay on his guitar,
allowing the song’s hypnotic central riff to repeat as he added
a long solo over the top.
He also closed the show with two songs,
“Mystery” and “Put It In Your Heart,” that speak to the power of
love and beauty to offset the worst the world and humankind can
show — or the problems that can bedevil a single person. On the
gentle “Mystery,” which included a pretty solo, he sang “Come
all you stumblers who believe love rules / Stand up and let it
As the song ended and applause rang out,
one woman seemed to speak for many when she called, “I don’t
want the show to end!”
May 2, 2015
and The Hellbender Salamander
I recently contacted Mark Pagano of the St.
Louis-based band, Fire Dog, which also includes Celia on bass guitar and Mike
Schurk on drums. Bruce contributed a few lines via telephone for the song,
Hellbender. It first appeared on the CD, May These Changes, in 2012. Bruce later
phoned in to particpate in a revamp of the same song, which appears on the CD,
For the Kids, to be released in May 2015. Also of note, Fire Dog covers Bruce's
song, For The Birds, on the latter CD. The following is from Mark Pagano.
As for Bruce's part on "Hellbender"... It was indeed a
phone call to Sawhorse Studios. He delivered the lines that I had researched and
written: "It's true that since the 1980's the Hellbender population has been
devastated due to rising temperatures, water pollution, and the mysterious
chytrid fungus. The Hellbender is now an endangered species." He said them a
couple of times and we just cut them in.
We recorded the song in 2011 after a friend brought me to the Hellbender
Breeding Center at the St. Louis Zoo earlier that year. Shortly after recording
the track, the St. Louis Zoo announced that after ten years of work they finally
had fertilized eggs.
In 2013, I began using the song in St. Louis Public Schools as a teaching tool in
my songwriting residencies. I also began using another line that is a direct
quote from Jeff Briggler of Missouri Department of Conservation: "What happens
to the Hellbender, happens to us." Kids really connected with this line so when
we revamped "Hellbender" on the "For the Kids" album, I asked Bruce to call it in
again, which he did this past November .
It was really a great moment for me to have Bruce in studio even if it was via
phone. I love his delivery of the lines... it's so Bruce Cockburn!
One detail... The friend who brought me to the
breeding center, Mikal Shapiro (Kansas City, MO), was working on a project called
Go-Go Global Girls. The song
"Hellbender" was originally produced for this project.
Visit the Fire Dog website
May 1, 2015
Parting Shots: Bruce Cockburn
by Dean Budnick
In his new memoir, Rumours Of Glory, Bruce
Cockburn shares stories from a career that began in the mid-1960s, following a
stint at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. The Canadian troubadour also offers
accounts of his world travels, social activism and spiritual life. There are
plenty of musical memories as well, which are reinforced by a 9-CD box set of
the same name, with tracks selected by Cockburn from his 31 albums to offer
parallel audio accompaniment.
In your book, you describe your rather unique
reaction to hearing yourself on the radio for the first time back in 1970.
I had been writing songs for a few years in a bunch of
different bands. So I had these bodies of songs and I felt choked up on them. I
felt that having to carry all these songs in my head was getting in the way of
writing new ones. So I wanted to make a record, and in my imagination, that
record would allow me to forget about those songs because they would have been
there and accounted for, so I could get on to writing new ones. Of course, what
I didn’t realize was that it doesn’t work like that—when you record those songs,
then everyone wants you to play those songs.
On the day my album came out, I was in the Yorkville
area, which was the Toronto equivalent of Haight-Asbury or the Village in New
York, and was the center of the counterculture scene. This was at a time when
free-form FM radio was really just taking off and all the stores in that area
would listen to this particular radio station called CHUM. So I’m in a store and
they were playing my music. No one knew me but I felt like I had a big finger
pointing at me. It was terrifying.
So I left the store and went into a different store that
had the same radio station on and they were playing the whole album. You could
do that kind of thing back in those days. I felt like I would never have a sense
of privacy again. It was a very excruciating experience and I felt I had to duck
While we are on the subject of hearing yourself, Bono
references your song “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” in U2’s “God Part II” [“Heard
a singer on the radio late last night/ Says he’s gonna kick the darkness till it
bleeds daylight”]. Do you recall the context in which you first heard that? Was
it obvious that he was referencing you?
I think the album was out for a year or two before I
actually heard it, but it was obvious when I heard the song. I had met Bono in
the late ‘80s or very early ‘90s at a Christian festival in England. We had a
chat and he expressed his approval of that song at that time, but nobody ever
called me to tell me that they had done it. I kind of heard it through the
grapevine and eventually I did hear the album, and there it was.
Did you have any exchanges with Jerry Garcia over the
years, and what was your response to hearing him perform a song of yours
[“Waiting for a Miracle,” which became a Jerry Garcia Band staple in 1989 and
appears on the group’s selftitled 1991 live album]?
I heard from audience members that his band was doing the
song live. Then his record company applied for the mechanical licenses that are
part of the process. I was very excited, so I got the album and I put it on. It
was a beautiful version, musically, and it had great energy, but the lyrics were
unrecognizable in places. Right after that, a Bob Dylan song came on [“Simple
Twist of Fate”] and the lyrics were quite altered in Garcia’s version as well,
so I felt better. I told myself: “Well, if he is doing it to everybody, then I
am in good company.” [Laughs.]
Sometime that same year, the Dead were doing one of their
week-long extravaganzas at Madison Square Garden. I happened to be in New York,
and somebody said, “Let’s go put you together with Jerry.” So I was ushered up
onto the stage behind the amps where his tent was, and Jerry came out. He was
very gracious and a lovely guy. We shook hands, and he said, “Man, it’s great to
meet you! That’s a beautiful song, I hope I didn’t screw up the lyrics too
much!” And then I said, “Well, I was going to wait till the second time I met
you to bring that up, but it’s OK you did it your own way, and I’m glad you
Speaking of iconic rock guitarists, you once shared a
bill with Jimi Hendrix and you nearly shared a stage with him.
I was in a band that was originally called The Flying
Circus but, because of competition from another band, we changed it to Olivus.
We thought the name was terribly clever and we got a job opening shows,
including some big ones like Wilson Pickett, Cream and Jimi Hendrix.
The Hendrix one was in Montreal in an arena and, after
the show, there was a party in which all the participants were invited to a
studio downtown. Hendrix had done an amazing show and, after a while, Mitch
Mitchell came in and I got to talk to him. Then Hendrix came in and there was a
stage with instruments and equipment but no one was using them. So he looked
around at the people in the shadows and he said: “I don’t know what they are
staring at. I want to play some music.”
Then he got up onstage and there were open jam sessions.
I could have played, but I felt that I wouldn’t have anything to contribute to
this jam session, so I would be better off not to reveal that to anyone present.
I listened to a little bit, then I left. It was very interesting. He had a
natural vibe about him. He just seemed like a regular guy and he seemed to
expect other people to act like him, too.
What is the most inspiring live performance that you
have ever witnessed as an audience member?
It would be a toss-up between the first time I saw Ani
DiFranco and the only time I have ever seen Laurie Anderson, for very different
reasons. I saw Laurie Anderson when she was touring the Mister Heartbreak
album, and that was an incredible union of art, technology, humor and
thoughtfulness. Then years later, the first time I met Ani, we were both playing
at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival [in 1995]. At the time, I had never listened
to her music, but I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
I chose to answer in terms of pop performances, but
nothing could top hearing John Coltrane on a Saturday afternoon at The Jazz
Workshop in Boston in ‘64.
April 21, 2015
Term extension benefits Canadian artists, music companies
and the economy: Music Canada
OTTAWA and TORONTO, /CNW/ - Music Canada applauds the
Government of Canada's 2015 Budget for announcing the intention to amend the
term of copyright for sound recordings from 50 to 70 years.
"By proposing to extend the term of copyright in recorded
music, Prime Minister Harper and the Government of Canada have demonstrated a
real understanding of music's importance to the Canadian economy. Thank you. We
look forward to seeing the full details when the Budget Implementation Act is
tabled," says Graham Henderson, President of Music Canada.
"With each passing day, Canadian treasures like
by Buffy Sainte-Marie are lost to the public domain. This is not in the
public interest. It does not benefit the creator or their investors and it
will have an adverse impact on the Canadian economy," adds Henderson.
Leonard Cohen reinforces the urgency of the problem, "In
just a few short years, songs we recorded in the late 1960s will no longer have
copyright protection in Canada. Many of us in our 70's and 80's depend on
income from these songs for our livelihood. We would deeply appreciate any
adjustment that would avert a financial disaster in our lives."
This change will rectify the long-standing competitive
disadvantage that Canadian artists and Canadian music has had by not being
aligned with our international trading partners. A 70 year term of
copyright has become the norm internationally. More than 60 countries
worldwide protect copyright in sound recordings for a term of 70 years or
longer, including all of Europe, the U.S., and Australia. Across Europe,
Canadian artists are denied to the full 70 year term of protection due to
Canada's shorter term of protection.
"The world has changed since our original copyright laws
were drafted," says Bruce Cockburn. "Every piece of music
is, at least theoretically, with us forever. Extending the copyright term is an
eminently sensible response to this new situation, and a welcome one!"
"I support extending the length of copyright for sound
recordings in Canada to 70+ years," adds Jim Cuddy. "The copyright of a
creative work should not expire in the lifetime of an author."
Term extension fosters increased investment in new
artists. With a significant average annual investment by music companies
of over 28% of revenues in developing talent, the next generation of performing
artists will benefit from this copyright amendment now and well into the future.
"I'm glad that Canada has extended our copyright term, so
we can continue to use the proceeds from classic Canadian recordings to invest
in great Canadian talent," said Kardinal Offishall.
Music Canada is a non-profit trade organization that
represents the major record companies in Canada, namely Sony Music Entertainment
Canada, Universal Music Canada and Warner Music Canada. Music Canada also
works with some of the leading independent record labels and distributors,
recording studios, live music venues, concert promoters, managers and artists in
the promotion and development of the music cluster.
April 10, 2015
Excerpt from the
Words & music: Welcome to the very
first Word of South
by Mark Hinson
“When Mark Mustian told me of the concept of Word of the
South, I leapt at the chance to invite Bruce (Cockburn) down to Tallahassee,”
Robert Olen Butler said.
The novelist is teaming up with Canadian
singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn (“Wondering Where The Lions Are”) on Sunday
afternoon. Cockburn will play guitar while Butler reads a short story. The two
first worked together in 1997 during the SummerStage Festival in New York City’s
Central Park. Butler admits he is a longtime fan of Cockburn.
“I had loved Bruce Cockburn’s music since the very early
70s, a decade before I began to publish,” Butler said in an email. “I loved his
music so much that when I published my first novel, ‘The Alleys of Eden,’ in
1981, I immediately sent a signed, adulatory copy to him through his management.
I never heard back from him, though I certainly didn’t expect to. Sixteen years
later it turned out he’d read and loved ‘The Alleys of Eden’ and he’d been
following me since.”
April 8, 2015
Released in October 2014, this book contains a contribution from
Bruce. More on the project
here. You can
preview some of the book, including Bruce's part in it, at Amazon.
Global Chorus: 365 Voices on the Future of the Planet
by Todd McLean
Global Chorus is a groundbreaking collection of over 365
perspectives on our environmental future. As a global roundtable for our times,
in the format of a daily reader, this book is a trove of insight, guidance,
passion and wisdom that has poured in from all over the Earth. Its message is
enormously inspiring, and ominous in its warnings. And yet, united in a thread
of hope, its contents are capable of helping even the most faithless global
citizen to believe that we have the capacity to bring about lasting positive
change in our world. Places at this roundtable are occupied by writers,
environmentalists, spiritual leaders, politicians, professors, doctors,
athletes, businesspeople, farmers, chefs, yogis, painters, actors, architects,
musicians, TV personalities, humanitarians, adventurers, concerned youth,
concerned senior citizens, civil servants, carpenters, bus drivers, activists,
CEO’s, scientists, and essentially those who have something thoughtful and
visionary to say about humanity’s place upon Earth. Compiled for your reading as
a set of 365 pieces, Global Chorus presents to you a different person’s point of
view for each day of your year.
January 26, 2015
An Interview With Bruce Cockburn - Discussing his
spiritual memoir, Rumours of Glory
by Craig Ketchum
At four p.m., Canadian singer-songwriter legend Bruce Cockburn
strides into the hotel lobby in his signature black Doc Martens and
shakes my hand warmly. At age 70, he is slighter than he appears in
his old music videos. He’s
here to talk with me about his spiritual memoir
Rumours of Glory. The book
narrates his journey of faith and
activism, explaining the stories behind his songs and his choices.
We take the elevator to a business lounge, a
cozy gold-tinted room outfitted with two computers and nearly-trendy
transparent plastic chairs. Despite his big name and stack of music
awards, the setting seems luxurious, since Cockburn’s international
activism has been far from first-class; he’s been to war zones in
Mozambique, Guatemala, Honduras, and Iraq, where set up camp amongst
refugees and in decrepit hostels.
“Writing the book was like writing a
song,” Cockburn says as we each take a seat in our respective
plastic chairs. “I feel like a bloodhound sniffing out a trail and
sensing that there’s something there to discover.”
essence, Rumours of Glory
is just that: its pages mirror Cockburn’s
songwriting. Part personal narrative, part social commentary, part
didactic, the memoir allows the audience to learn by posing
When I read the book, I tell him, I was so
fascinated by the history of the issues and places he unearths; the
logical next step was to explore them for myself.
As I say this, he chuckles. “I’m certainly
not the only one who’s mentioned those things, but the invitation is
out there,” Cockburn says. Wryly, he smirks. “I guess it’s proof
it’s the same guy writing.”
Originally, Cockburn says he was going to
arrange the book in vignettes, with various scenes that add up to a
whole. It was his co-writer Greg King’s idea to arrange it
chronologically; Cockburn says King urged him to put in a lot more
of the political background that drives the book. When HarperCollins
asked for a spiritual memoir, Cockburn says he hadn’t considered
pairing it with so much of the political tensions that have driven
his travels. But it makes sense that the two twine together, just as
they do in his songs.
In high school, Cockburn discovered his
grandmother’s guitar in his attic. He was then inspired to become a
musician, and was eventually initiated into the Ottawa music scene
in the mid-1960s. Cockburn played with a number of outfits, even
opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968, until he decided to
pursue a solo career.
In the 1980s he started to pursue
international activism; his songwriting became infused with deep
concerns for human rights, the environment, and faith. During this
time he spent a good deal of his shows explaining his songs to the
audience. “Specifically, it was the song ‘If I Had a Rocket
Launcher,’” he interjects as I mention the time period. “When I
first came up with the song I felt it could be so easily
misconstrued; I didn’t want people to take it wrong and think I was
telling them to go down and kill Guatemalan soldiers. I wanted to
make sure people got it right.”
I ask him whether he still finds himself
needing to explain those stories. “Not very often, and not very
much,” he says. “I think I’ve said enough in print about it, and now
there’s the definitive version in the book,” he says. “So I’ll tell
people to read that!”
One of the
strongest themes in Rumours of
Glory is his dismay at social
elites who ignore alarming truths about systemic violence. He uses
the example of The Washington Wives’
self-appointed censorship that prevented Cockburn’s songs about
poverty and injustice from being aired. All because of a single
profanity in “Call It Democracy.” Ironically, this line accused
social elites for being calloused towards the marginalized.
When I ask him about it, he is pleased to
elaborate. “I’ve flirted with so many tribes over the years. A lot
of people’s lives have converged with mine for a time,” he says.
“You can get picky about other religions — take Shinto, for example
— and call them all superstition. Or you can honour the profound
things that are expressed through that belief system. And you can
walk away thinking, ‘I could learn something from these people,’”
“I don’t claim to be an authority on
anything, and I really don’t think anyone should be claiming to be
an authority on anything.”
Cockburn says he is grieved by the deep scars
that have been inflicted upon humanity when people dig their heels
into exclusive claims to truth. We witness it, he says, in the
inability of “a significant portion of the right-wing Christian
community” to see that they are of the same persuasion as those they
call radical in the Middle East.
“Above all, you can’t go around killing
people because they don’t agree with you. We need to pull the plank
out of our own eye and our own psyche before we try to fix someone
else’s wiring,” he says.
“When I look around at the mystical
traditions, filled with people who have been reticent to share their
knowledge, nowadays they are just throwing it out there. Maybe it’s
an impulse from God encouraging us to get together, to love each
other, to love the planet, and see miracles happen,” says Cockburn.
He speaks with the experience of age, where
little is shocking, and yet he does so without much cynicism. I see
the hope instilled in him by good gifts that cause him to wonder:
his daughter, his friends, and his faith.
I can’t help but think that the world needs a
few more Bruce Cockburns, keeping us wide-eyed enough to stop
destroying the world, one another, and ourselves. Around us is a
world filled with violence because we refuse to really see and hear
people who are different.
Because, like Cockburn, we need to be lovers
in a dangerous time.
Photos courtesy of
February 11, 2015
Sounds of Nashville are coming to Belfast with Jim
Lauderdale, James House and Max T Barnes, and Bruce Cockburn joining festival
by Rebecca Black
There is a treat in store for country music fans as some of the world's most
renowned artists prepare to perform in Belfast.
US performers Jim Lauderdale, James House and Max T
Barnes, Canadian Bruce Cockburn along with local talent Foy
Vance, Cara Dillon and Peter McVeigh are among the names already confirmed among
the highlights at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival.
The event was officially launched yesterday ahead of the
first chords being played on Wednesday March 4.
"Belnash" gigs will be taking place at the Holiday Inn
and the Empire Music Hall in Belfast until Sunday, March 8.
With more than 40 events and showcases and the Song
Writing Convention, the annual event has become a well-established part of the
Belfast music scene.
The festival also hosts two new international shows from
Nashville, The Bluebird Café Live @BelNash and The Music City Roots Show that
will be broadcast into 60 million homes across America.
This will be the 11th year of the event which attracted
visitors to Belfast from across Ireland last year.
Organisers have said the event has "just kept growing and
growing each year".
Belfast and Nashville, Tennessee, have links that go
right back to the founding of the US city in 1780 by two Co Antrim families, the
Robertsons and the Donelsons.
By the time Nashville was settled, 250,000 people had
left these shores for the New World, with many making Tennessee their home.
The two cities officially became sister cities in 1994.
The music festival has helped these historical links to grow into modern times.
Tickets are available from www.belfastnashville.com and
Visit Belfast Welcome Centre on 028 9024 6609.