Bruce Cockburn: Just Wait and See –

by Adam Perlmutter –

19 December 2017 –

“I see the way the music unfolds as a kind of architecture,” says Bruce Cockburn. “There’s a sense of visual shape that goes with how a melody moves.”

After Bruce Cockburn released his self-titled debut album in 1970, the prolific Canadian singer-songwriter released at least one album every couple of years, yielding a body of work that would be covered by everyone from Chet Atkins to Michael Hedges to Jerry Garcia. But following his 32nd album, 2011’s Small Source of Comfort, things appeared to suddenly dry out.

Cockburn hadn’t disappeared but had transferred his creative energies from songwriting to penning a memoir. In Rumours of Glory, published in 2014, Cockburn shares his personal and political life—he’s a longtime activist who has spoken out on human-rights violations and ecological devastation, among other things—and offers insights into his most popular songs, like “Wondering Where the Lions Are” (from 1979’s Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws) and “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (on 1984’s Stealing Fire).

The period he spent working on the memoir also coincided with the birth of a daughter, and between the demands of fatherhood and writing, Cockburn didn’t feel he had any new songs to offer. In fact, after the book was completed, he wondered if his work as a songwriter was ending, too.

But then Cockburn was asked to contribute a song for the 2015 documentary film Al Purdy Was Here, a portrait of the late Canadian poet, and other new songs soon followed. These tunes are collected on Bone On Bone, which Cockburn recorded with his core band of bassist John Dymond and drummer Gary Craig, along with his nephew John Aaron Cockburn on accordion, and jazz trumpeter Ron Miles on flugelhorn.

Cockburn now lives in the United States, and, lyrically speaking, Bone On Bone is a product of life in the Trump era. Musically speaking, it’s a product of Delta blues, modal jazz, and non-Western influences—all distilled in the guitarist’s idiosyncratic fingerstyle approach, with its intricate counterpoint.

Calling from his home in San Francisco, the 72-year-old Cockburn discussed his return to songwriting, shared one of his secret guitar tunings, and explained why his Manzer instruments have been his longtime companions.

“Putting music to a set of lyrics is like scoring a film. You have words that need to be served by the music.”

After completing your memoir Rumours of Glory, you decided you wouldn’t go back to writing songs. Why did you change your mind?

It wasn’t really a firm decision. I just wasn’t sure about returning to songs, because it’d been such a long time since I’d written anything of that sort. The creative energy that went into the book is what would’ve gone into songs if I hadn’t been writing a memoir. Also, I started the book when my second daughter, who’s now 5 years old, was born. Not only was I having to embark on this completely new kind of writing enterprise, but also I was getting no sleep because of the baby. All of that just conspired to make an absence of songs. After the book was put to bed, I thought, it’s been a long time since I wrote songs, maybe I’m supposed to be doing something else now or maybe not. It was just wait and see. Then, during that waiting and seeing, I was hoping song ideas would come. Luckily, they did.

Did you learn anything about your songwriting in the process of working on the book?

I don’t think I learned anything I didn’t already know. It was in some ways instructive to go back over all that old ground, but all along I’ve had a pretty good handle on how my writing process works. It’s been this wait-and-see thing ever since 1970, when I tried being a disciplined writer for a year and that didn’t really work for me. This is in the book—I ended up with about the same amount of usable material at the end of the year of diligently writing every day as I would have if I had just waited for good ideas. Mostly what I was writing was just throwaway stuff. After that, I didn’t bother anymore, I just waited.

The Canadian fingerpicker’s 33rd album features his nephew John Aaron Cockburn on accordion and jazz trumpeter Ron Miles on flugelhorn, and was produced by longtime collaborator Colin Linden.

The opening song on Bone On Bone is called “States I’m In,” and overall the album seems to have kind of an anxious energy. Does the current political situation here in the U.S. factor into the writing?

In an indirect way, it definitely does, as it does for all of us. Who gets through a day without saying the name Trump? You can’t these days. It’s just ridiculous, the degree that his showmanship is able to keep us paying attention to the stupid things he does. In that sense, it’s definitely part of “States I’m In,” it’s part of “Café Society” … any of the things that have exterior references in them, pretty much. The political atmosphere certainly colors the songs.

On “Bone On Bone,” you’ve got an interesting concept going on—a combination of McCoy Tyner-sounding chords and blues fingerpicking moves. How did you arrive at that synthesis?

It’s a good question. I date myself every time I do that, because I’m a product of that period [modal jazz of the 1960s] very much. I went to Berklee for a couple years, studying jazz composition. Coming out of high school, that’s what I thought I was going to be doing with my life. Being surrounded by people who were dedicated to music and by the sound of their music 24/7 for a couple years was really great, and many influences came into my music because of that.

I’d already had a great interest in jazz, and I was a big fan of Coltrane and all that stuff. At the same time, I was listening to Mississippi John Hurt and Big Bill Broonzy and all the older bluesmen, trying to fingerpick like them, which I never really learned how to do. In the process, I ended up mixing a kind of mutant fingerpicking with a lot of the jazz elements that I was learning.

At first, I was self-conscious about the jazz thing. I didn’t want to invite comparison with actual jazz guitars, because I didn’t think my playing warranted that. I’m not that great an improviser and have never been any good at playing on changes and stuff like that. So I didn’t include jazz in my own musical thinking for a long time. It crept in little by little. By the mid ’70s, I had enough confidence to bring in actual jazz musicians to play with me in the studio, and to some extent live. Then it grew from there.

Cockburn favors a tuning he calls EGAD. “It’s like DADGAD,” he explains, “but with the 6th string kept at E instead of lowered a step. I like how easy it is to get that McCoy Tyner movement under your fingers in that tuning.”

Throughout the album, the guitar parts tend to be less based on progressions than riffs.

I think that observation is exactly right. It’s also a product of the fact that when I was at Berklee in the ’60s, I was learning jazz harmonies and how to write horn charts using lots of IIm–Vs and all that stuff. I never related to it very well. I loved listening to the music people made that’s constructed that way, but it felt alien to me to try to make my own music like that.

At the same time, as I was being taught those things, the jazz world was discovering Indian and Arabic music, which don’t have any chords per se. They have harmonic relationships, but they’re relationships based on the shapes that melodies take against drones, even if the drones are sometimes imagined.

That music attracted me hugely. Then at the same time, the free-jazz thing came along, and I liked that a whole lot. I just found I was drawn to music that didn’t depend so much on chord changes, and partly—maybe it was laziness—I just didn’t have it in me to do the work to learn how to play with the standard kinds of chords. To some extent I’m envious of people who are really good at that, because it’s a wonderful skill, and it’d be nice to be able to do that.

I see the way the music unfolds as a kind of architecture. Maybe it’s from looking at meters in the studio or something. Especially the modern ones that are graph-like. There’s a sense of visual shape that goes with how a melody moves. That governs me more than the idea of chords. There have been times when I’ve experimented with that more. Certain songs and certain sets of lyrics seem to warrant more chord changes.

I tend to write a lot of lyrics that don’t seem to want that, that just want a rhythm, some kind of non-chordal support from the guitar. Putting music to a set of lyrics is like scoring a film. You have words that need to be served by the music. They need support, and they don’t want to be overwhelmed by it. You want to create a space, an auditory framework for the words to sit in, and that’s what the music’s all about.

Getting back to “Bone On Bone,” it sounds like you’re playing in an alternate tuning.

Yes. “Bone On Bone” is in a tuning I call EGAD—like DADGAD, but with the 6th string kept at E instead of lowered a step. It gives you all those fourths, but in E minor. I like how easy it is to get that McCoy Tyner movement under your fingers in that tuning. It took a bit of doing—for my brain at least—so I could play relatively freely over the droning bass in EGAD. It gives you some obvious handy things, but it also takes away some things that you’re used to from standard tuning.

Linda Manzer 6-string cutaway (2)
Linda Manzer 12-string
Linda Manzer electric charango
1930s S.S. Stewart archtop with Bartolini Hi-A pickup
Roundneck single-cone Dobro with brass body and biscuit bridge, Telecaster neck pickup, and internally mounted Shure SM58 microphone
Fender XII

Amps: 1960s Fender Vibrolux Reverb (2)

Electric Effects:
Boss TU-2 tuner
ZVEX Distortron
Empress Tremolo2
Boss DD-5 Digital Delay (2)
TC Electronic Corona Chorus

Acoustic Effects:
Boss DD-7 Digital Delay
Line 6 DL4
TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb

Strings and Picks:
Martin Marquis M2100 (6-string)
D’Addario EJ38 (12-string)

“In a perfect world, all my music would be totally improvisational. Perhaps that’s an illustration of the gap between how I actually do things in my daydreams and in reality.”

Early on in my career, I resisted using very many alternate tunings. I was kind of put off by how a lot of singer-songwriters were using open tunings. They basically changed the guitar tuning and didn’t learn any new fingerings—they’d get into different keys or different harmonic relationships just because of the tunings. It seemed like a cop-out to me.

That said, I learned open-C tuning from listening to Reverend Gary Davis, as well as the standard open-D tuning that everybody knows, stuff like that. I’ve never learned to play freely in the C tuning. There’s just not enough there for me to get into. It works great for certain things. I used it, for instance, on an older album [1991’s Nothing But A Burning Light], doing a cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man,” because there’s certain things that are there with that open-C tuning that are good bluesy things to do. It has a power to it.

For composed pieces, open C works quite well, as long as you have time to think about what you’re going to do. Improvising in it is hard, other than in that very basic blues way, for me. With the EGAD thing, it’s just a matter of playing on it a lot. You learn what to expect from where your fingers are going next. You can study it, obviously, too. You could write it all down and do it in a systematic way. That might be preferable for all I know, but for me, the process has been just learning it by doing.

Speaking of improvisation, how does that feature into your work as a singer/songwriter, especially on Bone On Bone?

Where possible, I like improvising. Often, I find a place for a guitar solo in a song—two verses and a guitar solo and another verse—or some structure like that, where the opportunity to solo is written in. And the length of the solo can vary. Like on “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” I’m just playing over an Em chord, basically.

There’s plenty of improvisation on the new album. I gave myself a shot at improvising crude blues riffs on “Café Society” and the opportunity to jam on States I’m In,” although the song probably could’ve done without it. The song would still work, but I like the idea of having it in there. “Mon Chemin” starts with an improvised bit before the other instruments come in.

The trumpet/flugelhorn player Ron Miles improvises all through the album. He’s a jazz guy, an amazing improviser, much more so than you can tell from what he does on my album, though he did contribute greatly to it. With musicians of that caliber, you can just let them show up to the session and then turn them loose on the recording. This kind of improvisational process is usually how I operate with bands—people coming up with their own parts.

In a perfect world, all my music would be totally improvisational. Perhaps that’s an illustration of the gap between how I actually do things in my daydreams and in reality. I write in a pretty structured way. Any song can be improvised on, but the songs don’t always invite it, let’s say. This album has a lot that did. Perhaps this is one of the things that distinguishes it from some of my other stuff.

Bruce Cockburn - photo Matt Condon
Shown here onstage with a vintage Fender XII, Cockburn has an affinity for 12-string guitars. Bone On Bone features several tracks based around his Manzer 12-string acoustic. Photo by Matt Condon

So the arrangements came together in the studio, as you presented the songs to the musicians?

Basically, yep. It was a multiple-way conversation between [producer] Colin Linden, me, and the musicians. In the case of John Dymond and Gary Craig, we’ve worked together a lot in different settings over the years, and Colin and I have done a lot of stuff together for 20 years now. Communication’s very, very easy. There’s a sense of what to expect from each other. It makes for a short conversation.

If you bring in somebody new, like Ron or my nephew John Aaron [Cockburn], who plays accordion on the album, there’s more to talk about and more to sort out, because they’re coming from a place of unfamiliarity with the setting. Still, if people know what they’re doing, it’s usually pretty easy to get good results.

It’s kind of uncommon for singer-songwriters to pair acoustic guitar with flugelhorn and accordion. Did you decide on the instrumentation first, and then look for players, or was it the other way around?

It was the former, actually. I have a friend named Myra Melford, a really great jazz pianist who lives in Oakland. We knew we were going to record in the Bay Area, and I knew I wanted a trumpet player who would be a good foil for me. Myra recommended Ron Miles.

Then there’s the case of my nephew. I knew he played accordion and guitar—he’s a very gifted young musician. He has a band of his own that leans toward Eastern European-influenced stuff. I hadn’t heard him play anything but that. I wondered what would happen. I thought, I know he can play the instrument, and I know he’s really musical, so let’s check it out. He came through in spades and is in the touring band now, too.

It’s working really well. It’s circumstantial, but it can go any which way. I’ve had experiences of the other kind, where I know somebody or I just run into somebody, they happen to be in town, and it’s like, let’s get them on the record. But this album didn’t really have that.

Was it difficult to blend acoustic guitar with flugelhorn, given how much more powerful the horn is?

I think in general, horns probably are easier to make a pretty sound with electric guitar, but it can all work. It’s a matter of finding the right kind of parts and the right musical relationship between instruments. In theory, any instrument can go with any instrument, really. Acoustically, you can get into a problem when you have very loud and very soft together. If I’m playing acoustic guitar unamplified with a clarinet player or even a piano player, I’m going to get drowned out.

But with today’s technology, that kind of difference in the instruments’ power doesn’t really matter. It’s more like, is this particular trumpet player’s tone going to harmonize with or blend well with my guitar? You think about those things, but for me, the bigger consideration is what kind of stuff they’re going to play. That said, Ron brought the flugelhorn, because it has that slightly mellower tone than the trumpet. I thought it fit really well with the sounds we were getting in the studio.

What guitars did you play on the album?

It varied from song to song. On “Bone On Bone”— the only instrumental on the album —I played a guitar that belonged to Colin Linden. That’s a Gibson L-7C, I believe, an old one. We were doing these overdubs at Colin’s studio in Nashville. He had all his guitars sitting around there, and I found that one to be the best one for that piece.

The dominant acoustic sound is the sound of Manzers. “States I’m In,” for instance, was recorded on my Manzer 6-string. I played my Dobro on “3 Al Purdys,” and there’s the solidbody electric charango that Linda Manzer made for me years ago, which is what you hear on “Mon Chemin,” the French song. Others are on my Manzer 12-string, such as “Looking And Waiting” and “Twelve Gates To The City.”

I had some other guitars around, but I didn’t use them much. “Café Society” is on an old S.S. Stewart archtop, which I have a pickup on. It’s one of the original Bartolini pickups for acoustic guitar, called a Hi-A, which I’ve had since the mid ’70s. It was superseded by pickups that sounded more acoustic, but I kept the pickup around because it’s a good one and it sounds great on the S.S. Stewart.

Bruce Cockburn - Guitars
Baritone guitar by Tony Karol, 12-string Manzer – Original 6-string Manzer – Manzer 6-string, dobro, Manzer Charango

Tell us more about your Manzer instruments.

I’ve known Linda since the ’70s, actually, when she was apprenticing to Jean Larrivée. The first instrument she made for me was that little solidbody charango I mentioned, which she made in the late ’80s. Then a year or two later I got her to make me the 6-string that you hear on the record. The 12-string is a more recent acquisition, from the early 2000s. It’s an older guitar—Linda made it for somebody else, and it came back to her.

How are the Manzers different from other steel-strings for you? What’s made them your go-to guitars for so long?

Over the course of many years, I went through a lot of guitars, trying to find one that was just right. I got a Larrivée that I was told was the first cutaway he’d made. At that time, the search was on for something you could amplify. It’s one thing to be onstage playing solo into a microphone, but the minute you had any kind of a band, you needed more.

Pickups got better, and I had quite a few different commercial brands of acoustic-electric guitar. But I decided to go back to a handmade instrument, and that’s when I asked Linda to make me one. We talked about what characteristics it would have, but my input wasn’t terribly meaningful because I’ve never really paid that much attention to these things. I did ask for a little wider fretboard, thinking it might be nice to have the strings a bit further apart, for fingerpicking purposes. I also asked that the neck be shaped in such a way that I could get my thumb around it to fret notes on the lowest string, because I do that a lot.

That is the advantage of going to a luthier for a custom-made guitar—you can get exactly what you want in an instrument. That’s not to say you can’t find great guitars that were made in factories. There are so many wonderful Martins and Gibsons. Then, you have small companies making splendid guitars. I’ve got a Collings—a Brazilian rosewood and Adirondack spruce dreadnought—that’s a beautiful guitar. I bought it in the early ’90s from Westwood Music in L.A.

The truth is, there are so many great luthier- and factory-made guitars these days—so many more than when I was starting out in the ’70s. Though in the end, it matters less what you play than how you play it.

In this live version of If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” Cockburn fingerpicks his roundneck Dobro and dives into a chimey solo at 3:02.

Manzer cutaway in hand, Cockburn performs “States I’m In”—a standout track from Bone On Bone—live at CBC’s studios.

Credit: Bruce Cockburn: Just Wait and See – by Adam Perlmutter

The Paul Leslie Hour #12 – Bruce Cockburn – audio interview

3 November 2017 – Bruce Cockburn is a prolific Canadian singer-songwriter and recording artist with more than 300 songs in his catalog. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Dan Fogelberg, the Jerry Garcia Band, Barenaked Ladies, Ani DiFranco, Jimmy Buffett, k.d. lang and many others. This interview discussed many things including his most recent 33rd album “Bone On Bone.”

LISTEN – direct link

Counsel of Elders: Bruce Cockburn on Serving as Messenger

The Bluegrass Situation – By Amanda Wicks
Oct 20, 2017

Life in Trump’s America doesn’t end at the country’s borders. The present-day era’s global scope means that, sonar-like, the current U.S. president’s impact tears across the world, including upward to the country’s endearing northern neighbor. Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn wrote his new album, Bone on Bone, under the unnerving atmosphere that has settled like grey ash over contemporary life ever since the 2016 presidential election. Several songs, including “Café Society” and “States I’m In,” touch on the agitation rippling through communities and individuals, while “False River” decries a more specific issue: pipelines. “Life blood of the land, consort of our earth, pulse to the pull of moonrise, can you tally what it’s worth?” he sings against a locomotive rhythm that practically pulses with exigency. Trump, specifically, doesn’t pop up on the album, but his influence can be felt in the at-times brooding reflections which spur Cockburn’s latest songs.

The LP marks Cockburn’s 33rd and arrives seven years after his last effort, Small Source of Comfort. The time in between took his attention to other places, including fatherhood and his 2014 memoir, Rumours of Glory. It took contributing a song to the documentary Al Purdy Was Here (about the Canadian poet) to spark his songwriting once again. Cockburn has long pointed his weapons of choice — namely, his pen and his guitar — at issues impacting the world, and Bone on Bone makes clear that his song-based activism hasn’t eased any. If anything, he doubles down, impressing upon listeners the detrimental forces propelled by division, isolation, and more. Cockburn tapped Ruby Amanfu, Mary Gauthier, Brandon Robert Young, and even singers from the church he regularly attends — known on the album as the San Francisco Lighthouse chorus — to offset his dusky vocals and paint an inclusive picture of community, even while his song’s subject matter toed a more solitudinous line. His lyricism, as pointed and precise as ever, proves that the septuagenarian still has important messages to share, and will do exactly that — so long as his mind and breath and energy allow him. A new inductee to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, the timing couldn’t be more aligned.

It feels more important than ever to have messengers like you.

Thank you for saying that. It does feel like a time when we have to emphasize communication, because everything is so polarized. We’re all looking at slogans and talking in slogans all the time, but it seems really important to share an experience with each other.

Yeah, in keeping with that idea of slogans — even thinking about the way social media packages thought — how do you feel your songwriting has had to change to reach across the aisle, so to speak?

I don’t really have a good answer for that. It’s a legitimate question, but I feel I haven’t really changed my approach to songwriting. I think it’s a question of maintaining some sort of footing in reality. We all have our own idea of what reality is, but social media creates a false reality. I’m not very involved in social media, so I’m not the best person to be passing judgment on it. At the same time, I’m not involved with it because I don’t trust it, because I don’t like it. There’s a great usefulness to it, granted — it’s really great when you can communicate with people at a distance quickly, and if you have something sensible to communicate — but it doesn’t stop at that. For me, it’s a world of BS and I don’t really want to spend time in that world.

Sure. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, “If there was a sensible message.”

It’s not very hard to find opinions being passed off as news that really are offensive, whatever your perspective. Most of the time you don’t learn anything, because you just get annoyed. That’s a problem, because it could be a forum for greater understanding.

You touch on a bit of that with “States I’m In,” and I love the title’s play on words: Noddings toward the division people may now feel as individuals and as a country. What’s the most significant message you think listeners need to hear today?

Well, I don’t think the song offers an answer, really, except a spiritual one. I didn’t design the album to have a particular theme, but there is that underlying theme that the spiritual world is one where we can actually meet — or where we need to go, whether we meet or not. It puts things in a perspective that is less prone to being blown this way and that by the winds coming out of various high-profile people. [Laughs]

“States I’m In” is a kind of capsulized dark night of the soul experience. The song unfolds with a sunset and it ends with dawn and, in the meantime, there’s all this stuff — it’s not all autobiographical, although the feelings are. I think the feelings that the song expresses are feelings a lot of us experience, so it has that application for somebody other than me. You can get swept away by all the stuff, but in the end, what’s essential is that relationship with the divine. That’s the whisper welling up from the depths and, if you can shut up long enough to listen for that whisper, it’s there.

Speaking about the album’s spirituality, the number 33 has a powerful religious and spiritual connotation. Does the fact that this is album number 33 hold any meaning for you?

That’s an interesting question, too. I hadn’t thought of that, so I guess the answer’s “no,” but maybe subliminally it did. The number that I did think of is the [song] “40 Years in the Wilderness,” and that’s more specific, both as a reference and in my own life.

And there’s also the fact that it’s been seven years between albums, and seven is a potent number, as well.

Yeah, I know, we’re getting all numerological here.

And I don’t necessarily mean to!

It’s not a belief system that I adhere to, particularly, but I do find it interesting when those things show up. There are certain years in my life … I mean, a year that adds up to four is almost never a good year for me, and almost all the other ones are. So what does that mean? Maybe it’s totally subjective or maybe it’s not.

Or, if you head into those particular years with that mindset, you create your own issues.

Right, it’s impossible. I can never stand back far enough to be sure I’m not doing that. I think all of those kinds of esoteric ways of trying to understand things — whether it’s numerology or the tarot or astrology — they all have some functionality. They all work in some way. But what I’ve thought over the years is that they seem to operate as enhancements to your own sense of contact to the bigger reality, so it doesn’t really matter which one you use, if it helps you. If you have a sensitivity to that kind of listening state, those things help you listen, and they might help you listen — in the case of the tarot — to somebody else’s condition.

Once anything becomes a belief system that can be passed on and you can train people in it and so on, it’s kind of like training musician. I haven’t been to Berklee in some time, and really appreciated it as a great school, and it still is, but the problem with that and the problem with any system of education is, you teach people to be the same as each other. The geniuses will transcend that; they’ll learn all the stuff and then they’ll go on and be themselves. But the people that are not geniuses will end up being very good at what they do but sounding like each other. And I think the same thing applies to spiritual training: You can learn all that stuff and it doesn’t make you gifted.

It doesn’t, and I wonder how much “genius” here applies to a sense of bravery.

Yeah, maybe so, whether it’s bravery or necessity. Some people are brave and step out in spite of their surroundings or themselves, and others of us just luck into it. This is what I know how to do, and I kind of care what people think about it, but I’m not going to let their opinions stop me.

Right, and then speaking of another individual in that sense, your song “3 Al Purdys” … what is it about his use of language that holds such magic for you?

He had great insight for one thing — into people and the historical place of things. And, as a young poet, he’s kind of raw and brash and very Canadian, very colloquial, very rough around the edges, but interesting as all get-out. And then, as he gets older, as the poems become more recent, he becomes more speculative and thoughtful and more international, also. His thought processes are beautifully articulated and communicable, therefore.

He’s got some really visceral introspection’s.

His hit is the poem where he’s in a bar in Ontario, and he tries to get somebody to buy him a beer in exchange for a poem and it doesn’t work, and he reflects on what poetry is really worth, when it won’t even buy you a beer. And of course that’s the side of Al Purdy that my song is thinking of. Everybody who knows Al Purdy knows that poem, and it’s so archetypically Canadian. You kind of had to be there to appreciate it. I don’t know how it would seem to somebody from the U.S. Nonetheless, it captures some aspect of Ontario culture thoroughly. He’s basically my dad’s generation, and he spent the ‘30s riding the rails back and forth across Canada, looking for work like everybody else. Both of the spoken word sections in the song are excerpts from his poetry.

Congratulations, by the way, on being inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. I know the country has honored you in a few different ways, but what did it mean to be recognized for your songwriting?

It means people are listening. It’s gratifying and humbling, and I’m very grateful for it. An award is a thing, an event, and the event has its own meaning, and it had meaning. It was nice to be part of it, and then, you know, I have a thing to take home and put somewhere that I’ll have to dust. [Laughs]

What a way to look at it!

But what it represents, like I said, is that people are paying attention, and an artist can’t ask for anything more.

Very true. Well, my last question is admittedly silly. You’ve been called the “Canadian Bob Dylan,” so who would you say is the American Bruce Cockburn?

Um, I’d like it to be Tom Waits, but …

Alright, let’s just make that claim!

I don’t think anybody’s anybody except themselves, but I remember way back in the day being described in more than one review of a show as the Canadian John Denver, and the only similarity is that we both have round glasses. It’s such a cheap way to try to describe something. It’d be better to describe me as not the next Canadian this or that: He’s not the Canadian Bob Dylan. He’s not the next Leonard Cohen. He’s not the next Joni Mitchell. If you do enough of those, you can kind of get to what the person might be. If I had to be some American singer/songwriter, Tom Waits would be high on my list. Lucinda Williams would be high on my list, too. And Ani DiFranco is a terrific songwriter and closer, in a certain sense, to what I do. I forget where it was, but I was described as Ani DiFranco’s uncle.

No way.

It’s better than being described as “the next Canadian something or other.” It was actually kind of an honor, but these comparisons … if they’re not amusing, then they’re sort of not very nice.

Credit: The Bluegrass Situation – Counsel of Elders: Bruce Cockburn on Serving as Messenger By Amanda Wicks – Oct 20, 2017.

Bruce Cockburn inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame-including his speech

On Saturday September 23, 2017 Bruce Cockburn along with Neil Young, the group Beau Dommage, and Stéphane Venne were inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Scroll to the end for Bruce’s acceptance speech in his own hand.

14 January 2018 – This is the short film biography that was shown on the big screens during the celebration.

Published to YouTube by: Matt Zimbel – What an honour to tell this man’s story. Writer / Producer MZ, Editor Hugh John Murray, Voice Over, Olaf Gundel.

(The following is from Billboard article by Karen Bliss)

The impact of four life-changing Canadian songwriters — Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn, the group Beau Dommage, and Stéphane Venne — was the common thread at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) induction ceremony over the weekend at Toronto’s Massey Hall, where professional musicians of all ages — and one former astronaut — expressed their respect and gratitude for their music.

Stéphane Venne - Buffy Saint-Marie - Neil Young - Bruce Cockburn - Randy Bachman - photo Tom Sandler
Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame – Stéphane Venne – Buffy Saint-Marie – Neil Young – Bruce Cockburn – Randy Bachman – photo Tom Sandler – 2017

This was the first induction ceremony in six years. The CSHF was created by music publisher Frank Davies in 1998; the inaugural gala was held in 2003 with six more to follow. The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers (SOCAN) purchased it in December 2011 and has been working to update the brand and educate the public about its inductees and mandate.

The historic Massey Hall, which opened in 1894, was the perfect setting for such esteemed honorees. Both Young and Cockburn have recorded live albums there and the late Jonathan Demme’s final doc on the folk-rocker, 2011’s Neil Young Journeys, culminates in two performances at Massey. It’s a venue many Toronto artists dream of headlining — our Carnegie Hall.

The four-hour show, which ran an hour over schedule, was a bilingual affair, giving equal time to the two Quebecois legends, even if, truth be told, many of the Anglophones in the audience found their own grade-school French studies proved absolutely useless. Each artist was feted with covers of their songs and stories about their influence, plus the customary tribute video.

The evening began with an cappella group Eh440 singing and beat-boxing Cockburn’s “Lovers In A Dangerous Time” from the back of the hall, down the aisle to the stage, right past the songwriter himself, as well as Neil Young with “true love” Daryl Hannah; Buffy Sainte-Marie sitting next to Randy Bachman; Venne, and members of Beau Dommage.

Continue reading article from Billboard

(Excerpt from David Friend’s article on

A performance of Cockburn’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” by Blackie and the Rodeo Kings added another notch to the political tone of the event. Lisa LeBlanc joined them for Wondering Where the Lions Are.

Blackie & the Rodeo Kings - CSHF2017 - photo Gary Craig
Blackie & the Rodeo Kings – CSHF2017 – photo Gary Craig

There was also a performance by William Prince & Elisapie Isaac covering “Stolen Land” and Hawksley Workman & Don Ross covering “Silver Wheels”.

It was followed by Buffy Sainte-Marie who offered her perspective on the songwriter’s career as she introduced him onto the stage.

“Bruce is an agitator, an activist, a protester,” she said.

He writes “words that move the needle of public opinion” and that “shine the light on injustices,” Sainte-Marie added.

And here is Bruce’s handwritten speech:

Bruce Cockburn - Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame speech 2017 -pdf

To view above speech in standard pdf viewer click here.

Here’s the text version:

Thank you, Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. Thank you SOCAN.

I spend so much time playing and singing my own songs — it’s very interesting, very moving, to hear them performed by others! And on an occasion like this — to be so honored in the company of these wonderful artists.

I’ve been at my craft for a long time — long enough that the beginning seems like yesterday.

Under the influence of those who were a bit quicker on the draw than me, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte-Marie among others, I was seduced away from the pursuit of an education in jazz composition by songs…creations that combined music with something like poetry.

Though I didn’t understand it at the time, I came to realize that art, including the art of songwriting, is about sharing the human experience. Music is a spiritual bonding agent, a means of sharing deep feelings of all times. When you add words, the sharing becomes pointed — specific. A song can offer inspiration, distraction, solace, solidarity – a sense that we are not alone in our feelings. The human ability to create songs is precious and vital. We have always done it and I think we always will — the artifice of machines (and ISIS) not withstanding.

I’m immensely grateful to have been allowed to live a life centered around songwriting. And immensely grateful for the attention my efforts have received. To be able to do this and make a living at it is truly a great gift.

Re “Making a living at it,” I want to offer a word of thanks to Bernie Finkelstein, my friend and long-time manager, from whose asute ears and talent for strategizing I have benefited greatly. So too, all the excellent producers and musicians I have worked with, some of whom are here tonight, who have helped give my raw material the power to appeal to the world at large.

In a world increasingly defined by its fakery, we’ve together pulled off the greatest trick ever — we spread truth.

Cheers All!

CSHF 2017 Bruce Cockburn & Buffy Sainte-Marie - photo Tom Sandler
Bruce Cockburn & Buffy Sainte-Marie – CSHF 2017- photo Tom Sandler

Examining a Lifetime in Music

Bruce Cockburn on The Agenda

Bruce was recently interviewed on the tv program The Agenda with Steve Paikin.
Click through to watch.

Air Date:
Sep 12, 2017
From his humble beginnings on a farm near Pembroke Ontario,[this is an incorrect statement-and is discussed in the interview] to the streets of San Francisco, Bruce Cockburn’s music has provided an acoustic backdrop to generations of Canadians. He joins Steve Paikin to discuss his career, activism, Donald Trump, and latest album, “Bone On Bone.”
Catching Up With Bruce Cockburn;

Listen to Bruce Cockburn’s New Album ‘Bone on Bone’ (USA & beyond)

by Brittney McKenna – No Depression

8 September 2017 – Bruce Cockburn is one of Canada’s most beloved songwriters, earning 12 Juno Awards and spots in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame over the course of his storied career, which spans nearly five decades.

It’s been six years since Cockburn released a studio album — 2011’s Small Source of Comfort — but the songwriter announced earlier this year his plans to release a 33rd LP, Bone on Bone. The new collection of songs, produced by Colin Linden, touches on many subjects close to Cockburn’s heart, including the poet Al Purdy, life in Trump’s America, and the complexities of personal spirituality.

Click through and Listen to the album in its entirety before its September 15 release date.

Credit: Listen – Bone On Bone – No Depression.

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