The interview is 37 minutes long and touches on some of Bruce’s insights about being in Nicaragua and Afghanistan during wartime, much about his songs and where they came from, aging in relation to performing and being a Canadian.
Hi, Really excited to tell you that Bruce Cockburn won his 13th Juno last night for “Bone On Bone”. It won for Top Contemporary Folk Album of the Year. A little backstory for you. Bruce won his first Juno in 1971 and his latest in 2018. That’s a span of 47 years. To put it in perspective, someone like Beaches (great band,) who just won their first Juno in 2018 will have to win again in 2065 to do what Bruce has just done. Now I know I’m biased and love Bruce, but I also like baseball and it’s love of stats, and let me tell you that’s a pretty amazing stat. Congratulations Bruce and everyone who worked on the album. So well deserved. ~Bernie Finkelstein
By M.D. Dunn
February 14th, 2018
At age seventy-two, after fifty years of recording, Canadian songwriter/guitar wizard Bruce Cockburn has produced some of the best music of his career on September’s Bone on Bone. Over thirty-three albums, Cockburn has offered fearless commentary on political issues, meditations on spirituality, and hundreds of brilliant songs that defy categorization.
He is perhaps best known for two mid-career hits, 1979’s “Wondering Where the Lions Are” and 1984’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.” These songs, as different as they are from each other, are representative of Cockburn’s sprawling catalog. “Lions,” with its reggae-influenced rhythms is a showcase for his unique finger-picking style, and “Rocket Launcher” demonstrates a concern for social justice that runs throughout his songs. (Indeed, he brought politics into his art when musicians were encouraged to avoid “causes.” His involvement in the anti-landmine campaign helped bring about the Ottawa Treaty, in which 122 nations agreed to abstain from using the weapons.)
Admired by musicians and activists around the world, he is royalty in his country of birth. Yet, for all the critical acclaim, Cockburn is a humble working musician with a generous sense of humor. Of his legendary status, Bruce Cockburn has said: “You can be a legend, or you can be present. You don’t get to be both.”
In a recent interview, conducted over telephone, Cockburn discusses his music, songwriting, and the benefits of not selling out.
The Rumpus: How are things in California? From the outside, it looks terrifying.
Bruce Cockburn: San Francisco is such an anomaly in every sense: culturally, weather-wise, and in terms of its sociopolitical structure. As a city, it’s kind of all by itself, with the illusion of self-sufficiency. You’re insulated from a lot of the weirdness. One day, we won’t be. There will be that big earthquake, and it’ll be our turn.
Rumpus: Bone On Bone is a beautiful album. It gets more interesting with each listen. After about two plays, I could remember most of the lyrics, which says something about the strength of the writing.
Cockburn: I find it surprising you could remember because I have my difficulty with them. It took me a while to get it. I still struggle with the spoken word parts on “Three Al Purdys.” Of course, they are not my words, they are his. But it’s always touch and go if the lyrics are not just simple rhyming couplets.
Rumpus: That is such a cool song. Having Al Purdy’s poems “Transient” and “In the Beginning Was the Word” with verses from your narrator [a homeless performer of Purdy’s poems offering “three Al Purdys for a twenty-dollar bill”] is remarkable storytelling. Your verses in the middle fit perfectly with the verses from Purdy’s poems. My only complaint is that there are only two Al Purdys in a song called “Three Al Purdy’s.”
Cockburn: Well, I didn’t get the twenty dollars. Nobody was forthcoming with the twenty-dollar bill.
Hi, I’m happy to announce that Bruce’s album “Bone On Bone” has been nominated for a JUNO award in the “Contemporary Roots Album of the Year” category. It’s Bruce’s 33rd nomination. He’s won 12 to date. Here’s a stat to contemplate and is fun to think about. Bruce got his first JUNO nomination in 1971 (he also won that year). So getting a nomination in 2018 means he’s been getting nominated over a period of 47 years now. Wow.
To put that in some perspective, for an artist who is getting their first nomination now in 2018, to do what Bruce has done, it would mean that they would have to get nominated again in 2065. Think about that. I hope I’m around to see it happen. ~ Bernie Finkelstein
5 February 2018 – On this week’s podcast, we talk to legendary singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn. Bruce was featured back in the Fretboard Journal #23 and he offers plenty of updates since then on his career, music and projects during our conversation. We chat about his Linda Manzer-built instruments (including the electric charango that she built for him), his memoir Rumours of Glory and the full-length documentary on his life, Pacing the Cage.
This episode of the Fretboard Journal Podcast is brought to you by our friends at Dying Breed Music, where you can find a bevy of great acoustic guitars from the Golden Era.
Fretboard Journal – Bruce Cockburn podcast #185 by Jason Velinde.
January 24, 2018
While visiting Studio Bell, Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Bruce Cockburn reflected on words and rhythm, and how they play into his songwriting process.
The National Music Centre and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame held the formal plaque ceremony as part of Bruce Cockburn’s induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on January 21, 2018.
The National Music Centre in Calgary has been the physical home of three Canadian Music Halls of Fame—the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame Collection—since opening in 2016. Members of all three Halls of Fame have visited their plaques, such as Sarah McLachlan, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tom Cochrane, Burton Cummings, Bob Ezrin, Randy Bachman and The Tragically Hip, to name a few.
Bruce Cockburn reflects on his career during CSHF plaque ceremony at Studio Bell, home of National Music Centre
by Eric Volmers – Calgary Herald
January 22, 2018 – Bruce Cockburn is not in the habit of listening to his old songs. But he did find a unique way to review his canon of music a few years back.
It was when he drove his daughter to preschool in San Francisco. He became his own captive audience.
“She would always insist on hearing my stuff in the car,” said Cockburn, talking to media on Sunday evening at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre. “‘Can we put on your music in the car?’ Every day this would repeat itself. ‘Do we have to? Can I not play somebody else?’ Nope. So I’d play me. It’s like looking at an album of snapshots in a way. It brings back all the feelings. Not all of the details, some of those are lost to the murk of time. But, certainly, that brings back the feelings that went into those songs.”
Cockburn was in a bit of a reflective mood Sunday evening at the National Music Centre, where he participated in the plaque ceremony held in honour of his 2017 induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. It found him placing his plaque on the wall, which already holds the names of artists such as Leonard Cohen, Hank Snow, Joni Mitchell and Wilf Carter.
Now housed at the National Music Centre alongside the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, the organization is overseen by the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN). The honour seems long overdue. Somehow SOCAN managed to find more than 50 songsmiths to induct before honouring Cockburn — a songwriter’s songwriter who wrote If I Had a Rocket Launcher and Lovers in a Dangerous Time — this year, alongside Neil Young, Beau Dommage and Stéphane Venne.
But he was gracious and had high praise for his fellow songwriters from the Great White North.
“I think Canada punches well above its weight in terms of the quality of songwriting that comes out of this country relative to the size of the population,” said Cockburn, who will play the Jack Singer Concert Hall on Tuesday night. “When you think how much we were influenced by English pop music in the ’60s and American pop music forever, there’s a lot of American pop music that is actually Canadian. And a lot of it that is not pop but has more serious intent than what often gets called pop music comes from here and I’m proud of that.”
by Adam Perlmutter – PremierGuitar.com
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.”
by Eric Volmers
Updated: December 13, 2017
It’s a small battered notebook, filled with scribbled lines, multiple revisions and the frayed edge of a page that has been mysteriously ripped out.
It also represents the inner workings of one of Canada’s most beloved songwriters and the early glimmers of one of his most beloved songs. Bruce Cockburn’s handwritten lyrics for Lovers in a Dangerous Time are currently on display as part of The National Music Centre’s temporary exhibit in Studio Bell to honour Cockburn’s 2017 induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
“You can see things have been scratched out and ideas are written around,” says Adam Fox, director of programs for the National Music Centre. “You can almost get a sense of their compositional method; just how they are crossing things out and putting things in different order.”
The notebook, which also includes handwritten lyrics for Cockburn’s politically charged hit If I Had a Rocket Launcher, is on display, as is his lyrics from 1988s If A Tree Falls. They are both on loan from McMaster University, where many of the songwriter’s archives have been housed since he donated them in 2013.
The temporary exhibit, which will be on display on the fifth floor of Studio Bell until the fall of 2018, celebrates a new batch of inductees to the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. Both now have a physical home at the National Music Centre, as does the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
The Indie Folk Music Channel
Published on Nov 27, 2017
“Stab At Matter” from Bruce Cockburn’s 2017 release “Bone On Bone”
Animation by Kurt Swinghammer