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Bruce Cockburn reflects on his career during CSHF plaque ceremony at Studio Bell, home of National Music Centre

by Eric Volmers – Calgary Herald

Bruce Cockburn CSHF plaque NMC - photo_Darren Makowichuk-Postmedia
Bruce Cockburn presented a plaque to honour his induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on Sunday at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre. DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

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.

  • Vanessa Thomas- National Music Centre - Bruce Cockburn - CSHF - Andrew Mosker

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.”


Bruce Cockburn: Just Wait and See – PremierGuitar.com

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.”


Handwritten lyrics by Bruce Cockburn part of National Music Centre exhibit

by Eric Volmers
Updated: December 13, 2017

Music Museum - NAC - Adam Fox - photo Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia
Music Museum – NAC – Adam Fox – photo Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

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.”

Bruce Cockburn notebook - photo Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia
Bruce Cockburn notebook – If A Tree Fa;lls – photo Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

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.

Continue reading Calgary Herald article

Bruce Cockburn guitar signed - NMC -photo Madison McSweeney
Bruce Cockburn’s signed guitar on display National Music Centre – photo Madison McSweeney
Bruce Cockburn guitar signed - NMC -photo Madison McSweeney
Bruce Cockburn’s signed guitar on display National Music Centre – photo Madison McSweeney
Bruce Cockburn notebook Lovers in a Dangerous Time - NMC - photo Madison McSweeney
Bruce Cockburn notebook Lovers in a Dangerous Time – NMC – photo Madison McSweeney


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.



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 CTVnews.ca)

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

Related Posts:
22 January 2018 – Bruce Cockburn reflects on his career – Plaque ceremony at Studio Bell
31 January 2018 – Video Studio Bell – Bruce Cockburn on writing songs and rhythms


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