We sat down with Bruce Cockburn after the release of O Sun O Moon – his latest album in a distinguished career spanning five decades. Cockburn discusses creativity, guitars, songwriting, and even gives us a lesson in EADGAD tuning.
Acoustic Guitar Magazine – BY JEFFREY PEPPER RODGERS
19 July 2019 – Over a career spanning five decades, Bruce Cockburn has traversed an extraordinarily wide landscape on the guitar, from fingerstyle folk, country blues, and gospel to edgy rock and exploratory jazz—all in the service of his songwriting muse. What’s even more remarkable is that he’s done all this not just as a bandleader but also as a solo acoustic performer. In Cockburn’s hands, the guitar becomes a true band in a box, delivering powerful grooves, riffs, melodies, harmonized lines, and improvised solos in real time.
And at 74, Cockburn is certainly not done exploring the instrument, as is obvious from a spin of Crowing Ignites, his 34th album and first-ever collection of all new instrumentals (2005’s Speechless compiled previously released instrumentals along with a few new tracks). The title Crowing Ignites is a rough translation of “Accendit Cantu,” which adorns the old Cockburn family crest. As does so much of his music, the album ranges across folk, blues, jazz, and shades in between, with virtuosic playing primarily on six-string, 12-string, and baritone acoustics.
Getting a handle on Cockburn’s multilayered guitar style isn’t easy, even for Cockburn himself. “I don’t think about how I do it—I just do it,” he says on the phone from his home in San Francisco. “But it’s actually quite interesting to try and make it into something communicable.” That is exactly what Cockburn accomplishes in this lesson: He breaks down the key components of his style and demonstrates them through a series of examples drawn from his songs.
Below, you can learn the core guitar parts from some of Cockburn’s best-known songs, such as “Wondering Where the Lions Are” and “Pacing the Cage,” as well as other gems from across his career. At acousticguitar.com, you can not only check out the video of Cockburn sharing excerpts from these songs, but you can see him perform a complete version of “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (transcribed on page 60 of the print/digital issue) as well as two instrumentals from Crowing Ignites. The result is perhaps the closest and clearest view ever of this guitar master at work.
Jan 28, 2015 – The March 2015 issue of Acoustic Guitar will feature an excerpt from Bruce Cockburn’s new memoir, Rumours of Glory, in which the Canadian singer, songwriter, and guitarist talks about why, at 23, he left ’60s-era folk-rock to focus on solo acoustic music. He’d met fingerstyle guitarist Fox Watson, who taught Cockburn how to play in alternate tunings.
“I was sort of disdainful of open tunings back then because I didn’t like most of what people did with them—playing the same four chord formations in different tunings, trying for a specious variety in their sound without going to the trouble of actually learning their instrument,” Cockburn writes. “But when Fox played in any of several tunings he used, what came out was fluid as a mountain creek and agile as a gull.”
That was more than four decades ago. Since then, Cockburn has returned to playing electric guitar in rock bands, but he never left an acoustic guitar far behind, and he’s developed a style that is unmistakably his. In this special half-hour edition of Acoustic Guitar Sessions, senior editor Marc Greilsamer talks at length with Cockburn about his love of acoustic guitars and the singer-songwriter performs three tunes: the instrumental “Bohemian 3-Step,” “Waiting for a Miracle” and his most famous song, the politically fierce “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.”