Mar 24, 2016 – Long before he arrived in Golden, Colorado and began to have an impact on what is now a bustling arts and culture scene, Bill Usher was a radio documentary producer and musician, with one of his proudest works coming in the form of a two-hour documentary titled On Tour with Bruce Cockburn.
Usher had worked with the Canadian folk icon on his 1976 release In the Falling Dark and toured across Canada with him on the subsequent tour. The idea to document the cross country tour with Cockburn seemed like a winner, and Usher took his idea to CBC, having produced documentaries for them previously.
“As soon as I knew that I had the gig…I basically went into one of the producers (at CBC) and said ‘I’m going out on the road with Cockburn for 12 weeks. I have this idea that I could do an on the road back stage documentary, are you interested?’,” he remembered.
The producer was interested, and Usher proceeded to round up all of the five inch reels of tape that he could before hitting the road for the tour.
Film and radio was a different animal back then. The days of digital recording were but a pipe dream, making production a lengthy, time-intensive process compared to contemporary standards.
“Back then we had a razor blade, cutting the tape. I’d sit there for two or three months with pieces of tape hanging all off the walls…you’d cut out all the good stuff and keep that and you’d start to put it together on a reel separated by white tape and you’d listen to it over and over again,” he said.
After splicing and editing reel upon reel of tape, Usher submitted his work to CBC and his documentary aired in September of 1977.
The doc remained mostly dormant in recent years. Usher kept a copy of the old reels in storage, but it wasn’t digitized and released online until earlier this year. When the Kicking Horse Culture Director gave it a listen this year, he was pleased to hear how it sounded nearly forty years after the fact.
“I’m really proud of it. It holds up,” Usher said.
One area that surprised Usher was how much his and the rest of the crew’s accents had changed over four decades.
“If you hear me talking now and you listen to the way we were all talking back then, our accents have changed,” he said.
There are several highlights for Usher throughout – one involving a grumpy tour manager during a show’s setup – but the most poignant commentary featuring Cockburn came during a one on one interview that Usher had with the famed musician at the tour’s conclusion.
“He was pretty loose by then. He’s a shy guy, he’s always been a shy guy,” Usher recalled.
“Shy folks like that that are out in that world of adulation, it’s really tough…I don’t know why it is but we went down this certain path around reconciling the adulation with the real person and that is the theme of the interview.”
On Tour with Bruce Cockburn, as well as a new introduction from Usher, is available for streaming at brucecockburn.org/circles_in_the_stream_tour_1977.
Credit: The Golden Star, written by Joel Tansey.