Media 2017

December 19, 2017
Premier Guitar

Bruce Cockburn: Just Wait and See
by Adam Perlmutter

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 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.

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.

“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 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.

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.

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.

I went to Berklee for a couple years, studying jazz composition, and many influences came into my music because of that.

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.

Bruce Cockburn’s Gear

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

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)

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 & 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.

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.

*Correction per Daniel Keebler: Ron Miles played only the cornet at the recording sessions for Bone On Bone.

Photo: Matt Condon

November 13, 2017
The Zebra

by Steve Houk

Even the word “prolific” is an understatement for rare artists like Bruce Cockburn.

The thoughtful, brilliant Canadian singer/songwriter just released his thirty-third record, Bone On Bone, another superb piece in a magnificent career that has spanned fifty-plus years. And at the age of 72, Cockburn — who was just inducted into the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame this past September alongside Neil Young – shows no signs of burning out or fading away.

But a few years ago in a rare twist of almost-tragic fate, Cockburn found that writing songs for a new record, which would be his first in seven years, wasn’t coming so easy. His mightily abundant supply of songwriting chops went momentarily dry after he exhaustively poured all of his creativity and energy into his 2014 memoir, Rumours Of Glory. Stunningly, he wasn’t even sure he would write another song.

“When I came out of writing my book, I wasn’t sure if I was  gonna write anymore songs ‘cuz it had been so long,” Cockburn said as he embarks on an extensive US tour which brings him to The Birchmere on Tuesday November 14th. “It’d been four years since I wrote a song, so I wondered if I still knew how to do it. (Writing the memoir) was more work than I expected, and all the creative juice I had went into the book, I wasn’t prepared for it. So at the end of all that, it was like, ‘Well, maybe I’m gonna be a songwriter again, maybe I won’t.’ I was hoping I would be, I was hoping that I would write more songs, ‘cuz in my gut I didn’t feel like that was over. But I also wondered if it’s really meant to be that I should be doing something else. It wasn’t a negative feeling, really, it was just kind of a question.”

Cockburn first credits inspiration from an unlikely source, in the form of a surprising request from a legendary fellow Canadian, for getting him back in gear, getting the juices flowing, getting him writing songs again.

“I got an invitation to contribute a song to a documentary film that was being made about [Canadian poet] Al Purdy,” Cockburn said. “It just seemed like a gift, you know, here’s this guy who wants me to write a song, and I don’t even know him. And over the years I’ve done very little of writing on demand like that, ‘cuz it’s sort of the opposite of how I normally operate, but in this case, the idea of writing about Al Purdy seemed like a good thing.  The offer was wide open, it was like, ‘Well, you can take Purdy’s poems and set them to music,’ which would be very difficult actually because they’re not that kinda poetry. Right away, I got the idea, the image came to me, of this homeless guy who is obsessed with Al Purdy and rants his poems out on the street. The song just went from there. It was like, ‘I’ll give you three Al Purdys for a 20 dollar bill.’ And what would this homeless guy be saying when he wasn’t ranting Purdy poetry? So ultimately, it’s a question of looking around for things.”

And given Cockburn’s lifelong passion for activism, it was also the new regime in the U.S. that helped rejuvenate his need to express himself through song.

“I don’t think I’ve had a conversation with anyone in the past year that didn’t mention Donald Trump. Right now, as a nation, the U.S. is polarized and so fragmented. Everybody’s just in shock, ya know? But when I write, it’s not that intentional…or deliberate…I just react. When I write a song, its ‘cuz I got this idea. An idea comes, and I think I can run with it, and that’s what I try to do. So, it’s not like I sit around thinking, ‘How do I express how disturbed I am at what’s going on in the United States?’ But once the ball was rolling, it just kept rolling.”

In inimitable Bruce Cockburn fashion, the songs from Bone On Bone have that extraordinary depth and thought and complexity that are staples of his work. Take the breakdown of his process for writing the catchy but startling “Stab At Matter” for example, it’s a description which opens a window into how Cockburn often comes up with themes for his often miraculous music.

“The original Stabat Mater is a Latin hymn from the 1300’s or earlier, maybe the 1100’s, it’s ancient,” Cockburn passionately describes. “In Latin, ‘Stabat Mater’ means basically that the ‘Mother is standing’ or ‘stand there, Mother.’ It’s really about Mary standing at the foot of the cross, watching her son die. It intrigued me, so I started obsessing over the phrase ‘stab at matter’. It just seemed to offer all kinds of possibilities and what came out was what you hear. It’s the destruction of ego, or the inevitable destruction of the stuff we surround ourselves with, depending on how you wanna look at it. It’s based on the notion that you don’t grow very far spiritually without getting your ego heavily in check. You waste a lot of energy, we all do, when being attached to things that do get destroyed. Or that just have their deaths built in. So it’s kinda getting free of all that. And I don’t know why it took that musical form, the words just seemed to want that. That’s how those things go.”

Cockburn credits the intense experience of writing his memoir for providing the basis for “States I’m In” which, along with a nod towards his disdain for the current administration, is also deeply personal.

“I don’t think there woulda been a song like ‘States I’m In’ without having written a book. You’re standing back, taking stock, and it gave me a sort of perspective on things. In a certain way, ‘States I’m In’ is a sort of encapsulation of the whole book. The song itself is not entirely autobiographical, I’ve never been a card shark. But it represents places I’ve been in myself and in the exterior world also. From being in war zones to watching beautiful sunsets over the Pacific. The sun going down in the West, over the ocean, is perhaps the most current thing in there. The sense of the divine creeping up at the end, like welling up. The whisper that has all that power at the end of the song. You could see the song as kind of a depiction of the dark night of the soul, in a metaphoric way, cos it starts with sunset and ends with dawn. I don’t know.”

And as far as his induction into the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall Of Fame, Cockburn was ushered in with a memorable speech by fellow CSHOF member, the legendary Buffy Saint Marie. “Buffy made the most lovely introduction to me that appeared to be just off the cuff and went on at some length longer than I thought she would, but she was great. It felt good to hear all that, and to have her do that.” Being who he is, Cockburn is typically humbled with the honor, but admittedly also very thankful for the welcome affirmation of his exceptional five decades of musical masterpieces.

“It means very little to me that I actually have an award per se, I don’t collect those things on purpose. But the best thing about it is that it’s a measure of how much attention people have paid to what I do, and I really care about that. That’s really the complement in there. That’s the positive reinforcement, which is very strong. I really appreciate that people have been listening and have attached importance to what I do. Not every artist gets that. So I’m grateful for that.”

November 4, 2017

After-show: Bruce at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa playing with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. My thanks to Jon Erickson and John Dymond for sending me these photos. -Daniel

Matt Anderson, Gary Craig, Ken Pearson, Tom Wilson, John Dymond, Colin Linden, Sam Palladio, Stephen Fearing, Bruce
Photo by Janice Powers

Bruce performed "Look How Far" and “Called Me Back.” ‘Waiting for a Miracle” was performed in the encore with Colin Linden on vocals.
Soundcheck photo by Suzie Miller 

November 3, 2017
Wicked Local

MUSIC SCENE: Poetry provides the inspiration for Cockburn
By Jay N. Miller/For The Patriot Leder

Bruce Cockburn’s new album, “Bone on Bone,” released last month, is the 33rd in the long and illustrious career of the Ottawa native, but it took a little spark to help get the songwriting going.

Bruce Cockburn’s new album, “Bone on Bone,” released last month, is the 33rd in the long and illustrious career of the Ottawa native, but it took a little spark to help get the songwriting going.

That was simply because Cockburn, the writer of over 300 songs, had devoted himself to penning the autobiographical “Rumours of Glory: A Memoir,” and he’d also become a father for the second time in 2011. But when he was asked to contribute a song for a documentary on the late Canadian poet Al Purdy, Cockburn began reading Purdy’s work, and inspiration came quickly.

Cockburn, 72, will be performing with his band Thursday night at the Wilbur Theater in Boston, part of his 14-date November tour of the East Coast.

“That turned out to be a great gift,” said Cockburn, calling from his San Francisco home before the tour started. “It served a very timely purpose, as I was sitting around wondering if I was going to write songs again, and wanting to write songs again. They asked me and I said yes, and began looking into his work, and that got the ball rolling.”

Cockburn’s song “3 Al Purdys” is a real treat, designed to reflect a homeless man ranting in the street. This fellow has devoted his life to the poet’s work, and the tune is book-ended by a spoken word introduction and coda, where Cockburn is reading Purdy’s actual lines. As the song goes on, the man’s rants make more sense, until by its end we’re all persuaded that his declaration that he’d trade “3 Al Purdys” for $20 would be a very good deal indeed.

Many local music fans may not know that Cockburn has some Boston-area ties, as he spent three semesters at Berklee College of Music between 1964-66. Leaving to begin playing with a band of friends, Cockburn bounced between several groups, including one called Olivus, which opened for both Jimi Hendrix and Cream in 1968. But by 1969 Cockburn was following his own muse, writing and performing as a solo act, and releasing his eponymous folk-rock debut album in 1970.

Cockburn was popular almost right away in Canada, but it took some time for his appeal to translate to the United States. His 1979 album “Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws” helped get him a foothold in the States, and even led to an appearance on Saturday Night Live. By then Cockburn’s songwriting had taken on more topical issues, and his 1984 song “If I Had A Rocket Launcher” became one of his best-known tunes. While touring Central America, Cockburn had seen a refugee camp for Guatemalan refugees, just across the Mexican border, and while he was there the camp was attacked by helicopter gunships from the Guatemalan military. In 2009, Cockburn traveled to Afghanistan to visit his brother, captain John Cockburn, who was serving with the Canadian troops over there. Inevitably, after performing, the troops had Cockburn pose with a real rocket launcher.

That song, and another one that became a sort of folk-rock standard, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” helped make Cockburn’s “Stealing Fire” album one of his most popular. Ironically, their cover of “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” became the first hit for his Canadian compatriots, Barenaked Ladies. By the end of the 1980s, a passel of Cockburn admirers among his fellow musicians had put together “Kick at the Darkness,” a tribute album where they performed their favorite Cockburn songs. Cockburn has continued writing and performing through the years.

Some more recent benchmarks were the 2003 album “You Never See Everything,” where he was joined by guests like Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne and Sam Phillips, and the 2005 “Speechless,” a compilation album of Cockburn’s best and most loved instrumental songs.

In 2013 he was the subject of the documentary “Bruce Cockburn: Pacing the Cage.” Now living in San Francisco, where his wife is an attorney, Cockburn’s humanitarian work has also included working with Oxfam, the Committee Against Landmines, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and the Unitarian Service Committee.

The latest album has all the hallmarks of Cockburn’s best, from the delectable finger-picked guitar textures framing “Looking and Waiting” to the topical, ecological theme of “False River,” to the intense self-examination of “States I’m In” with its infectious chorus about “sights I’ve seen, places I’ve been, each one reflected in the states I’m in.”

Looking back at that Boston period, we were intrigued by some lines from Cockburn’s acceptance speech when he went into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in September. “I was seduced away from the pursuit of an education in jazz composition by songs: creations that combined music with something like poetry,” he had said. A line in “3 Al Purdys” also seemed revealing, when the singer says “the beauty of language set a hook in my soul.”

“I went to Berklee with that notion, studying jazz composition,” Cockburn explained. “My parents had been pushing me hard to go to college for music, and Berklee had just begun awarding degrees. I was an avid reader of Downbeat magazine, which was always referring to Berklee, so it became a ‘path of least resistance.’ It was a good thing for me overall. But I had always been interested in other kinds of music too, playing guitar with rock bands and folkies. The education at Berklee was all about gaining a solid theoretical base, and getting deeper into the jazz idiom. But what also worked for me was the atmosphere there, being surrounded by music and musicians, all of them inquisitive people into exploring other kinds of music.”

“My Berklee time was very fruitful,” added Cockburn. “Boston was also at that time in the latter stages of the folk boom, so I spent a lot of time at Club 47 and The Unicorn, and also knew a drummer who had free jazz jams at his place every Saturday. I was also in a jug band. So it was not a big step for me to go into songwriting. I had been a big fan of The Beatles, and Bob Dylan, and the old blues guys like Reverend Gary Davis, so I had plenty of variety to explore. I was also writing poetry, probably since about fifth grade, which was mostly horrible, but I’d been bitten early by the poetry bug, with evocative stuff like ‘The Highwayman’ really grabbing me.”

Some of the new tunes continue the self examination and reflective nature that has always marked Cockburn’s work, like the gentle ballad “40 Years in the Wilderness,” which seems to speak of a search for meaning, the ruminative “Looking and Waiting,” the joyous “Jesus Train,” and the old gospel flavor of “Twelve Gates to the City.”

“I think ’40 Years’ is reflective of the path I’ve been on, which is by nature spiritual,” Cockburn said. “What it asks of me, I don’t really know, but you take it one step at a time and perhaps when you can look back, you can see how it all makes sense. ‘Twelve Gates’ was an old gospel blues I remembered from Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, which had come back to me and seemed like a good one to learn. I only ended up using the first verse, because the later verses were darker and more folkloric, and didn’t fit me. So I wrote a couple new verses to use after that first verse, with implications more pertinent to this time in history. ‘Jesus Train’ was based on a dream I had, of an actual train as a representation of divine power, sort of like an old Blind Willie Johnson song – one of my early musical heroes. His work was always so energetic and straightforward, and yes, that song is supposed to be joyful.”

Cockburn still plays “If I Had A Rocket Launcher,” although he’s not exactly thrilled it still resonates.

“I wish it were otherwise, that it was not still appropriate to sing it,” Cockburn said. “I stopped doing it after 9-11, because I felt it played into the wrong feelings. A couple years after that, it seemed OK to do it again, and people react strongly to it. Unfortunately, we can never over-state the darkness of the human condition – there is joy and light too – but the inhumanity is always there.”

The title cut for the new album is an instrumental, but a lively, surging piece of guitar mastery that is more compelling because there seems to be undercurrents beneath the bright melody. In truth, the title refers to a very human condition.

“When you’re writing without words, it’s all about the feel of the song,” said Cockburn. “There are elements of my jazz background in there – I loved the theory of jazz, I was just not good at playing it, or developing the technical chops you need. Once I had that piece we needed a title, and ‘Bone on Bone’ seemed to fit, and it does fit the visceral quality of this album. But the irony is that, the older you get, the more you hear doctors telling you about joints without any cartilage left, and I have some of that in my fingers, so it’s apt in that sense too.”

October 24, 2017
(Interview date: October 10, 2017)

The Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Canadian activist and Hall of Fame singer Bruce Cockburn shares some powerful thoughts with William Plotnick

Singer and songwriter Bruce Cockburn is currently living on a high-note. Following the recent release of his 30th studio LP, the wonderful 2017 record “Bone on Bone,” Cockburn was added to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame alongside Neil Young, Beau Dommage and Stéphane Venne.

On Nov. 7, Cockburn will bring his new record and his old classics to the Calvin Theater for what promises to be an exciting show. Prior to this show, Cockburn sat down with William Plotnick for an impassioned conversation about politics, the environment and the art of music. Check it out below:

William Plotnick: How are things going today in San Francisco?

Bruce Cockburn: Smokey! It’s clearing up a little in the last hour or so, but it’s pretty noticeable.

WP: While currently living in San Francisco, you’re witnessing the effects from the weekend’s tremendous forest fire. When asked in a past interview if you were optimistic or pessimistic regarding the current state of the environment, you claimed “I think we’re f**ked,” and that really summed things up. Your song, “If a Tree Falls,” deals directly with de-forestation and the environment as a whole. Is this past weekend’s forest fire a sign from nature that we are in fact quite f**ked?

BC:  Well, I’m hesitant to assign more meaning to any particular event than it actually has. In general, I think that we’re going to be seeing more and more of this stuff in coming years because of global warming and because of changes in the weather that go along with global warming. It’s not strange [for] California to have forest fires during this time of the year. October is historically the worst month for that. But what is different about these fires is that the winds are gusting up to about 70 miles-per-hour and carrying those embers long distances that start new fires.

I’m not a meteorologist, but it seems to me that there is likely to be more of this unstable weather appearing on the scene than what we’re used to, and therefore all of these things are becoming less predictable and potentially more disastrous because of this unpredictability. You can’t really get ready for fires of this scale. The firefighters last night were running around trying to get people out of their homes. They have no time to actually be fighting the fire because they’re trying to rescue people. Some people were not even able to get out of their homes in time and some that did only made it out with minutes to spare.

California is a crazy place and it kind of always has been. If we start seeing fires like this in Minnesota, we’ll know we’re really in trouble. But in California, forest fires are part of its history to an extent. And often, it’s arson or accidental fires. Like the fire in Oregon just a few months ago, that some 15-year-old started letting out fireworks in the woods. In a certain way, that kind of stuff could happen in any era. I feel like it comes down to there being too many people, so the systems all break down. The educational systems break down and it’s too big a system to fully operate. You have some schools that don’t teach kids anything while other schools do. Some parents are so busy scuffling for their living that they don’t have the time to teach their kids or pay any attention to what they’re up to. So there’s always the risk that some kids are going to go off and do dumb things, or adults for that matter who do dumb things. It seems to me that everything is too big and too out of control and the efforts to control it are looking sinister because you can’t really control the real stuff—there’s not enough money or will around to fix education, so that everyone could be taught how to behave in a responsible manner. What you get instead of that is some sort of totalitarian control over people because that’s the cheap way to get it done. It’s a very complicated picture, and it’s one of the reasons why I said “we’re f**ked.”

But at the same time, I don’t feel completely hopeless about it. I feel the likelihood is that the human experiment is close to ending. But I don’t know that for sure and I hope that it isn’t true. I still have that hope. I’ve got a five-year-old daughter and I want her to grow up in a world that she can live in.

WP: You put it poetically in your memoir, “When I’m confronted by the degradation of our surroundings, I feel that freedom being threatened and eroded.”

BC: Yeah, there’s a sense of free space, even if it’s an illusion. In Canada, Margaret Atwood at one point years ago wrote a study of Canadian literature that kind of made the point that up to that time, Canadian literature involved tiny humans surrounded by big nature. You had the sense that we were confronted by an environment that was if not hostile, then disinterested in our welfare. That tone informed a lot of Canadian novel-writing and other forms of writing. That was a major element of life growing up in Canada, but the other side of that coin is that there was all this free space around us. You can always imagine that you can completely disappear into this free space and no one would care what you did. You could have lived on your own terms even if it was within your imagination. As you physically see that free space filling up, that option [of it existing within your imagination] goes away. So you’re forced to confront it, which is not an unhealthy thing because we should be looking reality in the eye. You’re forced to confront the fact that you don’t have that freedom — that you’re stuck in the circumstances that you’re in. I lament the loss of that free space — of that illusion of it, if it is an illusion. For me, throughout the first half of the 70s, it wasn’t really an illusion. I spent a lot of time on the road getting away from the stuff that urban society asks of you and that felt more free, whether it was or not.

WP: You’ve traveled all throughout the world, and you have had the opportunity to take in the expansive landscapes and environments that planet Earth has to offer. Do you think that there is anything that we can be doing throughout our daily lives to help make a positive impact on the current environmental crisis?

BC: That’s a good question, and it’s one I keep asking myself. I don’t know if I have a good answer for it. I think the small things we can do will probably count if enough of us do them. Vote for the people who have the right ideas and make sure you do vote. The idea that we should give up on democracy because it’s f**ked up anyway is a very mistaken idea. If you do that than that will be a self-fulfilling prophecy that will come true. People that want to be in power and want to exercise power over the rest of us are very happy to not have us vote and to not have us exercise our democratic rights. They’re always happy to kind of erode those rights and take them away. It goes with the territory, you have power and you want to have more power, you want to be able to get your job done more easily without having to consult with someone. Police are like that, military is like that and government is like that. So the only way to keep that from running away from us is by paying attention and exercising our democratic rights so people shouldn’t think that it doesn’t matter anymore. I feel like that happened in the last federal election here and I see it happening all the time. The hopeful bit was Bernie Sanders and his crowd and the very unhopeful bit was the way the Democratic Party sabotaged that. The fact that that happened doesn’t mean that we should just give up and turn our backs on it, because if you think things are looking scary right now then they’ll look a whole lot more scary if we give up our democracy.

WP: It’s nice to hear you say that because one can’t help but notice a tone of indifference among some young people today toward politics or what is taking place throughout the world.

BC: For sure, and I even get it. I’ve gone through periods of my life where I felt like it really wasn’t worth it. But, how much does it really take? This doesn’t mean you have to devote your entire life to working on this stuff. Just, when things come up, notice!

WP: Your songs “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” and “Radium Rain” deal with nuclear warfare. Nuclear warfare is an issue you have been a strong advocate against throughout your career. Do you view the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons winning the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize as a big step forward in this issue?

BC: Well, I think it’s appropriate, but I’m not sure how much that means in terms of reaching any goal. But it seems to me that we were closer to getting rid of nukes 20 years ago than we are now. But any positive attention that is paid to that issue is good.

WP: It’s gotten to the point that I’m afraid to check the news every day because two very powerful people both seem to be inciting one another to bring this kind of warfare about.

BC: As long as the weapons are around, the risk is there. Some idiot’s going to use them. You have this jerk in North Korea, posturing in the way he is. But he’s not without his reasons in a way, but it’s an irrational response to the reasons. Then you have this comparably irrational response coming from our side and it makes one nervous. And it’s not that I’ve never had to be nervous about this before—the threat has always been there. Coming of age in the ‘60s, you were very aware of it. There was the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and there was a scandal in Canada of the U.S. stationing nuclear missiles on Canadian soil without asking if it was all right with us. In the end, of course it wasn’t. These things were always in the news and they were presented as existential threats. In the time between all this, it seems we’ve mostly been able to ignore it — most people figured it wasn’t as large a problem anymore.  But it always has been a threat because the missiles are there. When the Soviet Union broke up, there was another moment when we had to pay attention to it because all of a sudden the triggers for those missiles would fall into the hands of someone that we did not know and what their attitudes would be we didn’t know. So there was another moment of instability, but it settled down once again until last year. 

WP: Do you think people are removed from the issue of nuclear warfare today? It seems like people should be so well connected and informed with the popularity of technology today, but really there is a perceivable distance among us. 

BC: If this is the global village, and you think about what kind of things happen in a village, you’ve got a group of people who can all look each other in the eye and they still kill each other, they still have slaves and they still have to preserve order.  Even in tribal communities, there’s some semblance of that. They have customs and certain ways they want things to be done for the benefit of everyone. There’s no reason to assume it’s any less volatile just because we can talk to each other so easily than it would be if we were all living in a Stone Age village somewhere. The main difference there would be that the people in the Stone Age setting would be more likely to realize how much they truly need each other than we are. One of the problems with the social media scenario that we live with now is that it does not foster a sense of need. It fosters a sense of communication on some level, but there’s no sense that your Facebook friends are going to be there for you when the sh*t hits. When my friends that spend a lot of time on Facebook or have a lot of Facebook friends right in their neighborhood get into a crisis, people send them a message. “Oh, sorry to hear you’re in such a crisis!” and they think that actually helps. The distance between that perception and the actual reality is a factor that is more present for us than it would have been for people in a small village. But nonetheless, the human part of it is the same. You can still hate somebody that lives on the other side, or you can still feel victimized by someone who is doing better than you. Those are the real causes of all this stuff.  We have a global village that doesn’t address its own issues, and this makes for a more volatile international situation than what would exist without the social media platforms. We know too much now too! It’s too easy to make fun of one another. 

WP: There are so many “internet trolls” today who basically thrive off of making fun of another person behind closed doors.

BC: It’s such a hideous development in what could be a truly beautiful thing.

WP: In 1966, you claimed that you felt as if music and art were above politics. Later, you withdrew that statement through the release of the song, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.” In today’s fragile climate, do you believe that music should be inherently political?

BC: No, actually I don’t. I think that you can do what you want. If you’re somebody that is making art, whether that’s music or painting or anything else, you should do what your gut and your spirit instruct you to do. For me, if I’m going to write a song, the most important thing is that it be a good song no matter what it’s about, because otherwise you’re just adding to the garbage in the world. But if I choose to write a song about a political situation or about anything that is going to have meaning for people in that arena, then I better know what I’m talking about. It better be firsthand and be my experience of a certain topic. That’s where art has power, when it comes from one’s own heart and soul.  So if I just decide, “Hmm… I think I’ll write a protest song about Sean Spicer,” well, I don’t know him and I haven’t met him. I see what he stands for and I hate it, and I can write a song out of my own hate, but if I try to get anything beyond that then I’m going to be bullsh*tting. Then I have no power and my work has no power. Therefore, if you’re going to talk about issues, then you better understand those issues as best you can. And be personal with it because it only has its power when it is personal.

BC: It’s such a hideous development in what could be a truly beautiful thing.

WP: You once said that “Fear of poetry on the party of the powerful seems to always have been with us.” Do you believe that poetry is a medium that can still create change in the world through enlightening the powerful?

BC: Well, I don’t know if it was ever a medium that could create change, I’m not sure about that. It might be. What I do know is that it can be a medium for focusing the energy of a group onto a singular thing. If I go to a poetry slam and I hear somebody coming up with a powerful statement about something that feels like it’s coming from a genuine place, then it affects me. I go out onto the street and I go, “Yeah, that was really well said,” and the next thing I see that might relate to that content, I’m going to remember that and it will affect how I act. It’s kind of an uncertain thing, when you throw this stuff out there’s no control over how it will be received. People will always interpret whatever they encounter through their own experiences. So somebody who hears my songs may not hear them the way I imagined they would. You have to allow for that.

WP: Many people must have interpreted your more political music in some interesting ways. Was that frustrating for you?

BC: Well I had to let go of [the way my songs were received] right away, and I learned that very early in the game with the song, “All the Diamonds in the World,” which I wrote out of my own spiritual experience. But later on, I met this guy who felt that that song had saved him from suicide. I had no idea that was going to happen—it never occurred to me in a million years that a song could even do that. Whatever he got out of the song I suppose had some relationship to what I put into it, but I don’t think it was the same [relationship]. On the other hand, I worried a lot about “If I had a Rocket Launcher,” because I didn’t want people to think that I was promoting violence. I didn’t want people to think that I was trying to recruit them to go out and kill Guatemalan soldiers. It was anything but that; it was a cry of frustration, outrage and pain. And most people got that. Even if they didn’t understand the Guatemalan reference, they understood the feeling and I think most people didn’t take it as an evil statement. But there were those who did. A Toronto critic wrote a review that all the copies of that album should be rounded up and melted down. That’s how much he hated that song. It made me not want to do any more interviews with that critic, but people are entitled to their opinion.

The good thing is people are paying attention and the other good thing is that I’m pretty confident no one actually went and shot Guatemalan soldiers. The song was used in some kind of funny and questionable ways. The U.S. Army used it in Panama when they were trying to take down [Manuel] Noriega. The American army forces had him surrounded and they were blasting rock and roll anthems non-stop to keep them from sleeping or wearing down. The people in charge invited all the troops to submit suggestions for a playlist and “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” ended up on the playlist. So Noriega was forced to hear that at deafening volumes. That’s a less positive use of the song than some others, but when I sang that song for the troops in Afghanistan, they cheered. And you know they’re not cheering out of empathy for Guatemalan refugees. They’re cheering because they do have rocket launchers and they want some son of a bitch to die. So it hasn’t been a completely positive experience.

WP: You once claimed that you don’t think the police and the people in the army should be the only people who have guns. Following the recent shooting in Las Vegas, where do you stand on gun regulation? Has your outlook toward that changed in any ways?

BC: I think that the U.S. has a big problem with guns. There’s no question about that. The gun folks will claim things like, “gun control means a good eye and a steady hand,” but if everyone with a gun had a good eye, a steady hand and a functioning brain then there would be no problem because it’s not the gun that does the act, it’s the gun in the hands of someone either with extreme stupidity or a lack of good will. Now, stupidity and ill will are not going to go away from the world, so you have to cover that somehow. The idea that guns are as available as they are to virtually anybody in the U.S., I think is a mistake. I don’t think it should be that easy. At the very least, it should be comparable to driving a car. We have to hope that what happened [in Las Vegas] is not typical of gun crimes to come. Really what you’re talking about as the social phenomenon is not the mass murderer but it’s the four-year-old who gets the gun out of a purse in a supermarket and shoots somebody. It’s the idiot who shoots somebody knocking on their door who is simply looking for help because they’re lost, or the school kids who get ahold of guns. That is the real problem. It’s also hard to find a reasonable voice or a reasoned voice who is addressing the problem. Unfortunately, this country has a hard time having a dialogue about anything these days, and this is one of the hot-button issues that is very hard to have a meaningful dialogue about, because you either find people who agree with you or won’t, and there is no middle ground.

It’s a terrible thing. As a social phenomenon, it is really out of control and needs to be reined in. What we all struggle over is the “how?”

WP: Bob Dylan recently won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. His winning brings forth the question: Can songwriting be viewed as literature?

BC: I think that what I write is like poetry. I’m scared to call it poetry because then I invite comparison with great poets. It just scares me to think that someone might put my name on a page next to Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot or even Allen Ginsberg. Maybe in some ways [Ginsberg] is a less scary comparison, because I feel like my stuff is closer in some ways to his in style and spirit, but at the same time I still don’t like the idea of being put into that ballpark. I prefer to think of my words as song lyrics, but other people see them as poetry and call them poetry and some people have done me the honor of paying very close attention to how I write and what I write. I think you want to be careful when asking if music can be literature, because music doesn’t have to have words.

WP: Speaking of music without words, the song “Bone on Bone” from your newest record features four minutes of moody acoustic strumming. When you’re writing music without lyrics, is your process any different?

BC: It’s really quite different from song writing. For me, songwriting starts with the lyrics. I get an idea for a lyric and that idea starts to take shape. Then at some point, there’s enough there to begin thinking about how to put music to the words. With the instrumental pieces, they just come out of exploring on the guitar. There’s the same degree of accidental origin as a song with lyrics, but it comes from different mechanics. When fooling around on the guitar, I’ll stumble on something that could be the basis for an instrumental piece, and then I work on it to try to find more things to add to it so that it can become a finished piece. A piece like “Bone on Bone” has the basic structure of a Jazz tune. The other pieces have a more carefully composed structured.

WP: For someone who has played the guitar for so many years, have you found that you still find new and exciting ways to explore the instrument’s sonic capabilities?

BC: I don’t have the flexibility in my fingers that I had 15 or 20 years ago, but there are still new things on the instrument that I don’t know.  It’s just important to keep learning. If you don’t keep learning and exploring, then you’re going to stagnate. And that is with respect to anything at all in life. 

WP: The first song on your new record, “States I’m In,” feels like a tale of your experience within American society — how each space you’ve been to has perhaps had its own impact on you.

BC: The song is really a reference to the United States and that’s the play on words there. It’s a really personal song. What I’ve been saying about it is that it’s an encapsulation of a sort of dark night of the soul experience. It’s sort of mythic but it unfolds over the course of the night. The darkness in it is…an exploratory state, but it’s one full of angst. As we said earlier, it’s up to everybody to bring his or her own experience to the music, and that will be true of this song too.

WP: Thank you so much for the time Bruce, and I’m looking forward to seeing you on Nov. 7 at the Calvin Theater. I hope that San Francisco sky clears up soon.

BC: Thanks for the interest, I’m looking forward to being there.

October 20, 2017
The Bluegrass Situation

Counsel of Elders: Bruce Cockburn on Serving as Messenger
by Amanda Wicks

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.

AW: 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.

AW: 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.

AW: 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.

AW: 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.

AW: 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.

AW: 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.

AW: 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.

AW: 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.

AW: 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.

AW: 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.

AW: He’s got some really visceral introspections.

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.

AW: 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]

AW: 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.

AW: 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 …

AW: 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.

AW: 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.

October 1, 2017
The Hamilton Spectator

Cockburn has lost none of his fire, musically or politically
by Graham Rockingham

I must admit to being a bit shocked when I heard Bruce Cockburn was being inducted this year into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

I'm sure my thoughts were shared by many Cockburn fans — "You mean he wasn't already in it?"

That shock was somewhat ameliorated when I learned that one of his co-inductees was Neil Young.

"Well, all right then," I said to myself. "Bruce is finally getting the recognition he deserves."

So it was. A little over a week ago Cockburn was feted by his peers in a gala Hall of Fame concert at Toronto's Massey Hall. (Neil was there too, of course, but this column isn't about him.)

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, featuring Hamilton's own Tom Wilson, took the stage to perform Cockburn's classic "If I had a Rocket Launcher," and Buffy Sainte-Marie hailed him as "an agitator, an activist, a protester."

On Saturday night at Hamilton's FirstOntario Concert Hall, Cockburn proved he is all that and much more. He's not just a songwriter, a protester or a poet. He's also one heck of a guitarist.

At 72, Cockburn is white of hair and a little stooped in posture, but he's lost none of his renegade spirit or his consummate musical skills.

He demonstrated that time and time again during his 18-song set, playing a seemingly endless stream of guitars — acoustic, electric, 12-string, six-string and a strange little number that looked like a ukulele but sounded like a jet stream.

His fingers effortlessly danced over the strings on oldies like "Wondering Where the Lions Are," as well as new songs like "States I'm In" from his "Bone on Bone" album.

He played jazz-infused, gospel-tinged blues on another new song called "40 Years in the Wilderness" and let the feedback fly on a fiery versions of signature songs "Rocket Launcher" and "If a Tree Falls."

He was backed by the rhythm section of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings — drummer Gary Craig and bassist John Dymond — and his nephew, multi-instrumentalist John Aaron Cockburn, who together managed to lay down the perfect accompaniment to Cockburn's genre-bending lead.

Still, it was the songs that made the night. Lyrics Cockburn first sang decades ago were given new relevancy. He reached back in his catalogue for "Free to Be," a track he recorded in 1977 in opposition to the rise of white supremacist groups like the Western Guard.

"I forgot about that song for a very long time … and then the news happened recently," Cockburn explained to the audience.

Cockburn has been always been ahead of the pack. What may have seemed radical 30 years ago, now seems main stream, perhaps even fashionable

Almost to prove the point, Cockburn closed the show with a blistering rendition of "Stolen Land," a song he wrote in 1986 about the injustices suffered by the world's Indigenous people. Judging by the standing ovation Cockburn was given, it seems the message may finally be getting through.

• Opening for Cockburn, was Hamilton singer-songwriter Terra Lightfoot, who performed a solo set that featured several songs from her upcoming album "New Mistakes." Lightfoot is a roots rocker who usually is backed by a full band, but the quality of new songs like "Paradise," "Drifter" and "Norma Gale" easily won over the audience. "New Mistakes" will be available Oct. 13 on Sonic Unyon Records. Lightfoot is setting off on a tour of North America, Japan and Australia before returning home for a concert with her band on Jan. 13 at McMaster University's LIVElab theatre.

Photo: Scott Gardner

September 25, 2017
FYI Music News

Elite Canadian Songwriters Honoured At CSHF Gala
by Kerry Dole

After a five-year absence, the CSHF (Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame) made a welcome return on Saturday night at the fittingly storied Toronto venue, Massey Hall. The eighth gala, it featured the induction of four Canadian songwriters: Beau Dommage, Stéphane Venne, Bruce Cockburn and Neil Young.

Previous songwriters who received the honour include Leonard Cohen, Robbie Robertson, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Hank Snow, Robbie Robertson and Gilles Vigneault.

2017's equal split of francophone and anglophone inductees was mirrored on the evening, a truly bilingual affair featuring performances and speeches in both languages. That helped account for the marathon length of the proceedings, clocking in at over four hours.

Along with the excessive duration, some rumblings of discontent could be heard over the sound quality in parts of the hall. Those misgivings aside, there were certainly enough highlight moments to make this a memorable affair.

All four inductees were honoured with performances of some of their best-known compositions by an all-star cast of guests, along with a short film of their accomplishments and a speech by someone close to their career.

Helping induct Beau Dommage was Julie Payette, Canada's soon to be new Governor General. She reminisced fondly about her love for the music of the Montreal band, as shown by her taking one of their CDs to listen to at the international space station.

Greeted with a standing ovation, Buffy Sainte-Marie spoke eloquently about Bruce Cockburn, praising him as "an astute observer, a wise man who asks tough questions. And someone who wants us to be better people."

Francophone star Daniel Lavoie did the honours for Stéphane Venne, while Randy Bachman recalled his days on the Winnipeg scene in the '60s with a young Neil Young, long a good friend.

Those chosen to enter the CSHF all made quintessentially Canadian acceptance speeches, featuring humility, humour and sage advice for their songwriting peers. Venne drew chuckles by citing himself as an example that “If you have no voice, no charisma, no nothing, except this (songwriting talent), you can have fun. You can make a living. You can leave a mark.”

Neil Young referenced those comments in his speech, stating that "I know I can't sing." He reflected that "I love to write songs, and I'm still writing all the time. Songs keep coming; they don't care about awards and accolades. I was scared to come to this event in case that all ended."

Young also reaffirmed his love of Canada, stressing that "I have never been a citizen of anywhere else."

In his well-conceived speech, Bruce Cockburn reflected upon his early transition from the pursuit of jazz composition and into songwriting. He declared that "art is about sharing the human experience," adding that "In a world increasingly defined by fakery, we together have pulled off the greatest trick ever: We spread the truth."

A house band put together by artistic director Matt Zimbel featured members of Manteca and laid down solid accompaniment for most of the featured vocalists.

Visual projections were used as effective backdrops, with images ranging from historical footage of Montreal to a wall upon which the names of victims of police violence in Canada and the US were inserted while Whitehorse delivered a passionate version of Neil Young's protest classic "Ohio."

Other performance highlights including Blackie and the Rodeo Kings' version of "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" and kd lang's take of Neil Young classic "Helpless," one that earned a standing ovation.

It was left to Arkells to close out the night in rousing fashion. They brought out Alex Lifeson to guest on "Cinnamon Girl," while the predictable yet effective final tune was a massed version of Young anthem "Keep On Rockin' In The Free World," with the Massey stage crammed with more than 30 of the guest singers and musicians.

Here is a list of all the performers and presenters: 

Arkells, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Damien Robitaille, Daniel Lavoie, Don Ross, Eh440, Élage Diouf, Elisapie, France D'Amour, Florence K, Hawksley Workman, Jessica Mitchell, Julie Payette, k.d. lang, Lisa LeBlanc, Randy Bachman, Ruth B., Tom Powers, William Prince, Whitehorse and Yann Perreau.

A post-Gala reception at The Ritz-Carlton was sponsored by Distribution Select. Those spied in convivial form included Bruce Cockburn, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Marc Jordan, Sylvia Tyson, Daniel Lavoie, Whitehorse, Arkells and a Who's Who of Canadian publishers, agents, and other music industry VIPs.

At the Gala, The CSHF announced that 2017 will mark the first year of The Slaight Music Emerging Songwriter Award. Sponsored by Slaight Music, the award has the overall objective of encouraging and supporting the development of two songwriters who are on an upward trajectory of their careers and will be highlighted at the Induction Ceremony. The first two winners are fast-rising stars Jessie Reyez and Charlotte Cardin.

CSHF inductees Stephane Venne, Neil Young and Bruce Cockburn, pictured with Buffy Sainte-Marie and Randy Bachman. Tom Sandler Photography

September 24, 2017
APT 613

Concert Review: Bruce Cockburn at the NAC with Terra Lightfoot
by Colin Noden

I’m going to tell you why this may have been the concert of a lifetime, but first I have a question. Is banter a thing at Bruce Cockburn concerts? Or was this a welcome home response for a local kid who made good?

Bruce came out blasting in his first two numbers, with “Tokyo” and “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” given a driving instrument dominate sound. Then, assured he had our attention, he began to tune his guitar.

“Welcome home!” was shouted from the back of the audience. Bruce responded, and so it began. Every tuning pause had someone toss a comment on stage. And Bruce tossed one back. It began to feel like we were all sitting around a campfire with good ol’ Bruce from Nepean High, who was in town to party for the night and just happened to bring along his six guitars. Of course, that’s just how Bruce wanted it.

The two hours that followed were expertly crafted in song selection and dynamics. They also showcased a musician at the top of his game. Bruce immediately served notice that he is a musical force for the here and now.

His guitar playing is mind blowing. Yes, there is still the trademark clean plucking of old, but last night left no doubt that Bruce Cockburn is best-in-class in Jazz, Blues and Rock as well. The “Bone on Bone” instrumental jazz piece was literally hypnotic. “Stolen Lands” had shredding that brought us into the ecstatic centre of a pow-wow. It was amazing. He captured the emotions, the shuffle and stomp of the dance, and the literal voices of the singers were coming out through his fingers.

It was a performance that would have given other top musicians a stroke. Yet there he was, slightly stooped over the strings, as if just listening to what was coming out. If there was any emotion shown, it was from drummer Gary Craig who kept up using everything at his disposal, even improvising by using a rattle to beat the floor tom. All done with a wild smile on his face.

The bottom line, is that if you want to hear some of the best guitar playing across multiple genres, then Bruce Cockburn is your guy. But what about the singing? Well, you could say Bruce has been blessed with a voice that ages well and suits his message. I’ll leave it at that. There’s nothing wrong with his lungs though. In his first set, he sustained a note so long that I was looking for the synthesizer. But it was all him.

The old songs, and some new songs, were as poetic and mystical as I remembered. But the lyrics that hit me hardest were his picture poem songs. They were a newsreel of images through words. The only commentary was through the music. There was no need for any reflective editorial. We got the message. The activist is still alive and kicking in him.

I said this was the live concert of a lifetime. This was one you’ll be talking about for years. A musician at the top of his game.

The only reason that statement may not be true is if Bruce Cockburn continues to improve. And from what I experienced, that may be the case. He is a genius at setting a program. He’s blowing out the walls with his guitar skills. He is relevant and as outspoken as ever.

Opening act: singer-songwriter Terra Lightfoot brought introspection to the evening. “All Alone” hit us like surf on a sandy beach. Waves of music, voice, and volume settled everyone down.

Terra Lightfoot’s solo program allowed us to experience her song writing without any distractions. I found myself thinking of Chris Stapleton. The life experiences told in her songs, and the variety of genre influences showed a versatile mastery.

Her label calls her a Roots Rocker. I think she would like to be known as a storyteller. Sometimes with words, and sometimes through her guitar. She seemed to be the most animated while introducing “Norma Gale.”

Speaking of guitars, Terra introduced us to her newest, as in “still drying out,” guitar by Ontario luthier, 26 year old Ashley Leanne. It was a generous acknowledgement, and the guitar sounded bright and beautiful in Terra’s hands.

Terra’s opening song title was also quite fitting as Terra was all alone on stage. There were times when it seemed we were all, Terra included, expecting her band to join in. It was a gutsy decision to go it alone. You can take the girl out of the band, but the band influence was still apparent in her performance.

You only grow when you are forced out of your comfort zone. Terra was out there, alone, and filling the stage with her music and songs. Being the band as best as possible. Meeting the challenge with her full voice and guitar skills.

Keyboard player Jeff Heisholt did come out for a while and added a crescendo to the performance. My one regret is that we were all sitting down. The heels were pumping all along the rows by the end of the hour.

Terra brought a counterweight to the programming perspective. Her songs are expressed from the inside out, while Bruce took us from the outside in.

September 23, 2017
Bruce and Buffy Sainte-Marie
Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame
Massey Hall - Toronto

September 23, 2017

Review: Bruce Cockburn’s flame burns undimmed in masterful performance at NAC
by Peter Robb

The back is slightly bent and the hair has been bleached by time but Bruce Cockburn, that musical lion, doesn’t seem ready for eternity quite yet, even if he might be thinking about it.

The legendary singer songwriter returned Friday night to a packed Southam Hall in the National Arts Centre with a tight band that featured his nephew John Aaron Cockburn on guitar and accordion and longtime musical associates Gary Craig on drums and John Dymond on bass, and a new lineup of music from his first album in seven years called Bone on Bone. It is the 33rd of a storied career that began in Ottawa in the 1960s.

Delivering this new album was not easy. Cockburn has said in many interviews that he struggled to find the muse after finishing a memoir called Rumours of Glory. The man writes songs based on inspiration, a spark that ignites a song and he couldn’t find it until he helped in a fundraiser to preserve the home of the Canadian poet Al Purdy. Thinking about the poet produced a song called 3 Al Purdys and all of a sudden the fire was lit.

Cockburn’s part of the evening opened up, early on, with a crowd-pleasing rendition of Lovers in a Dangerous Time from 1984. Getting one of the hits out of the way cleared the way for a run of songs from the new album which showed the man has lost nothing off his voice or his picking or his ability to write a lyric that is multi-layered in meaning.

States I’m In is such a tune. It’s the song that is put forward on his website as an entry point to the new album … “All the places I’ve been each one reflected in the states I’m in…”

One aspect of this new record is its embrace of spiritual matters. Cockburn has found spirituality in his latter years accompanying his wife to a church in San Francisco, where they live with their six-year-old daughter.

Cockburn has always leaned to the spiritual but now he is more clearly focussed on what he indicated in an interview with ARTSFILE, as God’s plan.

The songs from Bone on Bone, such as 40 Years in the Wilderness, which he played Friday night, reflect that sentiment. But he’s not abandoned concerns for such things as the environment which was at the heart of the intense and pointed song False River off the new disc. He also spoke to the need for reconciliation in Canada with indigenous nations in the song Stolen Land which was released in 1990.

He flashed back to the tune Free To Be (1977) which took a shot at an extreme right wing organization called the Western Guard. North American society today faces another resurgence of this kind of white nationalism, making Cockburn’s song a prescient warning. And he fired up his Rocket Launcher to underline the point. Nor did he ignore my particular favourite Wondering Where the Lions Are. It’s hard to believe it was released in 1979.

Cockburn’s guitar skills haven’t suffered a whit from the ravages of time. He can pick it any way you want it from a classical sound with hints of Spain in it to flat out rock guitar god. This was amply demonstrated in every song including the instrumental Bone on Bone that is on the CD of the same name.

Cockburn’s evening wrapped up with a standing ovation and three encore tunes including an oldie The Coldest Night of the Year and ending with a nod to God in the song Jesus Train.

Now it’s on to Toronto where Cockburn is to be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame along with another legend Neil Young, along wth Quebecers Beau Dommage and Stéphane Venne.

The evening opened with Hamilton, Ontario’s Terra Lightfoot, who offered her own strong voice and talent on the guitar in a stripped down performance of new music from her next album, New Mistakes, which is coming out in October.

September 23, 2017

Bruce’s acceptance speech at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame at Massey Hall in Toronto.

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!

September 22, 2017
(Inteview date: September 11, 2017)
The Globe and Mail

Bruce Cockburn: A life in seven songs
by Brad Wheeler

Prior to his induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Ottawa-born musician and activist speaks with Brad Wheeler about the significant songs of his career.

I don't think of what I do as a career," Bruce Cockburn says. "But the word has come up at points over the years."

This weekend is one of those points – when the singer-songwriter and virtuoso guitarist is inducted (along with Stéphane Venne, Neil Young and Beau Dommage) into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. The gala event takes place at Massey Hall, a venue he first headlined in 1972.

Now, at the age of 72, the Ottawa-born musician and activist has just released Bone on Bone, his 33rd album and first in six years. Sitting in a hotel room across the street from Massey Hall, the eloquent protester, clear-voiced seeker and six-string dazzler spoke to The Globe and Mail about the significant songs of his career. Not necessarily the hits, but the signposts along the way that mark a career – a hall of fame one at that.

Going to the Country, 1970

"I dropped out of the Berklee School of Music in Boston at the end of 1965. It wasn't where I was meant to be. By the end of the sixties, I had written maybe 20 songs. They sounded better to me when I did them alone, rather than with any of the bands I was in. Going to the Country was one of the songs that people noticed on my first album. I wrote it as a passenger in a car going to Montreal. I took notes as I looked out the window. The song became a template for one of the strains of songwriting that I've done. The folky guitar and observational lyrics, that perhaps were very early manifestation of the reportage approach to lyric writing that has shown up a lot in my work."

Sunwheel Dance, 1972

"It was the first instrumental piece that I recorded. I'd learned a lot about finger-picking from various sources and people I'd encountered. There was an American named Fox Watson, who was transcribing fiddle tunes for guitar. You'd have these beautiful melodies, with a really nice harmonic approach to them. I absorbed a fair amount from that. Sunwheel Dance led to Foxglove, on my next album, which got more attention. It's named after Fox Watson."

All the Diamonds in the World, 1974

"My first overtly Christian song. It was when I started calling myself a Christian. I'd become that, in everything but the commitment. And having made the commitment, it was necessary to use the term. This song commemorates that commitment. Because of the lyrical content, the musical style was self-consciously hymn-like. The chord changes were quite churchy, which was quite different for me then, and remains so."

Wondering Where the Lions Are, 1979

"The success of Wondering Where the Lions Are was a big surprise. It was both very welcome and very fraught. All of a sudden, I'm in the PR machine of an American record company. All of a sudden, we're touring in way more places. We played it on Saturday Night Live. It was so terrifying. It was American national TV, and I didn't feel ready for it all."

If I Had a Rocket Launcher, 1984

"After Wondering Where the Lions Are, there wasn't anything on the radar in the States. Years went by and then If I Had a Rocket Launcher came out. It took things up another notch. It shocked me that anybody played it on the radio at all. I almost didn't record it. I was afraid it would be misconstrued. There were other songs about Central America on the album, Stealing Fire. I didn't want people to think that I just wrote the song because I thought they should go down and kill Guatemalan soldiers. But there were enough people who understood it that I felt okay to having done it."

Get Up Jonah, 1996

"I was in St. Louis, looking out of a hotel room window at the sun coming up on the other side of the Mississippi. I'd been up all night, worrying about the things going on in my life. The song relates to the Jonah story in the Bible. It's addressed to me. I'm Jonah, telling myself to get off my ass and do whatever I was supposed to be doing. Something about the track I was on was wrong. I was satisfied with the status quo. Get Up Jonah is about accepting an invitation, from the cosmos, to take the next step. I really like that song, though I haven't done it for a long time."

40 Years in the Wilderness, 2017

"This song is Get Up Jonah, part two, in a way. You're still being invited to follow the road where it leads, but you're older. Maybe not wiser, but less angsty. After I wrote my memoir [2014's Rumours of Glory], I hadn't written a song in four years. I started going to church again, after not having gone for decades. There was a sermon about Jesus being baptized, which is when he really figures out who he is. He's shocked, and he runs out into the desert to figure it out. That struck me with considerable force. I felt like I'd been struggling with that issue for 40 years. I'd started to identify myself as a Christian in the 1970s, and here I was, 40 years later, back in church. And I'm living in San Francisco now, with my wife and child. I never would have imagined myself living on the West Coast. But it was an answer. I went with it. I went west in another one of those cosmic moments. This song is about accepting those invitations."

September 22, 2017
The Record

Bruce Cockburn still making music that matters
by Joel Runinoff

Bruce Cockburn sounds vaguely bewildered.

He's 72-years-old, decades past his commercial heyday, an album artist in a sea of streaming singles — let's be blunt, a dinosaur — and yet somehow, inexplicably, young people keep showing up to hear him play.

For a guy with no false modesty who keeps expectations to a minimum, it's like finding out the tooth fairy is real.

"There's a scene in an old movie called 'The Ruling Class,' with Peter O'Toole, where he takes his place in the British House of Lords," allows the Ottawa-born singer-songwriter with self-deprecating humour.

"Some are still alive, some are just cadavers with cobwebs. I pictured this 'getting old with my audience' thing a bit like that."

He laughs, making it clear he would have no issues.

"But luckily there's always been new interest. In the last couple of years, there have been a greater number of younger people coming to shows and, strangely, a lot of them tell me they grew up with my stuff.

"Their parents played it."

His own parents, he points out, played the soundtrack to the Broadway musical "My Fair Lady" and the Victorian operas of Gilbert and Sullivan — old school bombast the young Cockburn loathed with a passion.

"I would have gone miles out of my way to avoid having to go to a show of any of that music," he confides from his home in San Francisco. "And yet, here are people who experience my music in the same context, but they're coming.

"It's great . . . (befuddled sigh) . . . I don't understand it."

There's a lot of things he doesn't understand, and none of it makes any difference.

Cockburn is Cockburn — always has been.

Sensitive and softspoken — almost to the point of apologetic — the 12-time Juno winner speaks in vague generalities, hesitates before committing himself to a single argument and weighs the pros and cons of everything, always tempering, balancing, on point.

He's the Clark Kent of Canadian Folk Rock.

But hit on a sensitive topic, elicit an emotional reaction — environmental devastation, the welfare of indigenous peoples — and his veneer of gentle deference turns to a sort of jaded resilience.

Super Bruce.

"I don't feel compelled to write about Donald Trump," he glowers when I imply the controversial U.S. president is ripe for the picking, protest song-wise.

"He gets enough attention."

"There's some scary stuff going on, but it's been going on for a long time."

Needless to say, he has little faith humanity will save itself.

"The environmental stuff has been around for decades and nobody does anything," he grouses with frustration. "People in positions of authority who could make meaningful decisions are not making them, and have not been making them.

"Every now and then it gets a little better and a little worse. Now we're in a phase where it's a little worse. People can't make up their minds. Are you gonna give up the money or are you gonna give up the planet?"

I can hear his bile rise over the phone: "You can't have both. You can't have oil and a healthy environment. It's that simple. And yet, it's not simple to execute. The will isn't there."

He sounds resigned, but after 47 years of activist songwriting with a string of hits that include "Wondering Where the Lions Are," "If A Tree Falls" and "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," he remains mysteriously unplacated, ready to go head-to-head at a moment's notice.

"I never thought of myself as an activist," he notes in his humble, unassuming way.

"I just write the stuff that comes to mind. I'm confronted by things the same as everybody else and I get an emotional response that, if I'm lucky, will trigger a song."

Take "If I Had A Rocket Launcher," his '84 hit about the plight of Guatemalan refugees, the most virulent, righteous, God of Thunder cry of rage and despair ever concocted by a Canadian songwriter: "If I had a rocket launcher, some son-of-a-b--ch would die."

"It wasn't a protest song," he offers, almost embarrassed.

"It was a song from my heart about something I saw. It's not theoretical."

Also not theoretical is that Cockburn, seven years past official retirement age, has a five-year-old daughter and finds himself, improbably, living the life of a man in his 30s.

"It does make you look at the world in a new way," he concedes openly. "I'm an old guy. If they blow up the world now, I've had a life.

"But a world without water, without air — those are big concerns. I don't know that having a child really changes that. The world has always been beautiful and precious and fragile. It's always seemed like that to me."

Which begs the question: What's more terrifying, the imminent destruction of the planet, or getting called to the office because his kid is acting up in kindergarten?

"No matter how you feel about the big one," he concedes happily, "you gotta deal with the little one . . . no matter what.

"Obviously, it puts the nature of the world into sharp relief. I want her to be aware of things in as positive a way as possible."

While his new album, "Bone to Bone," avoids direct commentary on headline issues, his bent toward social justice and spiritual faith, in typical Cockburn style, are never far from the surface.

"As you get older, your life becomes more complex," he reasons. "And therefore whatever art you're producing becomes more complex too."

Some things, however, stay the same: his principled cynicism, his humanitarian zeal.

And in a turnaround from his '80s stance against the regressive views of the religious right, the quietly spiritual songwriter — who once identified boldly as Christian — is no longer boycotting the word.

"During the Reagan era the association between a certain kind of Christianity and American politics became inescapable," he laments softly.

"In conversations with (then musical partner) T Bone Burnett, we said 'should we actually go around calling ourselves Christians at this point?'

"Because the people waving that flag with the greatest vigour were people we didn't agree with at all. We didn't want to be seen promoting the stuff they're promoting."

With the U.S. increasingly polarized under Trump, I point out, it's worse now than it was then.

"Yeah, but you know what? Screw them!" he says gruffly. "At a certain point, it's like 'OK, I'm not gonna hide from that!

"At one time I just got tired of having to explain to people 'Yeah, I'm a Christian, but I'm not THAT Christian.'"

At some point, he says, you have to stand up "because these other people got the megaphone and somebody needs to take it away from them and say more truthful things.

"I don't know if I'm that person, but all of us who have gone through these kinds of feelings owe it ourselves to take that position."

It's a classic Cockburn response. Follow your own path. Don't take the easy route.

"It's never seemed very hard not to take the easy route," he points out. "Because it's always seemed like just doing the next thing."

"In hindsight I suppose I could do this differently or that differently and maybe there'd be a bigger audience, but I'm not sure a bigger audience is really necessary."

A man of modest expectations, he mulls this over for a moment, then admits he's content with the "significantly sized audience" he has.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, I suspect, he's also thankful that after five decades, his body or work exists on a different plane than the soundtrack of "My Fair Lady."

September 22, 2017
The Hamilton Spectator

BRUCE COCKBURN: Coming to terms with life at the narrow end of the road
by Graham Rockingham

Bruce Cockburn, the angry Canadian composer of "If I had a Rocket Launcher," has been living in the land of Donald Trump for the past eight years, surprisingly content.

Cockburn is on the phone from his home in San Francisco to talk about his new studio album "Bone on Bone" and his upcoming Canadian concert tour that will take him and his band to Hamilton's FirstOntario Centre on Sept. 30.

OK, San Francisco isn't exactly the land of Trump. It's actually an oasis of liberalism in a nation that happens to be run by that very unliberal guy who recently told the United Nations he was prepared to destroy North Korea and it's little dog, too.

I've been interviewing Cockburn for many years now. He doesn't shy away from political fencing. He always seemed ready to do battle with the world's injustices. If there was a tree to hug, both arms were wide open. If there was a whale to save, Bruce was aboard. And if a Junta needed taking out … well … there was that rocket launcher.

So after the usual pleasantries, our conversation naturally turned to some carefree banter about the new America.

"It's a crazy country," Cockburn admits with an understated laugh, noting that his time in the U.S. has made him appreciate his native country. "Canada, for all of its issues and there are many, is the single island of sanity in the Western hemisphere."

But he is not grabbing for the nearest rocket launcher. His wife M.J. Hannett has a law career in San Francisco and their five-year-old daughter Iona has just started Grade 1 there. Unless things get really crazy in America, he's there for the long haul.

He admits to concern about the polarized nature of American political discussion, on both the right and the left.

"The unwillingness to see the other guy's point of view is very common," says Cockburn, a native of Ottawa. "That's part of the energy of the country. On the positive side, we know that the U.S. has great energy and great things get done here."

At 72, the iconic songwriter is sounding more like a moderate than an iconoclast. Trump is a setback, but things will work themselves out. Right now, Cockburn has more important things on his mind. He's looking at life from the narrow end of life's road.

"What seems urgent now is not the same that seemed urgent in 1980," he says. "I know some stuff I didn't know then, and I have a sense of how much I don't know. I see this threshold approaching that requires a different sort of attention than the stuff you notice when you are younger.

"Bone on Bone," released Sept. 15 on the Waterdown-based True North Records label, is Cockburn's 33rd album, the first from a studio in six years.

Produced by Colin Linden of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, the album is filled with the brilliant guitar playing and beautiful lyricism that have become Cockburn trademarks. It's an extraordinary accomplishment for an artist whose career spans more than five decades.

The album's 11 songs reflect an awareness of where the writer stands in the arc of life. When Cockburn decided to call it "Bone on Bone," he was thinking of joint pain.

"It's about having lived this long," Cockburn says without hesitation. "I think of it as a kind of darkly joyous exercise in noticing where you are. At this point, what's ahead of you is shorter than what is behind you."

There are some lighthearted tracks like "Café Society," filled with snippets of conversation from the local coffee shop, and "3 Al Purdys," written for a documentary about the life of the great Canadian poet.

There are also songs with a strong gospel tinge — not preachy, but traditional, as if borrowed from a southern Baptist church. Cockburn attributes the gospel sound to his return to the church.

"I had just hit a point in my life where that had become a dominant theme again, so it's a dominant theme in the songs," he explains.

Cockburn was a church goer in the '70s and that spirituality is embroidered into much of his work during that era. In 1980, however, Cockburn stopped attending church and took a more humanist, often political, approach to his art.

Three Christmases ago, things changed with the death of a close family friend in a house fire. Cockburn's wife took solace in San Francisco's Lighthouse community church. She asked him to accompany her.

"One day I finally gave in and I was completely captivated," he says. "I stepped through the door and there was this wall of love and great music, a small congregation with no pretences. Everyone that goes there goes because they want to be there. The vibe was great, very democratic and welcoming."

"Reconnecting with that particular approach to spirituality led to what's on the album."

The release of "Bone on Bone" comes at a time when interest in Cockburn's extensive catalogue is burgeoning. On Saturday, Sept. 23, he will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriter's Hall of Fame along with Neil Young, Beau Dommage and Stephane Venne at Toronto's Massey Hall.

Hamilton's Tom Wilson, who will be among several artists performing tributes to Cockburn at the ceremony, says it is time Cockburn receives such recognition.

"He's an iconic messenger who is known all around the world," Wilson says. "He's done so many things with his art."

September 18, 2017
Ottawa Citizen

Bruce Cockburn releases first new album in 7 years
by Lynn Saxberg

After writing his 2014 memoir, Bruce Cockburn wasn’t sure he was still a songwriter, a startling disclosure considering the scope of his illustrious music career, which has spanned more than 50 years, dozens of albums, multiple Juno Awards, an Order of Canada, a Governor General’s performing arts award and membership in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

The Ottawa-born folk legend is also being inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, along with Neil Young, Beau Dommage and Stephen Venne, during a ceremony in Toronto on Sept. 23.

“There was an extended period when I didn’t write any songs,” revealed the silver-haired troubadour in a recent interview. “The memoir took three years of pretty intense focus. All of the creative energy that would have gone into songwriting went into the book, and there was nothing left over for anything else.”

What finally cracked open the creative floodgates and led to the superb new album, Bone on Bone, was, in effect, an assignment. Cockburn was invited to contribute to the 2015 documentary on the noted Canadian poet Al Purdy, and decided to take up the challenge.

“It’s not typical in my experience to write a song on demand, whether someone else’s demand or mine. I kind of sit around and wait for a good idea,” Cockburn says. “But in this case, I’d been going for all those years without writing songs and I wasn’t sure there’d be any good ideas and then along comes this opportunity, and it seemed like the perfect invitation to get back into songwriting again. I said yes right away.”

The song is 3 Al Purdys, an acoustically rhythmic, six-minute tale of a homeless man obsessed with Purdy’s poems, and a chorus that goes, “I’ll give you three Al Purdys for a $20 bill.” It’s a brilliant tune, combining spoken-word poetry (by Purdy) with a mesmerizing hook that’s not unlike Cockburn’s 1979 nugget, Wondering Where The Lions Are.

The rest of the album is no less finely crafted. His first studio project in seven years, it’s also the first since Cockburn moved to the San Francisco area, married his longtime girlfriend, M.J. Hannett, and welcomed a baby girl into the world. Their daughter, Iona, who turns six in November, is in first grade at a French immersion school in San Fran.

While the new songs are not obviously political, they are informed by living in the U.S., as hinted in the title of the first single, States I’m In, an atmospheric mood piece built on Cockburn’s precisely fingered acoustic guitar work and world-weary lyrics. He describes it as a “dark night of the soul experience.

“It’s just one of those songs that come from looking around and feeling what’s happening,” he says. “The whole album is coloured in a subtle way by the fact that I’ve been living in the States for a few years, and it is a really different place.”

You won’t hear another If I Had a Rocket Launcher on this record, but you will hear songs  that explore spirituality from a Christian perspective, something Cockburn has embraced to varying degrees throughout his life.

These days, it’s a big focus, partly because Cockburn has been going to church again for the first time in years. “It’s been a long time since I darkened the door of a church,” he says. “I kind of fell away from it when I moved out of Ottawa at the end of the ’70s.” 

But when his wife started attending services at San Francisco’s Lighthouse church, she encouraged him to join her. “I resisted it for a while and eventually gave in,” he says. “Then I walked in the door and it was like I had walked into a sauna, only instead of heat, it was love. It was a tangible  vibe in the room. It was really a shock actually.”

A couple of songs — Forty Years in the Wilderness and Stab at Matter — feature a chorus of singers from the Lighthouse church. 

Produced by fellow Canadian musician and longtime collaborator, Colin Linden, the album is based on the musicianship of Cockburn and bandmates John Dymond (bass) and Gary Craig (drums), with a roster of guests, including his nephew, John Aaron Cockburn, on accordion. The younger Cockburn, a singer-songwriter-producer and multi-instrumentalist who plays accordion, guitar and piano, grew up in Ottawa and has his own band, Little Suns, will also join his uncle’s group for the upcoming tour, Bruce’s most extensive in years.

At 72, it’s clear that Cockburn is not interested in slowing down. “I’ve never taken the notion of retiring seriously. Of course, anything could happen. My hands could stop working or my brain could stop working, and that could be the occasion for retirement,” he muses. 

“But I never think of that. My models are the old blues guys, like John Lee Hooker and Mississippi John Hurt, who basically just played til they dropped. That’s kind of my expectation.”


15 September, 2017
Folk Radio

by Paul Kerr 

At the age of 72, Bruce Cockburn, along with fellow Canadian Neil Young, is due to be inducted into The Canadian Songwriters Hall Of Fame, the ceremony to be held on September 23rd. It’s fitting then that he’s releasing Bone On Bone just a week before his induction as it’s a mature set of songs that reflect many of his long-held beliefs; his spiritualism, his eco-awareness and his longstanding commitment to human rights. According to Cockburn, it’s an album that he wasn’t sure would ever come about following some significant events in his life following his last album, Small Source Of Comfort, back in 2011. He became a father again (at the age of 66), and he spent three years writing his memoir, Rumours Of Glory, an experience which, he says, left him drained. “There was simply nothing left to write songs with. As soon as the book was put to bed, I started asking myself whether I was ever going to be a songwriter again.”

With over 30 albums to his name, Cockburn could have just hung up his belt and settled down to fatherhood. However, an invitation to contribute to a film being made about Canadian poet Al Purdy stirred his creative juices and led to him writing the centrepiece to Bone To Bone. Purdy, described by The Guardian as, “Brash, hard-drinking and belligerent… wrote of farmers and lumberjacks, drinkers and brawlers,” and he inspired a vision in Cockburn of a homeless man, seemingly ranting in the street but actually reciting poems of Purdy’s in return for money. Thus spurred, Cockburn wrote 3 Al Purdy’s which occupies six minutes of the album and which is one of the finest songs one is likely to hear all year. Thereafter, according to Cockburn, “The ice was broken.”

3 Al Purdys finds Cockburn delving into the mindset of a hobo who is versed in Purdy’s poetry, an accidental exposure to the poems in some institution speaking to him. Over a scrabbled bluesy rhythm, somewhat akin to Ry Cooder‘s later work, Cockburn tells the hobo’s story while his spoken interludes are excerpts from Purdy’s poetry given some gravitas from Cockburn’s gravelly voice. The rattling percussion, percussive guitar picking and lugubrious clarinet combine to offer a claustrophobic streetwise shuffle and the poetry excerpts should compel the listener to seek out Purdy’s work. A friend of Bukowski and determinedly non-academic (apparently Margaret Atwood once poured a drink over him when he accused her of being too academic), his words chosen here by Cockburn are excellent.

The bustling instrumental restlessness of 3 Al Purdys informs much of the album with Cockburn’s acute guitar picking expertly accompanied throughout as he ripples through songs with blues like undertones, richly embroidered folk meanderings and sombre warnings. The opening song, States I’m In, is a darkly inflected rumination stuffed full of grim portents given lift by an ominous driving beat and a stellar guitar solo from producer, Colin Linden. The title here almost a pun as Cockburn, a Canadian living in California, has expressed his anxiety over the current Presidential incumbent.

Speaking of puns, Cockburn appears to pull a neat trick on the next song, Stab At Matter, which is, on the face of it, a Cajun-influenced jaunt of a song with spritely accordion but on examination it appears to be his rock’n’roll interpretation of the 13th-century hymn Stabat Mater. If so it ranks as a magnificent adoption of devotional music into the realms of popular music, if not, at least, you can dance to it. Stab At Matter features a chorus from members of Cockburn’s church of his choice, The San Francisco Lighthouse, and they appear again on Forty Years In The Wilderness, Looking And Waiting, Jesus Train and Twelve Gates To The City. The former is a high plains ballad with a biblical bent alluding to the forty days and nights of Jesus fasting in the desert but given a wonderfully dry and dusty borderline touch much like Dave Alvin might have proffered. Looking And Waiting meanwhile is a skeletal assemblage of guitars and mbira (a primitive African keyboard) with a mournful slide guitar thrown in, the chorus an uplifting counterpoint to Cockburn’s raspy plea for a sign from some form of deity. He eventually goes all gospel-like on the driving Jesus Train which suffers from its similarity to numerous songs which have gone before it lacking punch and, I suppose, spiritual uplift. It sounds somewhat forced and made to fit, and while it skirls along with some energy, it’s not the strongest offering on the album. The closing song, Twelve Gates To the City, is much more successful as it approaches the likes of The Staple Singers and their amalgamation of devotion and uplifting, sensual soul music as Cockburn and his San Francisco Lighthouse Singers coalesce over 12 string guitar cascades and Jericho walls tumbling cornet parts.

Cockburn addresses more temporal issues on several of the songs. Cafe Society is a blustery urban blues comment on the elevated blindness of those who frequent chic locations while bewailing their news feeds. Their concern over tsunamis,  crazies with guns and black people shot by white cops superseded by their more immediate concerns over the stock market and what’s on at the opera. False River is something of a tour de force as Cockburn turns in a visceral diatribe against consumerism as, aided yet again, by the San Francisco Lighthouse Singers, he lays into the wasteful processes of the modern world.  The carcasses of tankers, oil slicks and dead sea creatures wash up along with images of Bart Simpson shaped jewellery and riot cops spouting teargas as Cockburn concludes that we are carrying out the work of the four horsemen of the apocalypse for them. Strong stuff indeed and the song itself is delivered with some aplomb as the verses lead into a magnificent acoustic guitar solo sounding somewhat Spanish and reminiscent somehow of Jerry Garcia’s work with The Grateful Dead on American Beauty.

Bone On Bone is a powerful declaration from a mature observer of human nature. It’s gutsy and incisive with Cockburn delving into his musical roots and his personal concerns and ladled with beaucoups of blues and folk.  On the strength of this, he well deserves his induction.

September 17, 2017

Worth The Wait
A review of Bone On Bone
by Joseph Hunt, Viking

What gives, Bruce!  It’s been 6 years since we’ve worn holes through 2011’s Small Source of Comfort.  6 years!  Imagine us lost souls sitting faithfully in our pews, dare I say . . . looking and waiting.  I know nothing of muse, but I’m blaming her.  I hear the artist can’t move until she strikes.  OK, the muse and writing your memoir, “Rumors of Glory.”  OK, and getting married and having a baby.  It’s not like you haven’t been busy.

Thank God Amazon Prime delivered Bone On Bone (BoB) to my office on Friday afternoon, September 15.  I immediately tore off the cellophane and leafed through the booklet.  Listening would have to wait till I finished my day job.  But when I did . . . it was all worth the wait.  By my fifth spin on Saturday morning pushy Daniel Keebler (who contributes skillfully to BoB with photo imagery to suit the music’s thematic elements) began texting me for my favorite tunes.  “Stop it, Ranger!  No way!  That’s like asking for my favorite children.”  Daniel reminded me I have only one (according to public records).  OK, I’ll try.  So here I am Sunday morning starting to stream-of-conscious my early thoughts . . . ironically at 5:51 a.m. 

To all who dare spin this disc, I say, for God’s sake, play it LOUD!  Let yourself move (in the privacy of your own home, please).  And I don’t mean the head bobbing type.  I mean the all out, arms-a-flailing, feet kicking, heals first kind of moving.  From the beginning intricate acoustic work of “States I’m In,” to the final “hallelu” of “Twelve Gates To The City,” this is vintage Bruce to the core.  You will taste and savor the blues, rockabilly and gospel running throughout.   Us pew-faithful Burnheads  (short for long-term, loyal, obsessed Cockburn fans) will catch aromatic hints of past songs, and warm to it.  While welcoming back the familiarity of what we have known before, we are mostly reminded of how Bruce cannot be defined or compared to any other artist.  Bruce lives alone in his own genre, all of nothing and a blend of everything.    

Here is one man’s take after 5 spins.

BoB opens with the quick moving, lyrically dense, States I’m In.  With sweeping, pulsating acoustics, States accelerates through an experiential look-back at a life’s journey and the emotional response to contradictions one finds along the way. 

Stab at Matter brings a shout-it-out, foot stomping, rhythmic sensation.  We are now first introduced to the beautiful harmonies and angelic voices of the San Francisco Lighthouse Choir.  Straight to Google.  Who are these folks? Not much internet presence as it turns out, but it appears this choral ensemble is the musical piece of the San Francisco Lighthouse Church.  It seems a perfect musical decision to bring these voices in to the project.  They will float in and out of six more songs, offsetting and complementing Bruce’s deep belly vocals.

40 Years in the Wilderness.   Did I say vintage Bruce?  Harken back to Pacing the Cage, All the Ways I Want You, Messenger Wind or Lord of the Starfields.  “40 Years” is simply gorgeous, rich, and perfectly composed in every way.  It comes from and goes straight to the heart, and if you are the self-reflective type like me, yours might just break wide open.   The soulful melody and emotional imagery make so much sense you may wonder how it could be you have not heard it before?   It hits close to home.  I feel like I waited my entire life for this song, and then it arrived when the “spirits of the scouring winds” decided it was time.

Café Society.   Join with the community of humans down at Peet’s, the latte sipping busybodies, who rant, rave and muse about the big and the little that touch us all.   This is a high-pace tune with joyful, rockabilly energy inviting us to embrace our inclination to complain and gossip about the “goings on up and down the street.”  

3 Al Purdys.   Oh my!  You say you like the Cockburn gravely growl, ala “rats in the maze?”  Well, unless you’ve been feeding rocks to your wood chipper, you haven’t heard anything until “I’ll give you 3 Al Purdy’s for twenty dollar bill.”  I had never heard of Al Purdy (insert American guilt here), so back to Google.  I love this dramatic tune.  The melodic voice over-on the lead-in made me think of “Use Me While You Can.”   Then, Bruce picks up steam with a musical documentary about “one tough son of a bitch” poet from Ontario, Canada.  There’s more to the story here as Bruce co-wrote “3 Al Purdys” together with the prolific but unknown and maybe disregarded writer himself in 2014, although Al died in British Columbia back in 2001.  Play it loud and growl along.

Looking and Waiting is a track I can already tell will, like “Look How Far” and “Live On My Mind,” grow on me over time, and I like this aspect of it.  My bond with “Looking and Waiting” is already forging, and like all true bonds will last a lifetime.    “Looking and Waiting” is a thoughtful and introspective appeal for the God who is there, but so often elusive. 

 Bone on Bone.  Thank you, Bruce for the incredible, enduring gift of your guitar work.  Bone on Bone is a soothing instrumental. I can’t play guitar, but I have long sensed the quality of sound that fills the room from Bruce’s fingers expertly maneuvering and flowing across string and fret.  Bruce states to be playing bones on this track.  Bones?  Hmmm  . . . these bones have been giving all they have to give for 50 years.

Mon Chemin.  If, like me, you don’t speak French, you can only feel this one through the ears.  I sense self-loathing, and fervency, and maybe some anger.  Is this “Vagabondage” revisited, with an edge?  The English liner notes speak the poem, “My Road.” Bruce never fails to reveal himself, how he considers and questions the life he’s lived. 

In False River, Bruce produces a vivid, throbbing, but melodic account of our destructive nature, in this instance, our violence upon the waters.  Both musically and lyrically, notwithstanding a cameo from Bart Simpson, “River” may be the saddest song on the disc.   There are no answers, just resignation.  It “ain’t the way it’s supposed to be.”   

All is not lost.  Bruce closes out BoB with two reviving spirituals, Jesus Train, which he wrote, and Twelve Gates to the City, a traditional to which Bruce contributed additional verses.  Both songs fit together, like the closing hymns of the service, busting through the doors of a southern country church.  It’s a rambunctious, grass roots gospel medley to be sung together.  Hope endures.  Together we ride joyfully to the City of God, to a beautiful city, open to all, through any gate, “hallelu.”   

BoB delivers a musical journey through the spirit and heart.  No Burnhead will be surprised.  Bruce does what he has done for 40 years, capturing what we inherently feel but cannot express, offering up what he has gathered and grasped along the way.  Accompanying Bruce on this powerful work are trusted old musical friends, John Dymond, bass; Gary Craig, drums and percussion; Colin Linden, various guitars (Colin also masterfully produces the album); and Julie Wolf, accordion.  Finally, special treats from John Whynot on the organ, John Aaron Cockburn on the accordion, Ron Miles on the cornet, Scott Amendola on drums, John Shifflett on upright bass, and Roberto Occhipinti on upright bass.   Thank you Bruce.  You made us wait . . .  but it was well worth it.

September 15, 2017
(Interview date August 25, 2017)

The creative spark still burns brightly as Bruce Cockburn delivers new album, tour
by Peter Robb

At a certain point in his career, Bruce Cockburn decided that if he wanted to be a “serious” writer of songs he needed to get … well … “serious.” That led to a year of emulating other “serious” writers by spending each day putting pen to paper.

At the end of that year, he learned something.

“I didn’t have any more usable songs than I would have, if I had just waited for the good ideas to come,” he said in an interview. “So I dropped that policy and just waited for the good ideas and I’ve been doing that ever since.”

Seems to have worked out just fine.

In fact, the Nepean high alumnus has just released his 33rd album Bone on Bone and will be inducted formally into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on Sept. 23 with Neil Young and the seminal Québécois artists Beau Dommage and Stéphane Venne at a ceremony in Toronto. That’s right after his latest tour rolls into town for a show at the National Arts Centre.

At 72, the multiple JUNO winner is still doing what he does best, but nobody ever said it was easy.

“I don’t feel like I have all that energy but it seems to keep going anyway. So why stop? I certainly don’t take it for granted. The body is aging, the brain is aging, all that stuff.”

It’s been awhile since the last recording was released. In between he churned out a memoir of his life so far called Rumours of Glory. That effort left him drained and dry.

“When I finished the book,” he says, “it was on my mind whether I was going to write any more songs. I had been working on the book for three years and hadn’t written anything else.”

But after a period of time the songs started coming again and there was eventually enough for an album and a few instrumental pieces and bits and pieces that were not included on the record.

“So there is reason to think it will keep going. But I don’t take it for granted because stuff gives out.”

Writing, for Cockburn, is very much dependent on inspiration.

“Sometimes good ideas come from having a certain kind of intention. I’m not the kind of writer who says ‘I’m going to write about topic X.’ It has to wait for an idea but once the idea is there, then I do pursue it” in a rigorous and vigorous manner.

“Sometimes I’ll be somewhere and I think, I really want to write a song about this but it’s more I hope I write a song about this. You put it out there and sometimes the idea comes. That’s as close as I get to planning.”

His instrumental pieces are written with his hands.

“Once an idea or a motive comes and is established I’ll hunt around for things to go with it, but the initial impulse comes from the hands when I am practicing or fooling around with the guitar.”

Bone on Bone the album is named after Bone on Bone the instrumental piece.

The cover artist for the CD found that title funny, Cockburn said.

“I told him the title … he’s a pretty funny guy … and he goes, ‘Oh sexy!’ and ‘kinky this and that’.

Cockburn had to disabuse him of that idea by saying “it’s about not having any cartilage. It’s about arthritis. But it’s a good title, it has a bit of a snap to it.”

He does say the album has “more spiritual stuff on it than other recent albums,” although, it’s “not exclusively that. It’s kind of from everywhere, it’s me being alive in the world today.” That spiritual sensibility shows up in songs such as Jesus Train, Twelve Gates to the City, Looking and Waiting and Stab At Matter, echoing in the title at least the Stabet Mater.

“I have always believed that my life had a direction, that it was not something I had to decide on. I make all kinds of decisions and choices but in the broader sense, there was a direction coming from outside, coming from God basically.

“Frequently I’m distressed because I can’t understand why I have to go through this s**t, but God said so.”

But the fact is, he says, it all has worked really rather well.

There are 11 songs on the record produced by Colin Linden. One of them is called 3 Al Purdys, a tribute to the poet and ranconteur. Cockburn participated in a fundraiser to preserve Purdy’s home in southern Ontario and few years back.

Cockburn today calls San Francisco home. He’s there because his wife has a job there. It’s where they are raising a daughter called Iona. But you get the sense it’s not necessarily a comfortable place.

The U.S. is a “crazy place” today, Cockburn says.

“I feel closer to the centre of the craziness than when I was living in Canada. In some ways it  would be very nice to move back to Canada, but I am committed to be here for the time being.

“It has struck me that we Canadians live in the one pocket of sanity in the western hemisphere.”

But like songs that don’t always come, Cockburn believes Canadians shouldn’t take their current national sanity for granted.

As someone who wrote a song about picking up a rocket launcher, Cockburn is politically attuned.

He believes there is energy to the debate in the U.S. and elsewhere, but he worries that people who oppose President Trump are just offering resistance.

“I’m happy for that. But at the same time we have to offer something more than resistance. Resistance means you give up. I’d hate to see that. What we are not seeing is someone offering an alternative leadership. One hopes it will come out of this ferment.”

Now that Bone on Bone is up for sale and people are praising the msuic, is there a sense of relief?

“Absolutely. There are always questions. We finished the album a few months back now and I’m going ‘Gee, I wish we had done this or that or the other thing.

But that’s nature of making music from scratch, he says.

One neat aspect of this album and tour is the fact that his brother Don’s son, John Aaron, has joined the merry band.

‘It’s an interesting connection and it certainly feels good” to have him on board.

The Ottawa show will feature the new album, some hits and some other older songs that are more obscure. The set list might change so he wasn’t sure what would make the Ottawa lineup at the time of the interview, but he did mention one tune from the album Big Circumstance released in 1988 called The Gift and another from the album Further Adventures Of released in 1978 called Rainfall. Both of these seem to fit the times, he says.

“Sometimes these things will just pop up out of the murk of time and want to return again.”

Cockburn says he does like coming back to Ottawa “my family is there and it’s part of my history for sure, but I have never really felt that anywhere was home. Home is out there somewhere.”

September 12, 2017

“Pulse to the pull of moonrise”

Bone on Bone
Bruce Cockburn
True North Records – CD – TN0678
Released – 15th September 2017
Produced by Colin Linden

Review by Richard Hoare

This is Bruce’s first new album release since the publication of his memoir, Rumours of Glory by Harper Collins in 2014 and the True North CD Small Source of Comfort in 2011.

His return to matters of the spirit and the gospels puts this strong work third in development after In The Falling Dark (1976) and Dancing In The Dragons Jaws (1979). The gospel theme is aided by The San Francisco Lighthouse Chorus. Bruce’s wife found a church she identified with and after a while Cockburn joined her.

Most songs use the nucleus of Gary Craig on drums and John Dymond on bass fleshed out with Colin Linden on guitar, John Aaron Cockburn on accordion and Ron Miles on Cornet. Two songs employ the rhythm section of Gary Craig and Roberto Occhipinti on upright bass who played with Bruce to great effect at the Montreal Folk Festival and Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2015.

The album’s lyrics weave a theme that seem to create a complete work.   

States I’m In fades in with dusk and clears with dawn burning off. The lyrics set out Bruce’s stall of conflicting life experiences that make up who he is today. These incidents and observations play on his mind while he tries to make sense of his life. Cockburn plays rhythmic acoustic guitar and the band drive the song along embellished with organ, mandotar and startling singing bowl.

The title Stab At Matter is a play on the title of the 13th century Catholic hymn Stabat Mater which portrays Jesus’ mother’s suffering during his crucifixion. Bruce on acoustic guitar is joined on vocals by Ruby Amanfu and they stir the crying and singing to set the spirit free. 

Forty Years In the Wilderness is Cockburn’s title twist on the story in the gospels of Jesus spending 40 days and nights in the wilderness trying to avoid temptation. 40 years ago Bruce was drawing on themes of the spirit in albums in the late 1970s. Cockburn mulls over his unforeseen opportunities over the last forty years and what direction he may take in the future, with a song chorus of immense beauty. John Aaron Cockburn plays an accordion wilderness bed throughout the song. 

In Café Society Cockburn surveys the population that visits his local coffee shop at the start of the day with his all-seeing eye noting “misery loves company”. As Tom Waits once wrote and sang on Blood Money (2002) - Misery Is the River of The World – a Cockburn favourite. Bruce may just have hidden one of the great put-downs of Trump in the last two lines of this song. The band lock into a chugging harmonica powered rhythm like a track from “Exile on Main Street” and we are introduced to the wonderful cornet of Ron Miles, the album’s secret ingredient. A musician who found wider exposure playing with Bill Frisell.

3 Al Purdys – Al Purdy (who passed away in 2000) was a unique straight talking Canadian poet whose work had not entered Cockburn’s sphere until he was asked to contribute to a documentary about the man – Al Purdy Was Here. This was the first time Cockburn had written any song since writing his memoir so it forced him into breaking the song drought. Poets have had a strong influence on Bruce throughout his life – Bill Hawkins, Paul Stoddart, Allen Ginsberg, Ernesto Cardinal, Kenji Miyazawa to name a few. Here Cockburn has imagined “a down and out” street person ranting tracts of Purdy’s poetry as well as his own narrative. Julie Wolf plays accordion and Ron Miles’s beautiful cornet puts me in mind of Jack Kerouac era jazz. While the film is not available outside Canada check out the Al Purdy anthology, Beyond Remembering. The performance reminds me of a Cockburn quote from Metal Trails Music Magazine (2013) “I like music that has a bite or edge to it with a sense of exploration”. 

Looking and Waiting seems to me a beautiful vignette of how Bruce juggles the twin experiences of catching songs from the ether and experiencing the divine. The performance is underpinned with the graceful understated slide of Colin Linden and a delicate infectious coda of mbira and sansula. Bruce used the similar analogy in Radium Rain – “a flock of birds writing something in the sky in a language I don’t understand”. 

Bone on Bone, after which the album is named, is an instrumental played on (acoustic) guitar and bones – it says in the CD booklet! Presumably his bones! Unfortunately bone on bone normally signifies osteoarthritis. This week Bruce was asked this very question in an interview by blogger Spaced-Out Scientist in Montreal and Bruce confirmed that Bone on Bone refers to that condition. He has hands like that. I can’t think of many other artists who would parade their ill-health in an album title!  

Mon Chemin is French for My Road. In the late 1970’s Cockburn included songs sung in French on each of four consecutive albums starting with In The Falling Dark. This is possibly the most infectious band performance on the album which includes Bruce on charango and John Aaron Cockburn on accordion delivering a hypnotic, seductive rhythm and Ron’s cornet blowing some beautiful understated solos including the meandering coda.

False River was one of the last songs to be recorded, the longest track and a lesson in restrained playing – delicate harmonica and accordion supported by the back beat of Michael Occhipinti on upright bass and Gary Craig on percussion and drums. These are some of the best lyrics on the album hung on a tanker oil spill then spreading out to highlight the detrimental effect this and other related matters are having on the environment. Listen carefully to this wonderful song and performance.

Jesus Train was one of the early songs to break Bruce’s song writing drought and he performed it live ahead of other material on this album. From a dream apparently, possibly recalling fragments of People Get Ready written by Curtis Mayfield and performed by The Impressions in 1965. Curtis wrote “All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’, You don’t need no ticket, just thank the Lord” while Bruce has penned “standing on the platform locomotive throbbing, I’m drawn to that open door, in the wonder of a child’s heart I’m stepping up the stair” to a skiffle shuffle beat with the Lighthouse chorus in full voice.

Twelve Gates to The City is a traditional song with new verses written by Cockburn. In the Joan Baez Songbook from 1964 there is the following text – “This song has long been one of the favourites of African American street singers and itinerant preachers throughout the US. It was recorded by blind street minstrels in the early days of “race” records and these recordings undoubtedly affected the oral circulation of the song. The reference is to the City of Heaven mentioned in the New Testament – Revelations 21:13, 14”. Bruce’s lyrics make all citizens of the world welcome to the kingdom of heaven. This performance is a joyous spiritual with lots of call and response vocals topped off with Ron Miles New Orleans style cornet.  

The CD package is another original work designed by A Man Called Wrycraft. Bruce took the selfie on the digipack cover and Daniel Keebler photographed everything else. Daniel shot the booklet portrait on the balcony of chez Cockburn against his former stage backdrop. The photo of the carved wooden crow and magnifying glass stand is from the same location while the real upstart crow and rear cover of the digipack are near Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The Keebler camera also took the shot on the disc itself at Bruce’s hideaway rehearsal space in the same city and the photo across the gatefold of Bruce playing his beautiful resonator. 

I have played this CD a great deal. Bruce was asked to write a spiritual memoir by Harper Collins but no one at the publisher seemed to be able to define that term. Whether intentionally or not Cockburn has now produced an inspirational spiritual themed album of songs that defines the state of Bruce in 2017 and is immensely enjoyable. This album is an object lesson on how to play an acoustic guitar with a band. Cockburn still has what it takes. 

Photos: Keebler

September 10, 2017
The Spaced-Out Scientist

Bruce Cockburn on his new album, upcoming tour, spirituality​ and the state of the world
by Annie Webb

Canadian singer-songwriter, guitarist and activist Bruce Cockburn has been described a “spiritual poet”, an “iconoclast” as well as the “Bob Dylan of Canada”.

With a career spanning almost half a century, Bruce Cockburn is an ever-evolving artist, who has undergone many stylistic shifts. He is a consistently meticulous guitar player and a skilled lyricist. His music blends folk, rock, pop and jazz, and his lyrics address human rights, environmental issues, politics and spirituality.

His 33rd album Bone on Bone is out on September 15th, 2017, which coincides with his induction into the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame and the launch of his longest touring schedule in decades, with a stop in Montreal on September 19th at Club Soda.

Bruce Cockburn is a 13-time Juno Award winner and an Officer of the Order of Canada. He is also a Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee and a recipient of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Canada’s highest honour in the performing arts. In 2011, he welcomed the birth of his daughter and in 2014, he released his critically-acclaimed memoir Rumours of Glory.

I spoke to Bruce about his new album, osteoarthritis, Jesus, the search for God, the state of the world we’re leaving to our children and his upcoming tour.


Your new album flowed out of an invitation to contribute a song to a documentary film about the late Canadian poet Al Purdy. Why did this set you off on the writing of your album and how much of an influence is Al Purdy in your lyrics?

He’s a considerable influence on the lyrics of the song called “3 Al Purdy’s”, which includes the recitation of pieces of his poetry. Otherwise not.

That song was the first to be written. It came after an extended period where I hadn’t written anything at all – at least no songs. I wrote a book, which is a whole different kind of thing. That enterprise took up all the creative juice that would have gone into song.

When the book was published and I didn’t have to think about that anymore, I’m standing around wondering if I’m going to write any more songs now because it’s been four years since I’d written anything. When I was in the midst of this period of uncertainty, the invitation came along to write a song for that film. I said “yes”, because I felt like if it works, it would get the process going again and put me back on the songwriting track. I was very glad to be able to get that song and have it work, and I’m very grateful for the ones that came along afterward.

What are your main inspirations for your new album, as well as the overarching themes? 

The inspiration for all my songs is life as I experience it. There’s no particular theme. I’ve never been the kind of writer who sits down and plans out what I’m going to write songs about or how to put together an album around a particular idea.

The album acquires a type of thematic content because the songs come from a particular period in my life. There’s a certain kind of unity and feel – to some extent lyrical content – that reflects whatever I was going through when songs were written. Out of that stew pot of experience, there’s a fairly noticeable spiritual bent, which is not new and not unusual. But there have been times when it’s been less an obvious part of songwriting as it’s been on this album. There’s that and there’s how it feels to be in the world the way it is right now.

In the film Pacing the Cage you’re asked, “Are you more of an optimist or a pessimist?” and you rapidly reply, “I think we’re fucked”. I know you’re a social and environmental activist and have a 5-year-old daughter. I have a young child as well and I’m worried about what the world will look like when she has her own kids. Do you feel the same way about your young daughter’s future, perhaps more than with your first daughter (who is now 40 years old)? 

Yeah, I think so. I’m not sure if it’s more because 30-40 years ago there was a lot to worry about as well. It feels like it’s more precarious now than it was 40 years ago – the state of the world, that is, and the state of the world as something that I’m handing on to my child. I found that when my first daughter was born, the sense of responsibility became very strong, but that I’m somehow responsible for at least to whatever degree I’m complicit in perpetuating this stuff we see around us.

When you’re going hand this world onto your kid, you better make it the best one you can. At the same time, you want to prepare your child for what they’ll have to deal with. There’s a balance that has to be found between keeping things in hand and preparing for the inevitable – or what might be the inevitable.

I feel like the world is actually coming apart. I don’t have enough confidence in that opinion to sell it as a prophetic message, but that’s how I feel. I look around and it looks like entropy to me. One of the songs, “Cafe Society”, mentions that: the word “entropy”. If you want to look at it from a religious point of view, it looks satanic. It looks like the forces of chaos are really flexing their muscles. The effects of that are far more noticeable than any antidote that might be offered in spiritual circles.

Flapping lips of flatulence bellow “vote for ME"
Everything is spinning in the looming entropy 

– Cafe Society

I believe there is that light. Even if it’s a faint hope, there’s the hope that enough people will be motivated to act out of a sense of our interrelatedness to each other and the planetary processes that keep us alive. If enough people get that and start living from a place of understanding that, then it will have an effect.

The title of your album and the title track is Bone on Bone. Bone on bone usually refers to osteoarthritis, when you have no cartilage left between joints. What is the significance of “bone on bone”?

You’re right. That’s exactly what Bone on Bone refers to. I have hands like that. My finger joints have no cartilage left and some other spots like that too. It’s interesting because most young people don’t think about that. The phrase “bone on bone” doesn’t mean anything to them.

Micheal Wrycraft did the album artwork. In one of our first phone conversations, he asked me what the title of the album was going to be and I told him: Bone on Bone. And there was a pause, and he said, “Ooooh, sexy.”  I said, “No, Michael, no. So not sexy.” But that’s what it is, and it seemed like a good title for a guitar piece using those fingers.

Does the osteoarthritis in your hands affect your guitar playing these days?

Yes, it does. I don’t think it affects it in the way that anybody’s able to hear yet. Eventually, it will. I hope I don’t have the presence of mind to quit when that comes around. But at this point, I’m getting away with it.

There is religious and spiritual content to many of the songs on the album like “Jesus Train”. You’re on the “Jesus Train”: who is Jesus and what does he represent? 

If you asked me this in the 70s, I would have given you an answer that was compatible with church teaching. That he was the incarnation of the divine on earth, that he lived how he lived and died how he died, etc. etc., and returned from the dead. Over time, that mental picture weakened, and I was not convinced of the reality of that – but not of what he stands for.

Lots has been written on these kinds of questions. In a certain way, the Jesus story echoes older stories from other cultures in the area, from ancient Egypt for example – these kinds of messianic figures that appear in various cultures and at various points in history. I have trouble with the exclusivity and the historical facts of whether or not there was Jesus.

I never lost interest in having a relationship with God, but what that relationship is supposed to consist of has come under question. But that search has led around. After decades of not being a church-going guy and for a long time not even thinking of myself as Christian, here I come back around again and now I do go to church. I’m not quite sure if I’m a Christian or not, but I’m thinking a lot about that.

Who is Jesus? He’s a representation of the divine. Whether he’s the only one or the best one is up for discussion. Part of my picture of Jesus is kind of a Jungian archetype, a collective animus. I don’t know if that’s right either. This is all subject to revision and drastic change with whatever next step is in front me that I haven’t taken yet.

Where did the song “Jesus Train” come from? Is it a metaphor for the spiritual path?

The song “Jesus Train” just popped out of me in church. It popped out having a dream in which there was a train that was definitely a spiritual presence: a powerful, armored locomotive. Looking back at the dream, it just seemed like that was the Jesus Train. It then ended up being a song.

There’s a lot of power in that train. For me, the image is not one of blissful meditation or feeling in tune with the universe. This is: “get on this train and charge through whatever landscape you have to charge through to get where you’re going.” Because it’s a train, you don’t have to fight your way through yourself. You’re on a vehicle that is going to take you there, no matter what.

Standing on the platform
Awed by the power
I feel the fire of love
Feel the hand upon my shoulder saying “brother climb aboard”
I’m on the Jesus train

– Jesus Train

Over your almost 50 year career, what’s changed the most and how have you evolved as an artist?

The biggest change I notice is in my body. I’d like to think I’m a better artist and I’m deeper into what I do. I have a keener sense of what makes a good song than when I started. Certainly in the beginning, my sense of what a song was, was really a product of all the songs I’d listened to rather than the ones I’d written.

At this point, when I’m writing a song I can be critical of what I’m writing at the same time as I can be excited about it. I think in the beginning there was only the excitement and not the criticism and not the ability to stand back and say: “Is this really going to work? Is anybody going to understand this?” I don’t want to be ruled by my anticipation of people’s response to the song because that’s not how you make art. But, at the same time, the album is out there for people to hear so you want to make it to some extent accessible.

This is your longest tour in decades. How are you feeling about getting back on the road?

I’m very excited about it. This tour is paced in a different way than what used to be normal because of my daughter primarily – because I have a family I want to maintain a relationship with. I don’t want to go out for six weeks at a time and come back for two, and then go out for another six, which is the way we used to do things when we had a new album.

But I haven’t stopped performing. This tour will be done in 3-week chunks with more time in between, so I get to have a family life at the same time as I get to do the touring. I’m very excited to be getting back on the road, especially with a band because almost all the work I’ve been doing for the last number years have been solo. It’s going to fun to have a real extra oomph on stage.

Bruce Cockburn performs at Club Soda on September 19th in Montreal. Doors open at 7 PM, show at 8 PM. Tickets: $53.25 to $55.25. See tour dates across North America here.

Photos: D. Keebler

September 8, 2017
D. Keebler

Recently I had an email conversation with STEPHEN FEARING. He was soon to be performing at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Bruce at Massey Hall. We were discussing the fact that he would be playing a few of Bruce’s songs as part of the tribute. This passage is from that conversation:

"I’ve been woodshedding his guitar parts for Wondering Where The Lions Are and Rocket Launcher… it’s very tricky and deceptively simple all at once. Cockburn’s right hand still freaks me out. I don’t know how many shows I’ve seen over the years, but that claw technique he has belies the flurry of notes he can produce at any given moment. Also, Wondering Where The Lions Are is a tongue twister lyrically - this will be fun! And knowing that Buffy Sainte-Marie, Neil Young and KD Lang are watching... well, no pressure!!"

September 8, 2017
No Depression

Bruce Cockburn’s New Album “Bone On Bone"
by Brittney McKenna

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.

Below, Cockburn offers some insight into a handful of Bone on Bone's tracks. Listen to the album in its entirety before its September 15 release date.

On "40 Years in the Wilderness"

“There have been so many times in my life when an invitation has come from somewhere... the cosmos... the divine... to step out of the familiar into something new. I’ve found it’s best to listen for and follow these promptings. The song is really about that. You can stay with what you know or you can pack your bag and go where you’re called, even if it seems weird, even if you can’t see why or where you’ll end up.”

On "States I'm In"

“It’s literally a ‘dark night of the soul’ kind of song, as it starts with sunset and ends with dawn. It passes through the night. The song is about illusion and self-delusion, looking at the tricks you play on yourself. Maybe it’s also a play on words about me living in the States.”

On "3 Al Purdys"

“I went out and got Purdy’s collected works, which is an incredible book. Then I had this vision of a homeless guy who is obsessed with Purdy’s poetry, and he’s ranting it on the street. The song is written in the voice of that character. The chorus goes, ‘I'll give you three Al Purdys for a twenty dollar bill.’ Here’s this grey-haired dude, coattails flapping in the wind, being mistaken for the sort of addled ranters you run into on the street—except he’s not really ranting, he’s reciting Al Purdy. The spoken word parts of the track are excerpts from Purdy’s poems. After that, once the ice was broken, the songs just started coming.”

Photo: Daniel Keebler

September 8, 2017
The Chronicle Herald

Cockburn Back On Track
by  Tim Arsenault

Bruce Cockburn hasn’t exactly led an unexamined life.

The Canadian singer-songwriter published a memoir in 2014, has been the subject of biographical documentaries and likely submitted to countless newspaper and magazine interviews throughout his career.

The most conspicuous evidence about himself, though, is contained in his large catalogue of songs, starting with his self-titled debut in 1970 as a fresh-faced folkie. After a recent tuneless dry spell he found worrisome, Cockburn, 72, releases his 33rd album, Bone on Bone, on Sept. 15 and commences a tour next week in the Maritimes.

Cockburn considered during a phone interview whether he had enough perspective to judge the depth of his new work.

“I wonder if I do,” he said.

“Let’s see. Let’s think about that for a minute.

“I wouldn’t dispute that it’s an introspective album at all. In that sense, in my mind, it would be typical of most of what I’ve done. I think that’s just as true of the stuff that people wouldn’t necessarily interpret that way. … People think If I Had a Rocket Launcher, for instance, is some sort of political polemic but it’s a totally introspective song. That might not be how people heard it on the radio, but that’s what it is.

“I don’t know that this album is more introspective than that, it’s just maybe because there’s nothing that can be attached to a social issue or whatever.”

The cover art of Bone on Bone even shows Cockburn peering intently through a magnifying glass, suggesting that topics will be subject to investigation.

“Yeah, there’s not much hidden from view; not much that’s interesting, at least. It just goes with the territory. The alternative was to remain in obscurity,” he said.

“People get to hear my songs, and I get to make my living doing what I do.”

Cockburn fans should find Bone on Bone fits just fine alongside his best work. There are several spiritual songs, a version of Twelve Gates to the City that should sate blues fans and the title track, a deft guitar instrumental.

“You’ve probably read all the crap they’re sending around so you know that it’s the first in a while because I was working on the memoir, then after the memoir was done — I spent three years writing prose — I wasn’t sure I was going to have any more song ideas. I was very relieved when they started coming.”

So, the man who came up with Lovers in a Dangerous Time, If a Tree Falls and Wondering Where the Lions Are was sort of left waiting for a miracle. One arrived, so to speak, in the form of the raspy 3 Al Purdys, something initially intended for a completely different project that ultimately sparked a fresh creative period.

“It came about because there were some folks in Ontario who were about to make a documentary on Al Purdy, who’s one of the all-time great Canadian poets,” Cockburn said.

“He would have been of my dad’s generation; a really great wordsmith and a kind of quintessential Canadian, as far as that goes.

“I figured this would be a chance to find out if I was going to be writing songs again — or not. If I could do something for the film, it would kind of get the whole creative process rolling. And it worked out; right away, I got this idea for a homeless guy who’s obsessed with Purdy’s poetry and raps it on the street.

“After that, the songs just started to flow.”

The band he’s taking on the road will feature drummer Gary Craig, bassist John Dymond and Cockburn’s nephew, accordionist John Aaron Cockburn. They will gather for about a week in Toronto to go over the show, which Cockburn suggested would already be in firm shape on the East Coast.

“I don’t think people are going to think of it as something formative that they’re witnessing. It’s going to be a show. What’s been the case in the past is that there’ll be certain songs in my imagination that will work well together and we’ll do a show like that and maybe they will, maybe they won’t. If they do, then we’ll keep doing that. If they don’t, it gets adjusted.

“Generally speaking, the show will be pretty much the same in the Maritimes as it is next February, when we’re on the West Coast. “

Cockburn plays Halifax on Sept. 16 at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, with Terra Lightfoot opening. There are also shows Sept. 15 in Fredericton and Sept. 17 in Summerside.

He said he’s fond of travel and still enjoys touring. Still, concessions are made to accommodate shifting personal obligations.

“I look forward to it greatly. I think it is also sort of an obligation. That’s perhaps too strong a word; it’s certainly the default position when you’re putting out an album. The expectation is you’re going to be touring.

“There’s a slight difference now. I’ve got a five-year-old at home and a family relationship that I need to maintain, so the pacing of the tour is going to be slightly different than previous ones. … It’s generally three-week stints instead of six-week stints so I can be away and still be recognizable when I get home.”

Cockburn, long an exceptional guitarist, said maintaining that talent also has demands, including an obligation to practise daily.

“The fact is, I don’t. But I should, and I regret it when I don’t because the older you get, the longer warmup time is needed to get back to wherever you thought you were.

“It’s just like any physical activity; you need to maintain co-ordination and muscle strength and all that stuff to execute the moves you want to make, and you need to maintain the kind of brain-hands co-ordination that’s required, which takes repetition to make happen. I want to explore, not just play scales and do my exercises.”

It may not seem right to some, but Cockburn, a national icon who will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on Sept. 23, has been living in the United States for eight years.

“It comes and goes. You think the civil rights movement was over in the ’60s but it’s not at all. Different aspects of it have surfaced because parts of it got addressed and parts of that problem were fixed, but overall it wasn’t fixed.”

The Ontario native has put down roots in San Francisco. Based on his description, it sounds like the city lives up to its reputation as an enlightened urban enclave.

“I think it’s more comfortable. My friends who live in Nashville have to keep their heads down, more for social reasons. You just don’t want people mad at you all the time; it’s not because their lives are in danger.

“And, yeah, San Francisco’s beautiful.”

Photo: Daniel Keebler

September 6, 2017
CBC Music

Q & A: Bruce Cockburn, Bone On Bone
by Andrea Warner

“Take up your load, run south to the road,
Turn to the setting sun,
Sun going down, got to cover some ground,
Before everything comes undone.”

-Bruce Cockburn

The gentle lilt of his guitar, that familiar voice a little more road-worn but still warm and wise, and those words. This is his first studio album in seven years, but few lyricists help us to know ourselves more deeply than award-winning singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn.

Above is the chorus from “40 Years in the Wilderness,” the third track off of Cockburn’s new record, Bone on Bone. CBC Music has the advance stream playing a week ahead of its Sept. 15 release. Listen via our player, pre-order the album here and get a list of his Canadian tour dates here.

A week after Bone on Bone drops, Cockburn will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on Sept. 23 in Toronto, alongside Beau Dommage, Stéphane Venne and Neil Young. It’s a fitting honour for Cockburn, who, over the course of almost five decades in the music industry, has penned some of the most thoughtful and enduring folk and pop songs of the 20th and 21st centuries, including his U.S. breakthrough, “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” and the gorgeous “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.”

But after writing his 2014 memoir, Rumours of Glory, Cockburn wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to write anything ever again.

“I didn’t write any songs until after the book was published because all my creative energy had gone into three years of writing it,” Cockburn said in a press release. “There was simply nothing left to write songs with. As soon as the book was put to bed, I started asking myself whether I was ever going to be a songwriter again.”

Three years later, Bone on Bone is here.

Cockburn spoke with CBC Music over the phone from his home in San Francisco about writer’s block, finding his faith again and how the late Canadian poet Al Purdy helped kick start the making of Bone on Bone, his 33rd album.


The fifth song on the record is called “3 Al Purdys” and I love the fact that he was an entry point for you after your break with songwriting. What was your relationship to him and his poetry? 

I actually didn't have any relationship with him or his poetry really, until the invitation came to contribute to the film [Al Purdy Was Here]. I was aware of him certainly and I was aware of his reputation but I hadn’t really gotten into his stuff at all. When the prospect of doing something for the documentary was raised I went out and got his collected works and I was completely blown away and amazed that I'd missed it all those years. And regretful, because it would have been great to have met him, or at least to sort of been able to track the development of his work over the years. You can kind of do that looking at the book as a retrospective, but he really was an incredible poet and so Canadian. I can't think of anyone other than Stompin' Tom Connors who so exemplified a certain aspect of Canadian culture.

And there's so much pathos and humour in his work.

When I got asked to write a song, I had not written anything for a while. All the time I was writing my memoir and I couldn't really get into the concept of songwriting because all the creative energy was going to the book. I was kind of wondering, "Am I going to write songs again?" The invitation came to do this and it was like, "OK, this will be the kickstarter." I immediately thought of this image of this homeless guy who comes across as being penniless for his art. I pictured him kind of in the wind, coattails blowing and he's ranting on the street. Well, not really ranting, he's reciting Al Purdy's poetry, he’s obsessed with his poetry. The chorus is "I'll give you three Al Purdys for a 20-dollar bill," I think Purdy would've approved of that, probably.

I think so too.

Basically the guy's like, "You look at me, you see a homeless bum, you think I'm ranting. But you've got to pay attention to this, 'cause you can spit on the prophet, but pay attention to the word."

I think a lot about those themes, and they’re in your work, too, the obligation of humanity to see a little bit deeper than we sometimes want to.

I agree with you. When you encounter the surface of something, there's a massive depth behind it. Allow for that even if you don’t know what's in there, so that you have the chance to discover more. It's important to kind of approach everything in life like that.

Can we talk a little bit about 'Forty Years in the Wilderness'? I think this is one of the most extraordinary songs I've heard this year and I'd love to know a little bit about what went into writing it.

I was in church one day and the sermon was about Jesus descending from heaven and he realizes who he is, or what his mission is let’s say. One of the gospels basically describes him as kind of jumping up and running off into the desert. He spends 40 days in the desert and in the story he's tempted by and being offered all sorts of great worldly things, which he rejects. This [sermon] happened right about the time, not to the date, but more or less 40 years since I'm a churchgoer. And I'm back in church and I'm hearing this, and I'm thinking, well — it's not quite correct to say why, but a large part of me not being a churchgoer was learning about the world.

It hit me at the end of the ’70s, way back when, that if I was going to love my neighbour as myself I'd better find out who my neighbour was. I embraced urban life at that point, which previously I'd been very suspicious of, and I made a point of kind of socializing myself in a very different way from how I had been before that point. And over time, I mean, didn't just happen overnight, but ah, you know, I had a lot of adventures. I met a lot of great people and some not-so-great people and I travelled to some amazing places and I pretty much fell away from going to church, although I did not fall away from my belief in God and my desire for a relationship with God.

My wife who was going through her own spiritual searching was kind of steered toward this particular church [in San Francisco] and had gone pretty regularly for several months before she managed to convince me to actually go and I went and I completely fell in love with the place — well, not with the place but with the people and the spirit that's there.

Your guitar playing is really the centrepiece for so much of the record and I was really curious about how the guitar has helped shape you as a storyteller over the years. It seems like it's an extension of your storytelling.

I almost think of it the other way around. I'm a songwriter because I wanted to be a guitar player. I started off wanting to play rock and roll guitar, under the influence of Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent and Elvis. I never did end up playing that music, per se, but that got me wanting to play the guitar and, you know, over the years, the earliest years of playing I began to imagine myself being in the jazz world and playing, you know, composing music mainly, but playing on the guitar. I never got the chops together to be a jazz musician.

Well the reason I didn't is that I felt after I got to know it more, that it wasn't really where I was being invited to go. I was interested in all kinds of other music as well by the time this kind of turning point, decision-making wise. I was heavily under the influence of Bob Dylan and singer-songwriters/folk music of the ’60s. My mother said, "Well, you're gonna have to sing, you know. Play guitar and sing too." And I'm going, "Nah, no way, I'm not singing." She had a lot to do with convincing me that singing was something I could pull off, even though I was terrified of doing it.

Once I was learning folk songs and blues tunes, it wasn't a very big step to start writing songs. It was the guitar that started it all. And I've always loved the instrument and loved making music on the instrument, whether there was a song to be sung or not, you know?

I’d like to talk about the Songwriters Hall of Fame induction. I was wondering if we could just briefly look at some of your most popular songs and just how your relationship has changed to them, perhaps, in some cases the decades between when you wrote them and when they are now. Let’s talk about ‘If I Had a Rocket Launcher.’

That was a heavy song at the time and it's still heavy when I perform it. In order to make a song live in a performance setting I kind of have to be in the song, I have to be in the state of mind I was in when I wrote it, and ah I honestly don't like being in that state of mind. It's not a fun place to be, but not because of the notion of committing an act of violence that I don't particularly approve of, but just to relive the atmosphere that produced that song. But people like to hear it. I like playing it because I like the way the music fits. I like doing the guitar solo in it, in particular, so that helps mitigate the sort of cloak of angst that I have to put on in order to put the song across properly.

Does it feel particularly relevant again?

I don't think its relevance has ever really diminished. The connection to the current goings on is pretty obvious, of course, and the ... I mean if you write a song about war or about the kind of mindset that goes with war. We're surrounded by it in the media right now and it's right up in our faces because we're being invited by a couple of maniacs to think seriously about participating in a war.

Absolutely. What about ‘Lovers in a Dangerous Time’?

I sing that song a lot, the same applies to "Rocket Launcher" and a couple other ones, the ones that have been particularly popular. I get tired of singing them because they're in every show, you know? Like, "OK, can we just have a show that doesn't have this?" But at the same time I want to sing them and I want to give people, first of all what they paid to hear, to some extent, and I also am grateful that people have allowed these songs to touch them and I don't in any way want to be thought of as disowning these songs. So I sing them and I'm fine with that but at the same time, you know, "Lovers" is a song I could see not doing for a while except that it's going to be in the shows because for the reasons I said. The fun part of this is going to be the tour that's coming up is a band tour. I haven't done a band tour for quite a while and so we can really rework some of these things a little bit from the kind of solo presentation that I've been giving. And that'll make it fresh and fun for me.

What about an overlooked gem of yours? What do you think is a song of yours that should have resonated but maybe it didn't and you love it a lot?

Oh boy. I don't have a very good answer for that one. When I'm thinking about putting a show together or thinking about, like, the repertoire that I'm going to be drawing from for a period of time — 'cause I can't retain all of the songs in my head at the same time. I can manage to hold about 50 or 60 of them and then after that, if I were to pick an old one I'd have to go back and relearn it. There are songs that the "non-hit," quote unquote, ah, songs that I think of as, at any one time as part of the repertoire change over time and um, so right now I'm thinking about songs like "The Gift," which I'd forgotten all about and it came back. Saw a video of me doing it on a German TV show and I thought, "Wow, that's a pretty good song. I should get that together again."

There's a couple like that. There's another, a song, this isn't quite what you were talking about, but there's one of the songs that's really been popular with people, called ‘Peggy's Kitchen Wall’ and that I have not been able to play for a long time because my fingers over the years, in the last decade or so, have become a little arthritic and they've actually changed shape a bit so I can't quite reach as far on the guitar neck as I used to be able to do. It's only a matter of of a couple of millimeters, but that's a couple millimeters between one side of a guitar fret and the other side of the guitar fret so I haven’t been able to play ‘Peggy's Kitchen Wall’ but I recently discovered a way to actually make it work so I'm excited about being able to play that again.

September 2017
International Times

Looking and Waiting
Bone On Bone
by Rupert Loydell

I’m not alone in thinking that Bruce Cockburn’s releases for the last decade or more have not been very exciting, certainly nothing to match his 1970s and 80s output, (particularly The Further Adventures of,  Humans and Inner City Front for me) when he was busy combining mystical visions of nature with sceptical questioning of both faith and politics, and drawing on the guitar explorations of bands like Television’s Tom Verlaine, what became known as world music, and the work of writers like poet Allen Ginsberg and mystical novelist Charles Williams.

So although I’ve continued to listen to Cockburn’s music, and read his autobiography last year, I’ve learnt not to expect anything earth-shattering or too different from him, just enjoy the music and lyrics. This seems a sensible approach, as people are far too good at claiming so-and-so has made a return-to-form or that their new album is their best ever. Bone on Bone is neither of these, but it is an interesting, freewheeling, loose-limbed and lithesome collection of songs (and one instrumental), with some revisiting of ideas and themes from earlier works.

The album begins with a fingerpicked acoustic guitar and then the sound of singing bowls, before Cockburn considers both personal and national identity in ‘States I’m In’. It’s a clever pun, a playful approach that’s continued with the second track, ‘Stab At Matter’, a  wordplay on Stabat Mater, which is the name of an ancient hymn exploring Mary’s suffering seeing her son crucified, here re-imagined as someone shaking off lamentation through incantation and revelation, moving on to ‘set the spirit free’.

Elsewhere, Cockburn people watches in the city, waiting and wondering about strangers and his state of mind, considering ‘Cafe Society’ as a wonderful ‘sip of community’; reimagines ‘Forty Years in the Wilderness’, perhaps linking to Jesus’ 40 days out there, an event he previously wrote about in ‘Dialogue with the Devil’; wonders about where his ‘road would be / if not here’; and considers the desire for and pull of spiritual belief in the loping chug of ‘Jesus Train’. The album concludes with a cover version of the gospel song ‘Twelve Gates to the City’, here a metaphor for heaven, peace, love and communal living, where ‘no matter what tribe you’re in there’s a way in for you’, everyone is welcome and all can find a home. It’s a clever and uplifting, oblique critique and stand against racism and nationalism, and all the better for that subtlety, in contrast to the somewhat heavy-handed ‘3 Al Purdy’s’ earlier on.

Throughout, the production is warm and clear, often simple and direct, always considered and appropriate. Cockburn’s (mainly acoustic) guitar playing is exemplary, the percussion, keyboard, accordion and cornet particularly effective when introduced to shade and colour the music. Cockburn has clearly relaxed into San Francisco, is enjoying family life as an older father, and benefitted from five years away from the recording studio. Bone on Bone is a carefree, and enjoyable album that intelligently explores the spiritual and societal states we’re all in. I’ve been playing it over and over again for the last few weeks, and will continue to do so. Despite being well known elsewhere, much critical acclaim and several UK tours, Cockburn remains somewhat invisible over here. Let’s hope this helps raise his profile, even if it is 40 years too late!

August 2, 2017
Toronto Star

Songwriters share their fave obscure Canadian songs
by Peter Goddard 

This is an excerpt from the original article.

Bruce Cockburn

His pick: “The Black Fly Song,” by Wade Hemsworth

“The summer I was 15, I was working as a pot-washer at Camp Ahmek on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. It was my fourth summer there,” says Cockburn. “I had an electric guitar. I’d been playing for about a year. There was a kid named Jay Something-or-other who had a Martin acoustic on which he did rudimentary finger-picking. Tum tiddy tum tiddy tum tiddy tum tiddy. He played ‘The Black Fly Song’ with that rhythm. The lyrics resonated strongly in that Laurentian Shield rock, water, jack pine and no-see-um atmosphere. The song still resonates as a perfect expression of what for me was an archetypal Canadian experience.”

Editor’s note: Hemsworth is arguably the least prolific songwriter in Canadian history, with just some 20 songs in over 50 years. Originally from Brantford, he spent much of his life living, working and just plain surviving in the north. “The Black Fly Song” says everything about his love/hate relationship with the land he loved best. “I’ll die with the black fly a-picking my bones/ In north On-tar-i-o-io, in north On-tar i-o-i-o.”

July 12, 2017

Press Release
True North Records / Finkelstein Management

Bruce Cockburn Announces His First Studio Album In Seven Years – Bone On Bone

For Release on Vinyl, CD and Digital Download 

September 15, 2017


States I’m In – Slide Show YouTube Video (photos: Daniel Keebler)
States I’m In – Soundcloud Stream (Album Version)

Pre-order from True North Records
Pre-order on iTunes
Pre-order on Amazon
Bruce Cockburn – At a Glance
2017 Promo Photo


TORONTO, July 12, 2017 – Bruce Cockburn has announced the September 15, 2017 release of his first full-length album in seven years, Bone On Bone (True North Records). The release coincides with his induction into the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame, and the launch of his longest touring schedule in decades. 

Few recording artists are as creative and prolific as Bruce Cockburn. Since his self-titled debut in 1970, the Canadian singer-songwriter has issued a steady stream of acclaimed albums every couple of years. But that output suddenly ran dry in 2011 following the release of Small Source of Comfort. There were good reasons for the drought. For one thing, Cockburn became a father again with the birth of his daughter Iona. Then there was the publication of his 2014 memoir Rumours of Glory. 

“I didn’t write any songs until after the book was published because all my creative energy had gone into three years of writing it,” Cockburn explains, from his home in San Francisco. “There was simply nothing left to write songs with. As soon as the book was put to bed, I started asking myself whether I was ever going to be a songwriter again.”

Such doubt was new to the man who’s rarely been at a loss for words as he’s distilled political views, spiritual revelations and personal experiences into some of popular music’s most compelling songs. What spurred Cockburn back into songwriting was an invitation to contribute a song to a documentary film about the late, seminal Canadian poet Al Purdy and he was off to the races. 

Bone On Bone, Cockburn’s 33rd album, arrives with 11 new songs and there’s a prevalent urgency and anxious tone to much of the album, which Cockburn attributes to living in America during the Trump era. But, more than anything, Bone on Bone amounts to the deepest expression of Cockburn’s spiritual concerns to date. The 12-time Juno winner and Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s “Forty Years in the Wilderness” ranks alongside “Pacing the Cage” or “All The Diamonds” as one of Cockburn’s most starkly beautiful folk songs. “There have been so many times in my life when an invitation has come from somewhere…the cosmos…the divine…to step out of the familiar into something new. I’ve found it’s best to listen for, and follow these promptings. 

“Forty Years in the Wilderness” is one of several songs that feature a number of singers from the church Cockburn frequents, for the sake of convenience referred to in the album credits as the San Francisco Lighthouse “Chorus.” “Among other songs, they contribute call-and-response vocals to the stirring “Stab at Matter.” Other guests on the album include singer-songwriters Ruby Amanfu, Mary Gauthier, and Brandon Robert Young, along with bassist Roberto Occhipinti, and Julie Wolf, who plays accordion on “3 Al Purdys” and sings with the folks from Lighthouse, together with LA songwriter Tamara Silvera. 

Produced by Colin Linden, Cockburn’s longtime collaborator, the album is built around the musicianship of Cockburn on guitar and the core accompaniment of bassist John Dymond and drummer Gary Craig. Also, very much part of the sound is the accordion playing of Cockburn’s nephew John Aaron Cockburn and the solos of noted fluegelhorn player Ron Miles (check out his stunning work on the cascading “Mon Chemin,” for example). 

Cockburn, who won the inaugural People’s Voice Award at the Folk Alliance International conference in February and will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in September, continues to find inspiration in the world around him and channel those ideas into songs. “My job is to try and trap the spirits of things in the scratches of pen on paper and the pulling of notes out of metal,” he once noted. More than forty years after embarking on his singer-songwriting career, Cockburn keeps kicking at the darkness so that it might bleed daylight.

Bone On Bone track listing: 

1. States I’m In
2. Stab At Matter
3. Forty Years In The Wilderness
4. Café Society
5. 3 Al Purdys
6. Looking And Waiting
7. Bone On Bone
8. Mon Chemin
9. False River
10. Jesus Train
11. Twelve Gates To The City

For more information, please contact:

Eric Alper, Publicity
True North Records P: 647-971-3742

July 7, 2017
The Vancouver Sun

Comox-bound Bruce Cockburn reflects on impact of his hit Rocket Launcher 
by Larry Pynn

It has been 33 years since the release of Bruce Cockburn’s darkly infectious hit, If I Had a Rocket Launcher, a stirring commentary on the injustices the Canadian singer-songwriter experienced during a visit to Central America.

Today, the song remains as valid — and potentially misunderstood — as ever.

“A lot of people relate to it currently, in terms of Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria, any number of places,” Cockburn said in a recent interview in advance of his July 15 appearance at the Vancouver Island Music Festival in Comox.

“Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be running out of war and pain.”

Cockburn recalls the “scary” experience of playing the song for 2,000 Christians at a music festival in England in the 1980s, and everyone enthusiastically singing: “If I had a rocket launcher … some son of a bitch would die.”

For reasons like that, he is not comfortable with people singing along to the song.

“There’s nothing joyful or celebratory about it. It’s truthful, but that’s not a pleasant truth to me. I don’t like reliving it.”

Cockburn also appeared in Santiago, Chile, to support banned artists during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. A Chilean singer repeated each line after Cockburn in Spanish. “When we got to the end, the audience was on its feet. That was also quite chilling. These people had a different perspective on it.”

The Ottawa-born Cockburn wrote Rocket Launcher after visiting a refugee camp in Guatemala.

“Most people relate to it for close to the right reasons. It’s a cry of outrage. Very few people understand it as a call to arms.”

Ultimately, what does he hope to achieve from a political song?

“I hope to write a good song and have people hear it. That’s it. I don’t think songs change the world. People change the world and if people embrace a particular song as a kind of anthem, then that song becomes part of the process of change.”

Cockburn is talking over the phone from a Starbucks in San Francisco, where he’s lived the last eight years and where his second wife, M.J. Hannett, works as a lawyer. This afternoon, he’s with his five-year-old daughter, Iona, and apologizes for the interruptions.

“Sorry, I am using a carrot to try to spread peanut butter on a piece of bread. Actually, I’m quite proud of myself.”

Over the decades, Cockburn has drifted between Christianity and spirituality, spurning the trappings of formal religious dogma and the unyielding conservatism of some movements. He’s found some solid ground at San Francisco Lighthouse Church.

“I am kind of coming back to calling myself a Christian again,” he says. “It’s a vibrant, alive place, and kind of free thinking. Everybody is here because they really want to be, not out of habit or social convention.”

Cockburn is an accomplished lyricist and guitarist who, at age 72, endures arthritis in his hands.

A few songs such as the instrumental Foxglove are now too difficult to perform.

“It’s not enough of an impediment to stop me from performing. If you come and hear a show, I won’t think, ‘Oh, he doesn’t play like he used to.’ ”

Cockburn has 32 albums to his credit. Some of his best-known songs include Tokyo, Lovers In A Dangerous Time, Wondering Where The Lions Are, The Coldest Night of the Year, and If A Tree Falls — a 1989 song that touched environmentalist David Suzuki.

“I was blown away by it because we were involved in a big battle to stop a dam in Brazil,” Suzuki recalls. “It was a powerful demonstration that music transcends language and culture and cuts straight to the heart.”

Cockburn’s 33rd project, Bone on Bone, is scheduled for release in September. He says fans can expect spiritual undertones, a “bluesier and rougher” sound than on past albums, with a political song about oil called False River.

What propels him at this stage of his life?

“The words demand the music. It’s not a deliberate process. The songs take the shape they do.”

July 5, 2017
Prince George Citizen

Cockburn playing free show in Prince George Tonight
by Frank Peebles

Rock 'n' roll poets are few, but Bruce Cockburn is one of those rare legends of both instrument and word. 

His songs have been quoted in books and movies and even in other songs (by U2 in God Part II). Cover versions of his songs have catapulted other acts to stardom (Barenaked Ladies). And his name has been evoked in global conversations for humanitarian efforts and social development. 

Other stars like Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffett and Emmylou Harris are outspoken fans. Steve Bell, one of Canada's most notable Christian performers, did an entire album of Cockburn covers. 

Cockburn is, by any estimation, a master of the guitar. He plays a finger-style that was honed on jazz at the Berklee School of Music but the raw material was carved from the blues found around his Ottawa upbringing, then steeped in international concepts he picked up along the way. When Cockburn travels, he always brings a little something home. 

He also has a healthy appetite for poetry, from which his abundant lyrics emerge. 

He's written some lightning bolts, the most famous of which is "gotta kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight" found tucked in the folds of his classic hit Lovers In A Dangerous Time. 

It is hardly alone. Sizzling metaphors and turns of phrase engorge the sails of his music career. 

He told The Citizen that he studies master poets and reads it for fun as well, but he knows his place on that bookshelf. 

"In a way, writing songs gives you an out. You can get away with - and sometimes you're obliged to get away with - things that wouldn't really stand up on the page very well, because they have to go with the music," he said. 

"I can say yeah, I'm a pretty good guitar player for a songwriter, or I'm a pretty good songwriter for a guitar player. It's not really poetry, what I do, but it's so much like it I hold myself to that standard."

He cites Robert Bly, Blaise Cendrars and Kenji Miyazawa as some of his favourites, but the first one that turned him onto poetry at all was Ars Poetica by Archibald MacLeish he discovered in 

Grade 6, and the first one who inspired some of his directions in life came with a beat. 

"Allen Ginsberg was for me what Bob Dylan was as a songwriter," Cockburn said of the back alley bard of San Francisco - the city in which Cockburn now lives. 

It wasn't a pilgrimage. Cockburn's wife has a job there, Cockburn's work is portable, so the move was academic. So was becoming the stay-at-home parent for their daughter, now five. 

He spent her first three years writing a different sort of composition. He penned his autobiography, Rumours Of Glory, during her first three years. 

"It seemed like the right time. It seemed like I was old enough to have a story to tell," he said. 

The topic of a book had come up before, but this one was suggested by publisher HarperCollins who urged him to talk about his spiritual Christian mentalities as much as his music and social activism. 

"During that period I didn't write any songs so I was kind of wondering if I would be a songwriter again after that was put to bed. And luckily, I think, I still am," he said. The album Bone On Bone is the echo of that, scheduled for release in September. 

Perhaps some of that new material will spread across Canada Games Plaza tonight when Cockburn performs at tonight's edition of the Heatwave Festival celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary. 

Cockburn has always been a proud representative of Canada, on the global stage. But he is also a fiercely realistic one. 

Songs like Stolen Land, They Call It Democracy, and If I Had A Rocket Launcher are but a few that prick the skin of abuse to indigenous people here and around the world. 

He has gone to places where these abuses are splattered in blood. Canada's power imbalance has been violent, there have been brutalities and victimizations, but he is cognizant that at least the conversations now are about reconciliation, restoring balance, and minimizing the ongoing damage. 

"We were duplicitous colonists and then we were bad friends," he said, knowing that this week's Canada Day celebrations are only valid if they take stock of the pain the making of Canada caused, and still causes with documents like the federal Indian Act still overlaying aboriginal relations. 

"It is obviously an ongoing concern," he said. 

"A lot of the right noises are being made but not a lot of the right actions are taking place, yet. There's some good talk, and good talk is better than no talk, and changes are slowly occurring but thing we have to remember on all sides is, we have no where else to go. We've got to deal with this like family members in a situation that needs rectifying. It's a dialogue that has to go on between brothers and sisters, not 'us' and 'them.'"

He also has his daily dose of local politics to keep his eyes clear on Canada's progress. He lives in the nation that can't seem to stabilize its rhetoric anymore. Cockburn likened Donald Trump to the demonic clown named Violator in the Spawn comic book series. 

"The dialogue is no longer civil," he said of the American cultural condition anymore. "There is no room for reasoned dialogue. There's no room for friendly persuasion. The only persuasion is at gunpoint, and we haven't quite gotten there yet, but it is on the horizon. It is amazing to hear where it's gone."

As a poet, a songwriter, an author, in almost any form he's ever taken Cockburn is above all an observer who conveys what he sees in forms of art. Tonight, he shares that with Prince George. 

The festivities get underway at 7 p.m. with opening acts Khast'an Drummers and Scarlett Jane. 

June 30, 2017
FYI Music

A Conversation With ... Bruce Cockburn
by Bill King

We lived in what was stamped a “hippie haven” in the early seventies – Gothic Avenue, which borders Quebec Avenue – in High Park, Toronto. The brown rice/alternative lifestyle sanctuary was a haven for writers, musicians – in fact the late Billy Bryans lived only a few steps away and was playing in a band called Horn. Music was big fun and discovery. You could start in the early morning after a hit of a hash/tobacco joint and walk in on neighbours. Music played day and night, in fact it was all about checking out the person next door’s album collection.

The progressives blasted Emerson, Lake and Palmer – the countrified – Pure Prairie League – and the folkies loved their Tea for the Tillerman/Cat Stevens and a newcomer rising on the Canadian scene, Bruce Cockburn.

Even if you didn’t pay much attention you learned who the artists were were through peripheral listening. I had Bruce’s voice memorized as well as his fluent guitar playing. Cockburn stuck with you like he belonged in your life. Right time, right place!

The debut – Bruce Cockburn, produced by Eugene Martynec, came with a single that seemed to follow Canadians everywhere – Going to the Country. I know the inhabitants of Gothic Avenue were served a new side each year we survived the developers wrecking ball – High Winds, White Sky – Sunwheel DanceNight VisionJoy Will Find a Way and In the Falling Dark.

Come September, Cockburn is inducted into the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame (CSHF)and releases his thirty-third recording, Bone on Bone. I connected with Bruce from his San Francisco home and collected his thoughts on a number of issues, episodes and events.

You have a couple of big events in September – induction into the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and your 33rd recording – Bone to Bone. Your thoughts?

Any particular order? The exciting thing for me of course is the album – it’s been awhile since I’ve had an album out. I’m happy with the songs and how it came out. I’m anxious to get it out and get people to hear it. The Songwriter’s Hall of Fame thing is nice. There’s a lot of ‘halls of fame’ in the world. In one way, it’s delightful to be recognized by the scene – people who enjoy what I do and people who are close enough to it to appreciate what I do. That means a lot. I can also remember thinking, getting inducted into some kind of hall of fame means you should already be dead or about to be. I don’t feel like that now. It feels pretty good. I also remember being somewhere and there was the towing and removal hall of fame – every industry has one. This is a national one and a big deal – it’s nice and I’m very appreciative.

It’s about songwriting too – something very special.

It’s nice to be recognized by the people who understand what you do.

You have a healthy attitude about your career. It’s spanned decades and there is no reason to retire – just keep making music.

Yes – as long as I can keep doing it, that’s what I want to do. I don’t take it for granted or assume my feelings would ever change – it could, but hasn’t so far. I like what I do and I like performing the songs I write for people. It’s the way they get to hear them best and the way I get to share them in the presence of actual human feedback. As long as I’m physically able to do it, I expect I will.

Do you still enjoy your time on stage?

I’ve always been terrified on stage and that hasn’t really changed that much. Terrified would be overstating now but back in the beginning it was terrifying, now it’s just kind of stressful. When you perform your songs to actual human beings in a live situation, that’s where the song really lives and becomes meaningful. If nothing else, the experience of being there focused on the same thing with a whole bunch of people is a pleasant sensation. Then afterwards, it feels good for a few minutes and then you start thinking about all of the things you did wrong and then it takes a day or two before you start feeling good about it again. Along with the precarious situation is the idea of making a living without having a boss. Being able to travel – some people would find it as having an adventurous lifestyle. It’s a great thing – a gift and not everybody gets to do it.

You were there at a time when the “protest song” made a difference in people’s lives. It was impactful. The war in Vietnam came to a halt through song and action. Are there songs out there today having the same force or influence?

I don’t know. I don’t think it’s down to the songs in this generation, but means and distribution. You can write the best song in the world and it’s not going to change things itself. It has to fall on fertile ground. In the sixties and up to relatively recently, the way a song fell on fertile ground was when it got sung at a protest – when it was sung to an audience who understood what it was protesting about and sympathized with the message. Then it becomes an emotional rallying point for all of that popular feeling that’s out there. If you don’t have that, I don’t think the song is going to have that much of an effect. People relate to music in a different way from most of the time I’ve been around. I’m not sure what that adds up to. In the state that I’m living there’s more popular feeling than you kind of want – it’s so polarized. There’s a lot of angry people on one side and lot of bewildered and worried people on the other. Can somebody write a song that would establish common ground with those opposing views that would be effective?

You live in California – a state that’s kind of a country unto itself now.

It is sort of. It is certainly resisting some of the trends that are sweeping the rest of the country. How long that can go for, who knows? Once they get into the real contest – the vast sums of money that transfer between the federal government and the states – just like in Canada – the federal government has a significant amount of leverage over a state like California. It hasn’t come down to that kind of arm wrestle yet. California, by and large, is forward looking as a society. This is where people are paying attention to environmental concerns in a deeper way than a lot of places. With respect to some issues, California gets carried away. Like Etobicoke in Toronto – it’s famous for having more bylaws than anywhere else. Unnecessary things like how long your grass should be.

We tend to go that way – there are a lot of laws in this state. Some are not very smart, I think. There’s a significant amount of energy behind having a future and having influence over the quality of that future. I think that may have to do with the relative absence of fear. It’s also the kinds of jobs too. The jobs that aren’t skill jobs are mostly agricultural. In Kentucky or West Virginia where the economy has mostly been dependent on mining – they are screwed! They are worried and angry. You can’t blame them. It isn’t about environmental laws like the powers that be keep painting that way, because there are never going to be mining jobs again – it’s all going to be automated.

Even if they rolled back all of the controls and let corporations do whatever they want, there still won’t be work. California is lucky in that respect that it isn’t currently in such a state of collapse. What will happen with the agricultural industry with climate change is another thing. We don’t know.

Bone on Bone? Is there a theme or something that links each song?

They are linked by the period of time they were written. People will notice an emphasis on the spiritual side of things more characteristic of what I was doing in the seventies than what I’ve done recently. It’s a rawer kind of sounding record – kind of bluesy and deliberately rough around the edges than some of them have been. The songs seem to suit that treatment. I don’t think people are going to see this as a “political, quote, un-quote album”. I don’t think I’ve written anything people would call a protest song on this album, but there might be one. There’s a song called, “False River” that’s about oil. That I think would qualify. There are passing references to that state of things but it’s more interior.

Even the Stones reacquainted themselves with their past and just put out a blues side.

I haven’t heard that album and I hear it’s good. I liked it when they started writing songs that were more in line with their actual real roots. The music that came out of English culture, but heavily blues-based. They got more interesting after they started writing about their understanding of life. That said, there’s nothing wrong with honoring those old blues songs. I think that’s what they intended to do in the beginning and did again now.

Some day I have intentions of doing an album of other people’s stuff that would include that kind of thing. From the artists I learned from when I started out. In fact, there’s one of those on the new album, what we used to call a “negro spiritual”. It’s called “Twelve Gates to the City”. I used to hear the Reverend Gary Davis sing it, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry sing it and various others. The song keeps popping up – I don’t know why really. It’s a song I feel I have a relationship with.

With YouTube, Spotify and so many streaming situations it’s like the world of music has been harvested and archived. Do you spend time exploring?

I do that but I don’t have much time to do anything and don’t listen to as much music as I once did. There was a period back in the 70s’ I wouldn’t listen to anything I could be accused of imitating. I didn’t want to listen to any other songwriters. I didn’t listen to rock n’ roll or even the jazz I loved. I went around looking for music I hadn’t heard before. I got deep into European Renaissance music and ethnic music from various parts of the world and what we would now call “world music” and was not called that back then. It was just recordings of people’s folk music.

I was traveling in southeast Asia in connection with the land mine issue in Cambodia and ended up jamming with these two guys. One played percussion and the other the Cambodian equivalent to the erhu and the tunes were traditional music and sounded like a cross between Appalachian fiddle music and blues. Fast tunes really bluesy sounding in a minor key. A lot of sliding notes. I played rhythm – just tried to keep up. I’d never given a thought to what Cambodian music would even sound like. Here I am jamming with this guy – blind from a mine accident.

What’s taking up your time these days?

I have a five-year old. One more day of kindergarten then off for the summer. Going into grade one in the fall – and it’s takes a lot of attention. Some of it is terrific and some of it is draining – I’m too old for this. She’s a terrific kid and there’s a lot about this that is really wonderful. 



TORONTO, ON - On Saturday, September 23, 2017, after a five year hiatus, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) Induction ceremony returns with four incredible inductees, Beau Dommage, Bruce Cockburn, Neil Young, and Stéphane Venne, at Toronto’s iconic Massey Hall .The bilingual ceremony presented by Richardson GMP, will feature remarkable tributes and performances from sought after Canadian artists including, Arkells, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Damien Robitaille, Daniel Lavoie, Don Ross, Élage Diouf, France D'amour, Florence K, Julie Payette, k.d. lang, Randy Bachman, William Prince and Whitehorse with special surprise artists to be announced in the coming weeks.

Fans can expect an exhilarating live show with breath-taking music, moving stories and stunning visuals. Tickets will be available to the public on Friday, May 19 starting at 10:00 a.m. via and

"We are thrilled to be back to celebrate the extraordinary careers of Beau Dommage, Bruce Cockburn, Neil Young and Stéphane Venne at this year's ceremony at Massey Hall," said Stan Meissner, Chair, Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. "These inductees truly highlight the depth and incredible legacy of the songwriting talent we have here in Canada."

The CSHF is a national, bilingual, non-profit organization, founded to honour and celebrate Canadian songwriters. Since 2003, theCSHFhas held seven highly successful induction ceremonies focusing on the unique craft of the song and celebrating the value of music in our society. This year's induction ceremony will be recorded for later broadcast by CBC Music in association with ICI Musique.

Multi-platinum selling rock band Beau Dommage consisting of members Marie- Michèle Desrosiers, Michel Rivard, Pierre Huet, Robert Léger, Pierre Bertrand, Michel Hinton, and Réal Desrosiers, broke sales records with their self-titled debut album in 1974. Their second album, Où est passée la noce?, went platinum on the first day of sales. Beau Dommage went on to be the first group to receive the Medal of Honour at the National Assembly of Quebec and in 2013 they were chosen by Canada Post to be depicted on their own stamp.

"For nearly a century, from Madame Bolduc to Louis-Jean Cormier, thousands of Québec artists have sung and still sing, day in, day out and in French, the very soul of the people," said Beau Dommage. "Beau Dommage is proud to be one link in that chain. To us, this honour underscores the smiling tenacity ofla chanson Québécoise."

Bruce Cockburn's illustrious career has spanned over five decades. Cockburn has deftly captured the joy, pain, fear, and faith of human experience in song, earning him 12 JUNO Awards, a Governor General's Performing Arts Award, an induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and has been named an Officer of the Order of Canada.

"I'm honoured and deeply gratified to have the recognition of my work expressed by my being inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. It's a gas!” said Bruce Cockburn.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Neil Young is one of the most influential and idiosyncratic singer-songwriters of his generation. From the beginning of his solo career in the late '60s through to the 21st century, he has never stopped writing, recording, and performing. The multi-platinum GRAMMY Award-winning artist has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and was honoured as an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Acclaimed songwriter, arranger, and producer Stéphane Venne has written over 400 songs (words and music) to date. Twenty of his works charted at number one and are currently among the SOCAN Classics for accumulating over 25,000 radio plays.

"Beyond the ultimate compliment of being inducted in the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, I would like to make a wish. I have, for the vast majority of my career, been a writer and composer, with basically no exposure as an artist. I hope my experience can be an inspiration for those who like me, that have something special to contribute thanks to their writing and nothing but their writing," said Stéphane Venne.

"At Richardson GMP Wealth Management, we share a passion for the Canadian independent spirit and we recognize not only the great talent but the commitment of our songwriters to this country," said Andrew Marsh, CEO, Richardson GMP. "As we celebrate 150 years as a nation, we proudly support the CSHF Inductee Ceremony and the recognition of these four great artists."

For more information and to purchase tickets visit: or

The CSHF is also pleased to acknowledge this year's event sponsors, ole, SOCAN Foundation, CBC Music, ICI Musique, SOCAN and Gowling WLG along with the Province of Quebec, Quebecor and Boucher Guitars.

For press images please visit:

For more information on CSHF please contact:

Laura Steen / Strut Entertainment / /416.300.9254


Samantha Pickard / Strut Entertainment / / 647.405.1715

About CSHF

The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) honours and celebrates Canadian songwriters and those who have dedicated their lives to the legacy of music, and works to educate the public about these achievements. National and non-profit, the CSHF is guided by its own board of directors who comprise both Anglophone and Francophone music creators and publishers, as well as representation from the record industry. In December 2011, SOCAN (the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada) acquired the CSHF. The Hall of Fame's mandate aligns with SOCAN's objectives as a songwriter and publisher membership-based organization. The CSHF continues to be run as a separate organization.

About Richardson GMP

Trusted. Canadian. Independent. Richardson GMP is Canada's largest independent wealth management firm, entrusted with over $30 billion in client assets. With offices across the country, we are home to some of Canada's most distinguished Investment Advisors. All Richardson GMP Advisors share a passion for professionalism and a commitment to delivering unbiased- and unparalleled-wealth management solutions. They are supported by the substantial resources of our founding companies and their respective track records of success in Canada. We are proudly Canadian. Fiercely independent. And dedicated to earning and rewarding your trust as stewards of your wealth.

Strut Entertainment / 545 King Street West / Toronto, ON M5V 1M1 / 647.405.1715 

May 13, 2017
Ottawa Start

For Bruce Cockburn, album tour a return to old ways
by Devyn Barrie

When Bruce Cockburn published his memoirs in 2014, he didn’t think he could go back to writing songs.

It was 2011 when the 13-time Juno award winning Canadian musician first sat down to bang out his book, around the same time his daughter Iona was born. As expected, becoming a father proved a distraction.

“It was weird,” he said in an interview with last month. “It was kinda a pain in the butt… I’d never gone that long without writing a song.”

After a while thinking he’d hung up his songwriting hat, the touch he is so well known for came back.

Soon, he’ll set out on a North American tour with his new album Bone on Bone, the 33rd album of his career. He’ll play at the NAC in Ottawa on Sept. 22.

“The tour will be a band tour, which I haven’t done in a while,” he said.

He’ll be alongside his nephew, accordionist John Aaron Cockburn, as well as drummer Gary Craig and bassist John Dymond, who are all featured on the album.

Opening their act will be Hamiltonian Terra Lightfoot, who spoke to last week.

Cockburn has become known for his politicized lyrics, often covering topics such as human rights and the environment. But there’s no mention of a very current political situation, he said.

“There’s nothing about Donald Trump,” Cockburn said. “I’d feel dirty if I did something like that.”

While he doesn’t sing specifically about Trump, he said some might interpret a cover of gospel song, Twelve Gates to the City, to be a reference to Trump’s Mexican border wall.

“There’s a gate for everyone,” Cockburn said.

Lamenting the amount of time it takes to get an album out these days, which he says used to be much quicker, Cockburn said there isn’t a unifying theme in the album, or a single inspiration.

“The songs just come out wherever they come from,” he said. “I didn’t really write any of the songs with a theme in mind.”

Born in Ottawa on May 27, 1945, he was raised in Pembroke and attended Nepean High School. Today he lives with his family in San Francisco and looks forward to returning to the capital.

“I get back there every now and then,” he said, such as for the Juno Songwriters’s Circle at the NAC on April 2.

Growing up, Cockburn said, he felt the need to escape Ottawa’s bubble and travel more.

“I’ve always felt like a nomad,” he said. But he still feels a connection to his hometown.

“I feel very happy to come back and perform.”

April 3, 2017
Finkelstein Management

Bruce Cockburn Announces North American Tour

Bruce Cockburn Is embarking on a tour of North America.     

All of the dates from September 15, 2017 to February 17, 2018 will be band shows and all the dates before September will be solo shows.

Bruce’s band shows will consist of a quartette with drummer Gary Craig, bassist John Dymond and accordionist, John Aaron Cockburn.

All three or them are featured on Bruce’s new True North album "Bone On Bone,” slated for release in the fall of 2017.

And for the record, John Aaron is Bruce’s nephew.

There are likely to be other dates added after February 2018.

February 16, 2017
American Songwriter

Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Cockburn Bring Star Power to Folk Alliance Awards
by Lynne Margolis

The 29th annual Folk Alliance International conference kicked off Wednesday night in Kansas City with a star-powered awards show that signaled the organization’s growing influence, despite the fact that none of its musical award-winners accepted in person.

Michael Kiwanuka, Sarah Jarosz and Parker Millsap did record video thank-yous for their respective Song, Album and Artist of the Year awards; Kiwanuka and his band, Inflo, won for “Black Man in a White World,” Jarosz won for Undercurrent and Oklahoma native Millsap was recognized in part on the strength of his 2016 release, The Very Last Day.

And Bruce Cockburn showed up to accept the inaugural People’s Voice Award from performer/presenter Kris Kristofferson, who drew swoons from emcee Paula Cole earlier in the night. Meanwhile, Actress Megan Mullally, who presented the music awards, cracked irreverent jokes and promised to get “naked and wasted” at her own late-night musical showcase. But the evening had many moving and meaningful moments as well, including the acceptance speech by Spirit of Folk Award winner Ramy Essam, whose song, “Irhal,” became the anthem for Arab Spring protesters. He became known as the movement’s “musical voice” — for which he was imprisoned and tortured in Egypt. Now living in exile in Sweden, he said he was lucky to witness the strength music has to unite people of different backgrounds, and how it can “describe people’s hearts when they can’t speak and talk.”

“Dictators are really afraid from the art, the music,” he said. “I saw it when my music was forbidden in my country. I saw that when they arrested me two times; I really saw it in their eyes. They were afraid because art and music is the only thing that dictators can’t stop … that they will never be able to stop. … So, music all the time!”

For veteran Folk Alliance conference-goers, the night’s most poignant moments came during the tribute to former executive director Louis Jay Meyers. Meyers passed away on March 11, 2016, just weeks after last year’s conference and hours before he was to attend then-President Obama’s opening speech at another conference Meyers had co-founded: South By Southwest. A nine-minute video memoriam drew both tears and laughter; even the fact that it had to be restarted when the images failed to appear caused amusement. Speaker Doug Cox joked afterward, “I [was] backstage, about to start crying, and then Louis turned the power off. Thank-you, Louis.”

Cox is director of the conference’s music camp, which Meyers started after he stepped down as executive director in 2014, after nine years, to become special projects director. Original director Mark Rubin called it Meyers’ “last great vision” and Cox announced that the camp was being renamed in honor of Meyers, who took a somewhat identity-challenged organization and turned it into a stronger, growing entity. Attendance at this year’s conference rose to 2,781, nearly 300 more than expected, from 2016’s figure of 2,423. About 1,000 are attending for the first time.

They include Cockburn, who noted his award — which the organization created to recognize “an individual who unabashedly embraces social and political commentary in their creative work and public careers” — was the first honor he’s received in the United States. A Canadian citizen who now lives in the U.S., Cockburn first gained stateside fame with his songs “Wondering Where the Lions Are” and “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.”

When he became known as a political writer, as opposed to previous tags of Christian writer or “the John Denver of Canada,” he said, “I had not thought much about the effect of the political aspect of my songwriting; I’d always felt, and I still do, that the job is to tell the truth of the human experience as we live it.”

“I’ve never been interested in protest for its own sake, or in ideological polemicizing,” Cockburn added. “Just fuckin’ tell it like you see it and feel it. If you don’t see it and feel it, write about something else. Songs need to come from the heart, or they don’t count for much.”

Earlier in the night, singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson presented another inaugural award, the Clearwater Award, named after the first organization to receive it, the Clearwater Festival. It will go annually to a festival “that prioritizes environmental stewardship and demonstrates public leadership in sustainable event production.”

The Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Awards, named for the Folk Alliance organization’s co-founder, were presented to composer David Amram (Living), activist and songwriter Malvina Reynolds (Legacy) and Canadian folklorist Helen Creighton (Business/Academic).

Other Spirit of Folk awards went to musical activist Barbara Dane, Australian festival producer Chloe Goodyear, outgoing FAI board president Michelle Conceison, writer and producer Si Kahn and LGBT advocate SONiA disappear fear.

FAI also inducted its first honorees into the new Folk DJ Hall of Fame: Oscar Brand, Mike Regenstreif, Howard and Roz Larman and previous FAI award winners Rich Warren and Gene Shay.

And Meyers’ niece, Laura Callahan, announced the formation of the Louis Jay Meyers Music Project, which will foster and support new and emerging talent and “his insatiable desire to make a difference … by providing and being an advocate and voice for independent music and those who make it.”

The conference continues through Sunday at the Westin Crown Center in Kansas City.

Photo of Bruce & Kris by Lynne Margolis / Photo of Bruce, Kris & Bernie courtesy of Bernie Finkelstein 

February 16, 2017
Samaritan Magazine

Kris Kristofferson Presents Bruce Cockburn with First-ever People's Voice Award
by Kim Hughes

Bruce Cockburn will need to clear some space on the proverbial mantel. On Wednesday (Feb. 15), the legendary Canuck singer/songwriter and activist received the inaugural People's Voice Award from U.S.-based non-profit Folk Alliance International.

The award, presented to the San Francisco-based Cockburn in Kansas City, Missouri by no less a towering talent than Kris Kristofferson, recognizes “an individual who has unabashedly embraced and committed to social and political commentary in their creative work and folk music career.”

Indeed, the long-standing Folk Alliance International (a.k.a. the FAI and founded in 1989) could not have chosen a better torch-bear for its advocacy, professional development and networking initiatives than Cockburn.

His 40-year career has consistently highlighted environmental, social, and indigenous issues globally on behalf of such diverse NGOs as Oxfam, the UN Summit for Climate ControlAmnesty InternationalDoctors Without Borders and Friends of the Earth.

With some 30 albums spanning folk to jazz to rock, the 71-year-old Ottawa-born musician has drawn deep from his travels through Africa, Asia and the Americas, offering first-hand testimonials on environmental and social plights. 

Speaking of that crowded mantel, Cockburn is also the recipient of 13 Juno Awards, the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award (in 2006), nine honorary doctorates, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement (1998), and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2013).

He has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (2001), and is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a promotion he received in 2003 after first being awarded the Order of Canada in 1983. Pacing the Cage, a documentary film about his life, music, and politics was released in 2013. His memoir, Rumours of Glory, was published by Harper Collins in 2014.

Oh yes, and then there’s the seven million albums Cockburn has sold worldwide since his 1970 self-titled debut, notably Humans from 1980 (see the singles "Rumours of Glory" and "Tokyo”); Stealing Fire from 1984 ("If I Had a Rocket Launcher," “Lovers in a Dangerous Time"); and most recently, 2011's Small Source of Comfort.

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1985, after observing the horrors of refugee camps along the Guatemalan-Mexican border, the normally pacifist Cockburn confirmed that he went back to his hotel room, cried, and wrote in his notebook, "I understand now why people want to kill."

The experience led him to write "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" from the above-mentioned Stealing Fire. It remains one of Cockburn’s best known and most iconic songs. 

“We can’t settle for things as they are,” the straight-shooting Cockburn has said. “If you don’t tackle the problems, they’re going to get worse.”

In addition to Cockburn’s People’s Voice Award, the FAI also presented the first-ever Clearwater Award in Kansas City this week, feting “a festival that prioritizes environmental stewardship and demonstrates public leadership in education and sustainable event production.”

The winner? Its namesake organization, the Clearwater Festival, dedicated to celebrating and preserving New York’s Hudson River, now in its 50th year and recognized as one the world’s largest and most proactive environmentally focused cultural events.

February 16, 2017
Montreal Gazette

'Keep singing': Bruce Cockburn calls on folk artists to push for free speech
by David Friend

Folk singer Bruce Cockburn is encouraging U.S. musicians to keep pushing for free speech under the Donald Trump administration.

While accepting an honour at the Folk Alliance International awards show in Kansas City, MO on Wednesday night he took a moment to address the volatile political climate.

"It seems evident that the current administration is not much interested in democracy," he said in prepared remarks.

"They are trying to stifle opposition across the board by a range of means. Looks to me like they're just getting started."

The Canadian singer, who lives in San Francisco, then urged musicians to be a catalyst for dialogue and debate.

"We may get tired, but we have to keep singing," he said.

Country singer Kris Kristofferson presented Cockburn with the People's Voice Award in recognition of his role in social and political commentary. His 1984 track "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" is widely considered a staple of activist music.

Cockburn reflected on his experiences as a young performer during the Vietnam War, and on later years when he found his voice during the U.S. presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

He then turned to the current U.S. political climate and told songwriters to consider their music as more than just words, but a "focal point for collective energy" of the community.

"Doesn't mean we can't sing love songs," Cockburn reasoned.

"But if you think you can keep your head down and ignore the political side of things, it's liable to be waiting for you with a blackjack in the alley when you come out the stage door."

February 15, 2017
Folk Alliance International
Kansas City, MO

Bruce, Kris Kristofferson and Bernie Finkelstein at the Folk Alliance International Awards

Bruce and Kris Kristofferson 

February 2, 2017
Cape Breton Post
David Friend

Sainte-Marie, Cockburn on the return of the protest song and power of music

TORONTO — Folk singer-songwriter Lindy Vopnfjord climbed into bed stunned on the night Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency, but he awoke the next morning feeling activated.

Bristling with an urge to speak out, the Icelandic-Canadian musician wrote a series of lyrics that might've seemed alarmist at the time.

And even two weeks ago, when he finally released "Darkness is the Day" to coincide with Trump's inauguration, some of the words didn't resonate quite as much as they do now.

"Opinion is king, one-plus-one is three. The loudest truth is the truest, so repeat after me," Vopnfjord sings. "It takes a little time to get the spin to unwind. It takes a little time."

Vopnfjord is stunned by the evolution of his song's significance.

"There's so much that keeps feeding into the lyrics," he says. "There was more to it than maybe even I realized."

He's just one of countless musicians using their voice to push against what they see as an alarming political climate. Over the past month, prominent artists have contributed a chorus of anti-Trump anthems, which started flowing out ahead of the election last November.

Tracks by Arcade Fire and Mavis Staples ("I Give You Power"), Fiona Apple ("Tiny Hands") and the Gorillaz ("Hallelujah Money") have stood out as recent highlights.

Before that, artists like Franz Ferdinand ("Demagogue"), Jimmy Eat World ("My Enemy") and Amy Mann ("Can't You Tell?") collaborated for "30 Days, 30 Songs," a project that counted down to election day in the hopes of drawing attention to Trump's potential power. The campaign recently expanded to 1,000 songs that will be revealed throughout Trump's presidency.

Listeners appear eager to hear more protest songs too.

Several anti-Trump anthems became viral hits last year, including Ledinsky's "Donald Trump Makes Me Wanna Smoke Crack" and YG & Nipsey Hussle's "FDT," a rousing rap track which pairs an expletive with the president's initials.

All of this newfound inspiration has longtime social-activist musician Buffy Sainte-Marie a bit suspicious. She questions why some artists only decided to write protest songs when there's "going to be money" in it.

But she's also not against more people speaking out.

"The art of the two-and-a-half minute song — it's such a powerful tool," she says.

"If you can say something in three minutes that somebody else had to write a 400-page book about, the book is going to be shelved. The song can live forever."

Sainte-Marie says she writes her songs with the mindset of a photographer capturing snapshots of history.

Her 1964 protest anthem "Universal Soldier" was a portrait of the Vietnam War era while "Now That the Buffalo's Gone" tackled the centuries-old plight of indigenous communities that still continues today.

She wrote "Universal Soldier" as if she was a student crafting an essay for a hypothetical professor who didn't see eye-to-eye with her perspective.

"I was determined to get an 'A-plus' out of this guy," she says.

"(I was) deliberately trying to give people a different point of view than they may have come across before."

Fellow activist songwriter Bruce Cockburn is cautious when it comes to deciding how to express his opinions through music. 

With a career spanning nearly 40 years, he's found himself inspired by causes like the environment ("If a Tree Falls") and the devastation of war ("If I Had a Rocket Launcher"). But so far, the U.S. election hasn't motivated him to write anything pointed, and he says it might not.

He says he doesn't want to veer into territory where he's just spouting his political views against a backdrop of bad music.

"It's not always obvious to put it in a song that (doesn't simply become) a propaganda diatribe," says Cockburn, who will receive the People's Voice Award at the Folk Alliance International awards show in Kansas City, Mo., this month in recognition of his social and political commentary.

So many political songs just capitalize on anger, he argues, but don't have any artistic merit. He points to 1965's "Eve of Destruction," a song recorded by Barry McGuire that topped the Billboard charts, as one example of a misfire.

"It was a huge hit, but a terrible song," he says.

Cockburn suggests the track was too literal and sounds especially dated now. Many protest songs that attack their subject head-on suffer the same fate of becoming irrelevant, he adds.

Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" stands as a far superior example, he suggests, or "We Shall Overcome," which began as a hymn in the early 1900s and evolved into an anthem of the civil rights movement.

"It had tremendous application over the years to any number of causes," he says of the latter.

"It's absolutely timeless."

January 10, 2017
Folk Alliance
Press Release
Posted by Jerod Rivers

Folk Alliance International to Launch People's Voice and Clearwater Awards

As part of a permanent commitment to honoring the socially-conscious roots of folk music, Folk Alliance International (FAI) will launch two new awards during the 2016 International Folk Music Awards show.The People’s Voice Award will be presented annually to an individual who has unabashedly embraced and committed to social and political commentary in their creative work and folk music career. The Clearwater Award will be presented annually to a festival that prioritizes environmental stewardship and demonstrates public leadership in education and sustainable event production. Additional awards include Lifetime Achievement, Spirit of Folk, and Album, Song, and Artist of the Year presented on Wednesday, February 15, 2017, at the Westin Crown Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

Folk Alliance International Awards Show
Wednesday, February 15, 2017, 6 pm 
Westin Crown Center Hotel, Century C Ballroom
Open to FAI conference delegates and registered members of the press.

Bruce Cockburn to Receive People’s Voice Award

The inaugural People’s Voice award will be presented to multi-platinum recording artist Bruce Cockburn, whose 40-year career has consistently highlighted environmental, social, and indigenous issues globally.  

Bruce Cockburn has been all over the world to Mozambique, Nepal, Vietnam, Baghdad, Nicaragua, and Guatemala to protest refugee camps, landmines, and Third World debt. He has been tirelessly vocal in support of native rights, the environment, the promotion of peace, and has highlighted the work of Oxfam, the UN Summit for Climate Control, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and Friends of the Earth.

His songs "Mines of Mozambique" from album  The Charity of Night, "Stolen Land" (Waiting for a Miracle), and "If a Tree Falls" (Big Circumstance) have traveled the globe providing context for some of the world’s biggest issues of the day, while exhorting to all who listen for engagement with our shared humanity.

In over 300 songs on 30 albums that range from folk to jazz-influenced rock, he has sold more than seven million records worldwide and prolifically captured the story of the human experience through protest, romance, spiritual searching, and politics. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1985, after observing the horrors of refugee camps along the Guatemalan-Mexican border he shared that he went back to his hotel room, cried, and wrote in his notebook, "I understand now why people want to kill." The experience led him to write "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" from the album Stealing Fire.  

Cockburn is the recipient of 13 Juno Awards, the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award, nine honorary doctorates, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. He has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and is an Officer of the Order of Canada. Pacing the Cage, a documentary film about his life, music, and politics was released in 2013. His memoir, Rumours of Glory, was published by Harper Collins in 2014.

“We can’t settle for things as they are,” Cockburn has warned. “If you don’t tackle the problems, they’re going to get worse.”

Bruce Cockburn Book Signing
Thursday, February 16, 2017, 12 pm 
Westin Crown Center Hotel, location TBD
Open to FAI conference delegates and registered members of the press.

Clearwater Festival to Receive Eponymous Award

The inaugural Clearwater Award will be presented to its namesake organization, the Clearwater Festival now in its 50th year and recognized as one the world’s largest and most proactive environmentally focused cultural events.

Held along the banks of the Hudson River in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, the Clearwater Festival (also known as the Great Hudson River Revival) has roots based in the environmental movement.

Founded in 1966 by Pete and Toshi Seeger, the Festival began as a fundraising initiative in order to build a one-masted sloop called the Clearwater. The ship has been used for research, education, and advocacy to help preserve and protect the Hudson river, surrounding wetlands, tributaries, and waterways as well as communities in the river valley. To date, over half a million visitors have learned about the river while aboard.

Fifty years after the first event, the Clearwater Festival has become a steadfast defender, supporter, and advocate for the Hudson River. Through music, dance, storytelling, education, and activism it has helped over 250,000 people experience the wonders of its shores and has featured such luminary artists as Janis Ian, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Paxton, Michelle Shocked, Odetta, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dar Williams, Taj Mahal,  Christine Lavin, and Buckwheat Zydeco, among many others.

The event strives towards zero festival waste, and the goals of sustainability and social responsibility inform all decisions and programs. Use of carpooling, bicycling, and public transportation are encouraged, and the entire festival is wheelchair-accessible and staffed with American Sign Language interpreters. There are many elements to the festival, including seven sustainable bio-diesel-powered stages, environmental education exhibits, Handcrafters’ Village, Green Living Expo, Working Waterfront, Artisanal Food & Farm Market, and Circle of Song. All proceeds go to support research, education, and advocacy to help preserve and protect the river.

The festival is produced by the nonprofit, member-supported, environmental organization the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. The organization has received global recognition for advocacy, leadership, and its role in helping to pass landmark environmental laws including the federal Clean Water Act. Most recently, Clearwater, Inc. played a key role in the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to remove manufactured organic chemicals (PCBs) from the Hudson River.

© Daniel Keebler 1993-2023