Bruce Cockburn

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Bruce Cockburn
Bruce Cockburn 2007.jpg
Bruce Cockburn performing at the City Stages festival in Birmingham, Alabama, United States
Background information
Born (1945-05-27) May 27, 1945 (age 69)
Origin Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Genres Folk, rock
Instruments Guitar, vocals
Years active 1967–present

Bruce Douglas Cockburn OC (/ˈkbərn/; born May 27, 1945)[1] is a Canadian folk/rock guitarist and singer-songwriter. His most recent album was released in March 2011, and his musical career spans over 40 years. He has written songs in styles ranging from folk to jazz-influenced rock to rock and roll. Just as his musical style has varied through the years, his song lyrics have dealt with a broad range of topics. A review of Cockburn's lyrics reveals a passion for human rights, political issues and Christianity over his long musical career.

In 2014, he released his memoirs, Rumours of Glory: A Memoir.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Cockburn was born in 1945 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and spent some of his early years on a farm outside Pembroke, Ontario. He has stated in interviews that his first guitar was one he found around 1959 in his grandmother's attic, which he adorned with golden stars and used to play along to radio hits.[3] Cockburn was a student (but did not study music) at Nepean High School, where his 1964 yearbook photo states his desire "to become a musician".[4] He attended Berklee School of Music in Boston for three semesters in the mid-1960s. In 1966 he joined an Ottawa band called The Children, which lasted for about a year. In the spring of 1967 he joined the final lineup of The Esquires. He moved to Toronto that summer to form The Flying Circus with former Bobby Kris & The Imperials members Marty Fisher and Gordon MacBain and ex-Tripp member Neil Lillie. The group recorded some material in late 1967 (which remains unreleased) before changing its name to Olivus in the spring of 1968, by which time Lillie (who changed his name to Neil Merryweather) had been replaced by Dennis Pendrith from Livingstone's Journey. Olivus opened for The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream in April 1968. That summer Cockburn broke up the band with the intention of going solo, but he ended up in the band 3's a Crowd with David Wiffen, Colleen Peterson, and Richard Patterson, who had played with him in The Children. Cockburn left this band in the spring of 1969 to pursue a solo career.

Cockburn's first solo appearance was at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1967, and in 1969 he was a headliner. In 1970 he released his self-titled, first solo album. Cockburn's guitar work and songwriting skills won him an enthusiastic following. His early work featured rural and nautical imagery and Biblical metaphors. Raised as an agnostic, early in his career he became a Christian.[5] Many of his albums from the 1970s refer to his Christian belief, which in turn informs the concerns for human rights and environmentalism expressed on his 1980s albums. His references to Christianity in his music include the Grail imagery of 20th-century Christian poet Charles Williams and the ideas of theologian Harvey Cox.[6]

In 1970 Cockburn became partners with Bernie Finkelstein in the music publishing firm Golden Mountain Music.[7]

While Cockburn had been popular in Canada for years, he did not have a big impact in the United States until 1979, with the release of the album Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws. "Wondering Where the Lions Are", the first single from that album, reached No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US in June 1980, and earned Cockburn an appearance on NBC's hit TV show Saturday Night Live.

Cockburn was married from 1969 to 1980 and has a daughter from that marriage.[citation needed] He wrote the song "Little Seahorse", released on In the Falling Dark, in late 1975 about the time when his daughter was in utero.[citation needed]

Through the 1980s Cockburn's songwriting became first more urban, more global and then more political; he became heavily involved with progressive causes. His growing political concerns were first hinted at on three albums: Humans, Inner City Front and The Trouble with Normal. These concerns became more evident in 1984, with Cockburn's second US radio hit, "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" (No. 88 in the US) from the Stealing Fire album. He had written the song a year earlier, following a visit to Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico that were attacked before and after his visit by Guatemalan military helicopters. His political activism continues to the present. Cockburn has travelled to many countries (such as Mozambique and Iraq), played many benefit concerts, and written many songs on a variety of political subjects ranging from the International Monetary Fund to land mines. His internationalist bent is reflected in the many world music influences in his music, including reggae and Latin music.

In 1991 Intrepid Records released Kick at the Darkness, a tribute album to Cockburn whose title comes from a phrase in his song "Lovers in a Dangerous Time". It features the Barenaked Ladies' cover of that song, which became their first Top 40 hit and was an element in their early success. This lyric was also referenced by U2 in their song "God Part II" from their album Rattle and Hum.

In the early 1990s, Cockburn teamed with T-Bone Burnett for two albums, Nothing but a Burning Light and Dart to the Heart. The latter included a song, "Closer to the Light", inspired by the death of songwriter Mark Heard, who was a close friend of Cockburn and Burnett. Cockburn frequently refers to Heard as his favourite songwriter and was one of many artists who paid tribute to Heard on an album and video titled Strong Hand of Love. On the album Cockburn performs the title song.

In 1998 Cockburn travelled with filmmaker Robert Lang to Mali, West Africa, where he jammed with Grammy Award-winning blues musician Ali Farka Toure and kora master Toumani Diabate. The month-long journey was documented in the one-hour film River of Sand, which won the Regard Canadien award for best documentary at the Vues d'Afrique Film Festival in Montreal. It was also invited for competition at the International Festival of Environmental Films in Paris.[8]

Some of Cockburn's previously published material had been collected in several albums: Resume, Mummy Dust, and Waiting for a Miracle. His first greatest hits collection was Anything Anytime Anywhere: Singles 1979–2002, released in 2002.

In January 2003 Cockburn finished recording his 21st album, You've Never Seen Everything, which features contributions from Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, Sam Phillips, Sarah Harmer, Hugh Marsh, Jonell Mosser, Larry Taylor and Steven Hodges. (Taylor and Hodges, formerly of Canned Heat who performed at Monterey and Woodstock in the 1960s, may be known best for their work with Tom Waits).

Cockburn performed a set at the Live 8 concert in Barrie, Ontario, on July 2, 2005. Speechless, an instrumental compilation of both new and previously released material, was released on October 24, 2005. His 22nd album, Life Short Call Now, was released on July 18, 2006.

Canadian senator and retired general Roméo Dallaire, who is active in humanitarian fundraising and promoting awareness, appeared on stage at the University of Victoria with Cockburn. The October 4, 2008, concert was held to aid the plight of child soldiers.[9]

In 2009 Cockburn travelled to Afghanistan to visit his brother, Capt. John Cockburn, and to play a concert for Canadian troops. He performed his 1984 song "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" and was temporarily awarded an actual rocket launcher by the military. Cockburn has stated that, while unsure of the original Invasion of Afghanistan, he supported Canada's role there.[10]

Cockburn released his studio album Small Source of Comfort in 2011. "Lois on the Autobahn", a cheerful and experiential instrumental recalling "Rouler sa bosse" from Salt, Sun and Time is a tribute to Cockburn's mother, Lois, who succumbed to cancer in 2010.[citation needed]

Cockburn married his longtime girlfriend M.J. Hannett shortly after the birth of his second daughter, Iona (b. November 2011) in 2011.[11][12] As of 2014, the family lives in the San Francisco area, where Cockburn is writing his memoirs up to 2004.[13]

A documentary film, Bruce Cockburn Pacing the Cage,[14][15] was released in 2013 on television and a brief theatrical showing; directed by Joel Goldberg, gave a rare look into Cockburn's music, life and politics.


Cockburn wrote and performed the theme song for the children's television series Franklin. He composed and performed, with Hugh Marsh, the music for the National Film Board of Canada documentary feature Waterwalker (1984), directed by Bill Mason. He also composed two songs for the classic English-Canadian film Goin' Down the Road (1970), directed by Donald Shebib.

In 1998 Cockburn's song "Lord of the Starfields" was featured in the Italian movie Radiofreccia, directed by Italian singer/songwriter Luciano Ligabue.

In 2007 Cockburn's music was featured in the movie adaptation of Irvine Welsh's best-selling novel Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance.

Covers and tributes[edit]

Cockburn has had his songs covered by artists as diverse as Barenaked Ladies ("Lovers in a Dangerous Time"), Judy Collins ("Pacing The Cage"), Jimmy Buffett ("Pacing the Cage", "Anything Anytime Anywhere", "All the Ways I Want You", "Wondering Where the Lions Are" (in the movie Hoot), Michael Hedges ("Wondering Where the Lions Are"), Lori Cullen ("Fall"), Anne Murray ("One Day I Walk", "Musical Friends"), Dianne Heatherington and Ani DiFranco ("Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long"), The Rankin Family ("One Day I Walk"), Dan Fogelberg ("Lovers in a Dangerous Time"), Donavon Frankenreiter ("Wondering Where the Lions Are"), Vigilantes of Love ("Wondering Where the Lions Are"), Tom Rush ("One Day I Walk'), George Hamilton IV ("Together Alone"), the Jerry Garcia Band ("Waiting for a Miracle"), Holly Near ("To Raise the Morning Star"), and k.d. lang ("One Day I Walk"). In addition, fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Steve Bell recorded an entire album of Bruce Cockburn songs titled My Dinner With Bruce, and jazz guitarist Michael Occhipinti released an album containing jazz arrangements of Cockburn's songs.[16]

Awards and honours[edit]

Cockburn was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1982 and was promoted to Officer in 2002. In 1998, Cockburn received a Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Canada's highest honour in the performing arts.[17]

On March 5, 2001, during the 30th Annual Juno Awards ceremony, Cockburn was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. The Cockburn tribute during the awards included taped testimonials from U2's Bono, Jackson Browne, Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins, and Midnight Oil's Peter Garrett. The Barenaked Ladies performed their version of Cockburn's "Lovers in a Dangerous Time". Best Female Artist nominees Jann Arden and Terri Clark performed "Wondering Where the Lions Are", and Sarah Harmer performed "Waiting for a Miracle".

The Canadian Association of Broadcasters honoured Cockburn by inducting him into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony was held on October 22, 2002, in Vancouver as part of the Gold Ribbon Awards Gala at the organization's 76th annual convention.

On November 27, 2002, the CBC's Life and Times series aired a special feature on Cockburn titled The Life and Times of Bruce Cockburn, produced by Robert Lang of Kensington Communications in Toronto.

The cover artwork for his 1999 album Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu, which is dominated by bold text in the Helvetica font, was included in the exhibition "50 Years of Helvetica", which ran from April 2007 to March 2008 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.[18]

In 2007 he received three honorary doctorates, the fourth, fifth and sixth of his career. In early May he received an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario,[19] and later in the month he received an Honorary Doctor of Letters at the convocation of Memorial University of Newfoundland for his lifelong contributions to Canadian music, culture and social activism. He was then awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia. Cockburn previously received honorary doctorates from York University in Toronto, Berklee College of Music, and St. Thomas University in New Brunswick.[20] He received an Honorary Doctorate awarded by McMaster University in 2009.[citation needed] His most recent Honorary Doctorate was awarded by Laurentian University in 2014.[citation needed]

Cockburn received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.[21]

As of 2013 sixteen Bruce Cockburn albums have received a Canadian gold certification. Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws, Stealing Fire and Waiting for a Miracle have also received a Canadian platinum certification. He has sold nearly one million albums in Canada alone.


The discussion group "Humans" is one of the oldest e-mail lists devoted to a specific artist.[22] The liner notes for Cockburn's album The Charity of Night mentions the group.[23]


Cockburn has played guitars manufactured by a number of companies and luthiers over the years. Many early photos show him playing guitars made by the Canadian instrument-maker Larrivée. His request for an acoustic with greater access to higher frets directly led to Jean Larrivée's "C" series of guitars. These innovative acoustics incorporated a cutaway, a previously rare feature on flat-top acoustics. Cockburn has owned at least two guitars made by Toronto luthier David Wren, a student of Larrivée, but these guitars were lost in a fire.

In recent years, Cockburn has been performing on guitars custom-made by Linda Manzer, a Canadian luthier and another of Larrivée's protégés. Cockburn also plays a Resolectric guitar model from the National Guitar Company, and a steel-bodied Dobro resonator guitar. Cockburn has frequently used two early 1990s black Charvel Surfcasters, one tuned standard and the other in drop-D tuning. Cockburn has also begun playing a baritone guitar made by Ontario-based luthier Tony Karol.


Studio albums[edit]

Title Release date
Bruce Cockburn 1970
High Winds, White Sky 1971
Sunwheel Dance 1972
Night Vision 1973
Salt, Sun and Time 1974
Joy Will Find a Way 1975
In the Falling Dark 1976
Reissued with additional tracks 2002–2003
Further Adventures Of 1978
Reissued with additional tracks 2002–2003
Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws 1979
Reissued with additional tracks 2002–2003
Humans 1980
Reissued with additional tracks 2002–2003
Inner City Front 1981
Reissued with additional tracks 2002–2003
The Trouble with Normal 1983
Reissued with additional tracks 2002–2003
Stealing Fire 1984
Reissued with additional tracks 2002–2003
World of Wonders 1985
Big Circumstance 1988
Nothing but a Burning Light 1991
Christmas 1993
Dart to the Heart 1994
The Charity of Night 1997
Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu 1999
You've Never Seen Everything 2003
Speechless 2005
Life Short Call Now 2006
Small Source of Comfort 2011

Live albums[edit]

Title Release date
Circles in the Stream 1977
Reissued by Rounder Records
Bruce Cockburn Live 1990
Reissued with additional tracks 2002–2003
You Pay Your Money and You Take Your Chance 1997
Bruce Cockburn—Live on World Cafe 2002
bonus disc from Borders Books and Music
Slice O' Life—Solo Live 2009


+ All releases contained one or more newly recorded tracks.

Title Release date
Resume 1981
US only
Mummy Dust 1981
originally released in Canada only
Rumours of Glory 1985
Germany only
Waiting for a Miracle: Singles 1970–1987 1987
Canadian version is two discs, US version is one
If a Tree Falls 1990
Australia only
Anything Anytime Anywhere: Singles 1979–2002 2002


Title Release date
Bruce Cockburn Full House 1986 Hamburg TV show 2005
Bruce Cockburn Pacing the Cage: The Feature Documentary 2013
Issued by True North Records

Other releases[edit]

  • "Ribbon of Darkness", a track on "A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot"
  • "Strong Hand of Love", a track on the Mark Heard tribute albums Strong Hand of Love (1994) and Orphans of God (1996)
  • "Lord of the Starfields" (with Rob Wasserman), "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" (with Rob Wasserman), and "Cry of a Tiny Babe" (with Lou Reed, Rosanne Cash, and Rob Wasserman), all on The Best of the Columbia Records Radio Hour, Volume 1 (1995)
  • "Last Night of the World" on the WXPN compilation album, Live at the World Café - Volume 9 (1999)
  • "If I Had a Rocket Launcher", a track on the acoustic sessions album "2 Meter Sessies Volume 1" (1991).

Chart singles[edit]

Year Single Peak chart positions Album
1970 "Going to the Country" 4 [1] Bruce Cockburn
"Musical Friends" 26
1971 "One Day I Walk" 64 High Winds, White Sky
1972 "It's Going Down Slow" 12 Sunwheel Dance
"Up on the Hillside" 21
1975 "Burn" Joy Will Find A Way
1979 "Wondering Where the Lions Are" 39 7 21 Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws
1980 "Tokyo" 44 36 Humans
1981 "Rumours of Glory" 36 104
"Fascist Architecture (I'm Okay)" 1 [2]
"Coldest Night of the Year" 42 Mummy Dust
1982 "You Pay Your Money and You Take Your Chance" 21 Inner City Front
1984 "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" 24 8 Stealing Fire
"Making Contact" 80
"If I Had a Rocket Launcher" 49 88
1986 "People See Through You" 37 4 World of Wonders
"Peggy's Kitchen Wall" 88
"See How I Miss You" 81
1987 "Waiting for a Miracle" 50 12 Waiting for a Miracle
1989 "If a Tree Falls" 8 20 Big Circumstance
"Don't Feel Your Touch" 43
"Shipwrecked at the Stable Door" 92 22
1991 "A Dream Like Mine" 16 5 22 Nothing but a Burning Light
1992 "Great Big Love" 27 12
"Mighty Trucks of Midnight" 67 12
"Somebody Touched Me" 49 8
1994 "Listen For The Laugh" 18 9 Dart To The Heart
"Scanning These Crowds" 42 21
1995 "Someone I Used To Love" 36
1997 "Night Train" 25 10 The Charity of Night
1999 "Last Night of the World" 28 Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu
  • 1 ^ "Going to the Country" peaked at No. 4 on the RPM Adult Contemporary (A/C) chart in November 1970. However, at the time, and for the Adult Contemporary chart only, RPM only charted A/C songs that qualified as Canadian Content. This policy was changed mid-way through the song's chart run, and all A/C records regardless of national origin were eligible for the chart. Under these new criteria, "Going to the Country" peaked at No. 11 in December 1970.
  • 2 ^ The song "Fascist Architecture" was released to radio under the title "I'm Okay". It peaked at No. 1 on the RPM Adult Contemporary (A/C) chart in March 1981. However, at the time, and for the Adult Contemporary chart only, RPM once again only charted A/C songs that qualified as Canadian Content. This short-lived policy was again abandoned later in 1981.

See also[edit]

Song collections and biographies[edit]

  • All the Diamonds A collection of early music by Bruce Cockburn. Ottawa Folklore Centre Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • Rumours of Glory The second volume of Bruce Cockburn songs. Ottawa Folklore Centre, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Classifieds: birth announcements". Ottawa Citizen. May 28, 1945. p. 16. Ottawa Civic Hospital 
  2. ^ Bruce Cockburn. "RUMOURS OF GLORY". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved November 6, 2014. 
  3. ^ " - Canada's Breaking News, Entertainment, Music, Life & Style and Email". September 29, 2009. Retrieved April 17, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Bruce Cockburn - Bio". Retrieved April 17, 2014. 
  5. ^ "I was brought up as an agnostic ... and when I first became a Christian in the Seventies I didn't really know what it was I'd adopted." Faith in Practice: Holding on to the Mystery of Love, by Bruce Cockburn as told to Cole Morton, Third Way, September 1994, page 15.
  6. ^ Adria, Marco, "Making Contact with Bruce Cockburn", Music of Our Times: Eight Canadian Singer-Songwriters (Toronto: Lorimer, 1990), p. 97.
  7. ^ McPherson, David, "Bernie Finkelstein's Golden Mountain", Words and Music, Fall 2012
  8. ^ [1][dead link]
  9. ^ Victoria Times Colonist, April 17, 2008
  10. ^ CBC. "Cockburn visits brother in Afghanistan". Retrieved March 13, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Bruce Cockburn, 66, and girlfriend welcome new baby | Toronto Star". November 22, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2014. 
  12. ^ Nigel Parry. "Bruce Cockburn online - Home". The Cockburn Project. Retrieved January 13, 2014. 
  13. ^ Ottawa Citizen. "Bruce Cockburn is living in Frisco". Retrieved May 8, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Bruce Cockburn Pacing the Cage". Retrieved April 17, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Bruce Cockburn Pacing the Cage » Vision TV Channel Canada". June 23, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Creation Dream by Michael Occhipinti". Retrieved April 17, 2014. Cockburn plays on the track "Pacing the Cage" 
  17. ^ "Bruce Cockburn - biography". Governor General's Performing Arts Awards Foundation. Retrieved January 27, 2014. 
  18. ^ "The Biz: Deals and Moves in Canadian Arts". The Globe and Mail. April 24, 2007. Retrieved April 24, 2007. 
  19. ^ "Media". Retrieved April 17, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Marketing & Communications | index". Retrieved April 17, 2014. 
  21. ^ "Diamond Jubilee Gala toasts exceptional Canadians". CBC. June 18, 2012. Retrieved June 19, 2012. 
  22. ^ Humans originated in 1990, and was hosted on various private servers until moving to Yahoo! Groups in 2001.
  23. ^ "From the liner notes: "Thanks to the following for support, inspiration, lighting-a-fire-under-the-ass, and other gifts, intentional or not: Sue, Michael O'Connor, Rex Fyles, Sandra Wood and Chude Mondlane, The Maputo Police Department for leaving the various body parts attached, Deminers everywhere, Ani for reminding me what energy is for, John and Matt for the biochemistry, the Humans, Susan Gitlin-Emmer ("Lady of the Northern Light"), the Book of Psalms, Kel and Jon for the introduction to Cormac McCarthy, C. Woodman for her wisdom, the folks at City Stages, God for always keeping the ladder in place."". Retrieved April 17, 2014. 

External links[edit]