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Bruce Cockburn Biography,Career,Songs and Awards

About Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Douglas Cockburn OC is a Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist. His song styles range from folk to jazz-influenced rock and his lyrics cover a broad range of topics that reveal a passion for human rights, environmental issues, politics, and spirituality. 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. Cockburn attended Nepean High School, where his 1964 yearbook photo states his desire “to become a musician”. Nepean’s music teacher at the time, Ronald E.J. Milne, said in 1988 that although Cockburn didn’t take music, he could often be seen playing guitar.

Bruce Cockburn Career

Cockburn attended Berklee School of Music in Boston for three semesters between 1964 and 1966. In that year 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changing its name to Olivus in the spring of 1968, by which time Lillie (who changed his name to Neil Merryweather) had been replaced by Dennis Pendrith from Livingstone’s Journey.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 ended up in the band 3’s a Crowd with David Wiffen, Colleen Peterson, and Richard Patterson, who had been a co-member of The Children. Cockburn left 3’s a Crowd 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. He released his self-titled, solo album in 1970 . A single, “Going to the Country”, appeared on the RPM Top 50 Canadian Chart. Cockburn’s guitar work and songwriting 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. Many of his albums from the 1970s refer to Christianity, which in turn informs his concerns for human rights and environmentalism. His references to Christianity include the Grail imagery of 20th-century Christian poet Charles Williams and the ideas of theologian Harvey Cox. In 1970 Cockburn became partners with Bernie Finkelstein in the music publishing firm Golden Mountain Music.

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’s label, True North Records, also signed a distribution deal with Recordi Records in Italy.

Through the 1980s Cockburn’s songwriting became increasingly urban, global and political as he became more involved with progressive causes. His political concerns were first hinted at on the albums: Humans, Inner City Front and The Trouble with Normal. They became more evident in 1984, with his 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, after visiting Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico that were attacked by Guatemalan military helicopters. His political activism continues to the present. His internationalist bent is reflected in the many world music influences in his music, including reggae and Latin music.

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” in 1991 . It features the Barenaked Ladies’ cover of that song, which became their first Top 40 hit and 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. Also in 1991, three of Cockburn’s songs were listed in a Toronto Star survey among Toronto’s top songs of all time. 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, a close friend of Cockburn and Burnett. Cockburn frequently refers to Heard as his favourite songwriter and he was one of many artists who paid tribute to Heard on an album and video titled Strong Hand of Love.

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). 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.

Cockburn performed a set at the Live 8 concert in Barrie, Ontario, on July 2, 2005. Speechless, an instrumental compilation of 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.

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. 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. Cockburn married his longtime girlfriend M.J. Hannett shortly after the birth of his second daughter, Iona (b. November 21, 2011) in 2011. As of 2014, the family lives in the San Francisco area, where Cockburn is writing his memoirs up to 2004.

Bruce Cockburn Photo

Bruce Cockburn Photo

Bruce Cockburn Awards and Honors

In 1982 Cockburn was made a Member of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Officer in 2002. In 1998, he received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Canada’s highest honour in the performing arts. He has received thirteen Juno Awards, and in 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 Canadian Association of Broadcasters inducted Cockburn into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame on October 22, 2002, in Vancouver. 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.

In 2007 Cockburn 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, 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. He received an Honorary Doctorate awarded by McMaster University in 2009. His most recent Honorary Doctorate was awarded by Laurentian University in 2014. Cockburn received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.On November 19, 2012, Cockburn received the Lifetime Achievement Award from SOCAN at the 2012 SOCAN Awards in Toronto.

Bruce Cockburn Songs

  1. All’s Quiet On The Inner City Front
  2. All The Diamonds
  3. All The Ways I Want You
  4. Alpha Dog (unreleased)
  5. Always Look On The Bright Side of Life (cover version)
  6. Ancestors
  7. And We Dance
  8. Another Victim Of The Rainbow (soundtrack)
  9. Anything, Anytime, Anywhere
  10. Anything Can Happen
  11. Arrows Of Light
  12. Baby, You’re Not Leaving Me Out, Baby, I’m Heaving You Out (unreleased)
  13. Badlands Flashback
  14. Beautiful Creatures
  15. Bird Lady (unreleased)
  16. Berlin Tonight
  17. Bicycle Trip, The
  18. Bird Without Wings (recorded by others)
  19. Birmingham Shadows
  20. Blueberry Hill (cover version)
  21. Blues Got The World…, The
  22. Bohemian Three Step (instrumental)
  23. Bone In My Ear
  24. Boundless
  25. Bright Sky
  26. Broken Wheel
  27. Burden Of The Angel/Beast
  28. Burn
  29. Bye Bye Idi
  30. Christmas Song
  31. Civilization And Its Discontents
  32. Clocks Don’t Bring Tomorrow — Knives Don’t Bring Good News
  33. Closer To The Light
  34. Coldest Night Of The Year, The
  35. Come Down Healing
  36. Comets Of Kandahar, The (instrumental)
  37. Coming Rains, The
  38. Coyote Blue (unreleased)
  39. Creation Dream
  40. Cry Of A Tiny Babe

Bruce Cockburn Video


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