Described as one of the most important songwriters of his generation, “a true poet laureate of the people,” Bruce Cockburn will be back on the Roots and Blues Festival slate this year.
Other labels attached to the prolific talent – (31 albums that have sold over seven million copies worldwide) include folk icon, musical maestro and tireless activist.
In an extraordinary career that has spanned four decades, Cockburn has indeed produced an acclaimed body of work.
Born in 1945 in Ottawa, Cockburn early discovered the music of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, which would set the course for his life.
Putting an old guitar given to him by an aunt to good use, he was soon playing along to their records and in time exploring music styles beyond the rock of the day, such as jazz and blues.
He was also getting into the beat writings of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, which would have a big influence on him. Upon leaving high school, he travelled around Europe, busking on the streets of Paris (spending a night in jail there for performing without a licence) and getting a taste of the bohemian life.
Back on this side of the pond, he attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, majoring in music composition. But he spent more time seeing local jazz performers and jamming with others than he did on his studies. Realizing he wasn’t willing to put the commitment in that was required, he returned to Ottawa after two years, hooking up with local poet and musician Bill Hawkins and his band The Children. Hawkins encouraged the budding artist to write his own songs, leading to Cockburn playing in a variety of other area bands ranging from blues to psychedelic rock through the next few years, honing his skills.
Believing the songs he was writing worked better with just voice and acoustic guitar, Cockburn went solo in 1969. That same year he headlined the Mariposa Folk Festival, pinch-hitting for Neil Young, and followed that up by recording his first solo album at the end of the year. Released in 1970, his self-titled Bruce Cockburn was an introspective, poetic folk album. In 1971 he released the similarly styled, though more mature, High Winds White Sky.
Cockburn’s guitar work and songwriting skills won him an enthusiastic following in Canada, but it was Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws, released at the end of the decade, that propelled him into the mass musical consciousness with its hit Wondering Where The Lions Are. A bouncy song with a reggae feel, it garnered him a performance slot on Saturday Night Live, exposing him to a wide U.S. audience.
In the 1980s, Cockburn’s songwriting became first more urban and global and then more political; he became heavily involved with progressive causes. His growing political concerns.
The 1980s would be a time of intense travel for Cockburn, and images and influences from places as diverse as Tokyo, Europe, Central America, Chile, Jamaica and Nepal found their way into his songs.
He shifted gears and entered the 1990s with a more introspective, roots-rock and folk sounding release, the acclaimed Nothing But A Burning Light.
Cockburn returned to jazzier instrumentation with the darker The Charity of Night in 1996. The late ’90s saw him very involved with the effort to ban landmines worldwide, participating in many fundraising activities and shows and visiting war-torn countries such as Mozambique and Cambodia.
After being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2001, he concentrated on other projects for the next couple of years. In the same year, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) inducted Cockburn into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame.
Cockburn started off 2006 by accepting the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award at that year’s Juno Awards ceremony, his 11th award (and 31st nomination). Life Short Call Now was in the stores shortly thereafter.
In 2009 he released the double live album Slice O Life, which showcased a cross-section of his finest songs and some of his most dazzling guitar work. In the same year, Cockburn joined the long list of Canadian musicians to travel to Afghanistan to play for the troops. Released in 2011, Small Source of Comfort, Cockburn’s 31st album, is his latest adventurous collection of songs of romance, protest and spiritual discovery. As usual, many of the new compositions come from his travels and spending time in places like San Francisco and Brooklyn, to the Canadian Forces base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, jotting down his typically detailed observations about the human experience.
Get your ticket to one of the hottest show of the year at www.rootsandblues.ca, or call 250-833-4096.