-- Career: Studio recording --

Issues Index


This page archives comments by Bruce Cockburn on studio recording and production.

  • 2 November 1981 - On getting a producer and making the first album

    Q: What was it like getting a producer?

    BC: Gene and I worked together on every album but the last one, and in 1969 I was kicking around Toronto, wondering what I was going to do in terms of recording albums so that I could forget the songs, because my head was just jammed with songs, and I couldn't.... I thought of various avenues to explore, and I didn't want to go the regular record company route... I didn't know what else to do.

    I ran into Gene in a restaurant one day... I wanted to make an album, he wanted to become a producer. Then he knew Bernie Finkelstein, who wanted to start a record company. He went to Bernie, and Bernie went to somebody else and got some money and we made an album.

    That's how you get a producer.
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn Interview, Old Waldorf, San Francisco," transcribed by Charles Wolff, from a tape of an interview with Bruce Cockburn on November 2, 1981 at The Old Waldorf, San Francisco, CA.

  • Circa 1991 - Commenting on the choice of T-Bone Burnett to produce the Nothing But A Burning Light album

    "I've actually been a fan of T-Bone's (Burnett) since the early seventies when he had a group called the Alpha Band. The Los Lobos albums and a couple of albums he produced for Sam Phillips really caught my attention; we have mutual friends who over the years have said we should work together. "When we were going through producers with Sony, T-Bone was high on everyone's list," states Cockburn.

    -- from "Bruce Cockburn: The Soul of a Man," by Michael Case, Umbrella Magazine, circa 1991.

  • Circa 1991 - Commenting on the recording of Cry Of A Tiny Babe on the Nothing But A Burning Light album

    MC: According to Cockburn the project became less of a 'job' and more of a united experience.

    BC: "At one point, during the song Cry Of A Tiny Babe (about the birth of Christ) Jim Keltner broke down in tears. Well, he didn't breakdown - he kept playing but he was fighting it off throughout the song because he was so moved by what was going on. Most songs were recorded in one take which is indicative of a certain focus."

    -- from "Bruce Cockburn: The Soul of a Man," by Michael Case, Umbrella Magazine, circa 1991.

  • 1992 - Commenting on the recording of Nothing But A Burning Light with T-Bone Burnett

    Johnny Walker: One thing that T-Bone seems to have done is suggesting people who would work on the album, and for a change you made it in Los Angeles rather than Canada, and Booker T Jones plays organ on it, of Booker T and the MG's fame.

    BC: Yes, we had a great cast on this record, which is largely T-Bone's doing. He came up with this list and, as it turned out, they were all available, which was a bit of a miracle in itself. We had Jim Keltner on drums, Booker T. I mean, for the average person that doesn't read their liner notes, Booker T'll stand out from the rest. We had Jackson Browne, who also played guitar on a song called Indian Wars (sort of a rhythm guitar part) and sang on it, and sang on a couple of other things. Sam Phillips also sang some stuff and generally we had a wonderful time.
    JW: You obviously wanted a change of sound, then, by recording in LA. Were you not worried, though, that it might end up a bit too polished, a bit too session-sounding.

    BC: No, I wasn't worried about that. If it had seemed like it was going to go that way we wouldn't have pursued that direction at all. What I really wanted was to do it anywhere but Toronto, because for the last twenty years I've been recording in Toronto and I needed a change.
    -- Radio Interview, BBC Radio 1, 1992, Interviewer Johnny Walker. Transcribed and submitted to the project by David Newton.

  • 3 April 1992 - Commenting on the production of the Nothing But A Burning Light album

    In approaching the album, Cockburn sought what Robert Fripp would later call an "audio verite" approach.

    "When I started thinking about doing an album, I wanted to find somebody that would not interfere in any way with the music, that would just make it sound good, the exact way I played it live," Cockburn said.

    Martynec was not a classical producer, but Cockburn noted, "We agreed that we would like to approach the album that way, and so, with a few very minor additions, that's basically what it is. After that (i.e., on later albums), I started freeing up my thinking a little bit and started adding more and more things, to the point where it started to sound like rock 'n' roll again after a while and a few other kinds of things, too."

  • 3 April 1992 - Info on the recording of the second live album

    In August 1989, in the midst of a tour that lasted from February to November and covered the world, Cockburn and two backup musicians, bassist Fergus Marsh and drummer Michael Sloski, recorded Cockburn's second live album, Live, which was issued in the spring of 1990 and contained a charming version of the Monty Python song "The Bright Side of LIfe".
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn- A Burning Light and All the Rest", Goldmine, by William Ruhlmann, April 3, 1992.

  • Spring 1993 -

    James Jensen: Do you like the additional time the CD format allows you on a project?

    BC: It's a kind of neutral factor, I don't think there's any obligation to fill the time slot. The album should consist of the right number of songs that feel right together and should build and climax like any other work of art. I've always approached the structuring of an album the way I would approach putting together a book where the songs should make sense following each other and there's a kind of pleasing up and down motion to it. I also look for a unity of songs on some level. Sometimes you record 15 songs and some don't fit the overall mood that is established and they get tossed.

    JJ: Are you pleased that Columbia/Sony is releasing your back catalogue on CD and cassette?

    BC: Yeah I'm glad, the only down side is people are requesting songs that I can't remember!
    -- from an Interview by James Jensen at Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, Circa Spring 1993.

  • September-October 1994 - Commenting about touring & recording in the early 80's

    "Things were getting bigger and bigger, more stuff was being applied to the songs after the fact," he says in a moment of self-critique. Following that tour, he sought out T Bone Burnett (most recently of Counting Crows fame) to produce his next album. "T Bone knows how to get a sense of a song without piling stuff on top."

    -- from "Straight to the Heart, Bruce Cockburn's songs of subversion", by David Batstone, Sojourners Magazine, September-October 1994.

  • Circa 1997 - Commenting on working with T-Bone Burnett

    "I learned a lot from T-Bone," says Cockburn. "He had a sense of capturing the essence of the song in the studio, a way of thinking about recording songs that was enlightening for me."
    -- from !Music Circa 1997.

  • Circa 1997 - Commenting upon wanting to do production work himself on The Charity of Night

    "Obviously, it's hard to play and produce at the same time," Cockburn says.

    "You need someone in the control room, someone who knows about mics and limiters and can judge when you hit the right take. Colin was an obvious choice, as was John Whynot, the engineer. We were going after a specific sound. I really wanted to get a sense of the people playing."
    -- from !Music Circa 1997.

  • Circa 1997 - Commenting on the recording of The Charity of Night

    The core band includes vibraphonist Gary Burton, drummer Gary Craig and bassist Rob Wasserman. Other guests include Jonatha Brooke, Ani DiFranco, Patty Larkin, Maria Muldaur, Bonnie Raitt and Bob Weir. "Even when I was writing, I had a general sense of the direction, the shape of the album. I wanted Wasserman from the beginning. And I knew it was going to have vibes on so Gary Burton was the obvious choice." One of the songs on The Charity of Night, Mistress Of Storms is an instrumental duet between the guitarist and the vibraphonist. "Gary and I really connected," says Cockburn. "It wasa positive, no-ego kind of relationship. We just responded to one another. One of the real highlights for me is how complex and appropriate his comping was behind my playing."

    "Because I have such great people playing with me," says Cockburn, "I can pretty much say, 'Here's the song -- don't [mess] it up.' All of the people brought a certain known quality to the process. Occasionally you have to remind someone not to overrun complicated lyrical passages and to leave a little space, but that's only rarely the case."

    Commenting that he opted not to have Bonnie Raitt sing, having her play slide guitar instead, on The Whole Night Sky

    "Bonnie gets asked to sing a lot these days," says Bruce, "and some people forget what a great player she is, I really admire her as a guitarist. The song is really the product of a previous period, maybe the earliest finished composition on the album, and it really called for a sound that not many people could provide."

    He continued..

    "I suppose," Cockburn says, "there's a film noir sensibility to The Charity of Night. The things I remember tend to have a strong visual component. Believe it or not, only one word in that song is not historically accurate--and I won't say which one."
    -- from !Music, circa 1997.

  • 25 August 1997 - Commenting upon Ani DiFranco appearing on The Charity of Night

    Co-producer Colin Linden, engineer John Whynot and Cockburn "decided to take a break, and we went to this little coffee shop in the French Quarter," Cockburn recalls. "We were sitting there, and Ani walks in. She was on her way back to New York from Austin and decided on a whim to go to New Orleans. Once we got over laughing at each other, she came over and sang on (a) track. She said, 'I guess I'm supposed to be on this record.'"
    -- from "Cockburn sticks to causes for The Charity of Night, by Jon Matsumoto, CNN Interactive, August 25, 1997.

  • September 1999 - Commenting on the recording of Breakfast In New Orleans Dinner In Timbuktu

    "All the songs are built for me to be able to play them solo live, but having the other players there makes it way more fun for me. I know what I sound like, so I don't surprise myself very often!"..."It makes for a good team, and all the musicians were exactly as we'd hoped they'd be: spontaneous, intelligent, creative and co-operative."

    "It's still my album. I'm the hog," explains Cockburn. "The songs are generally in finished form. The way I write, the guitar is pretty central to the musical side of things, and the other musicians need to find a way to fit around the guitar part. That steers the collective process to a great extent. That's especially tricky for a rhythm section, as they need to find parts that aren't too busy or don't conflict. But then it is, 'Do what you want.' Colin or I and sometimes John will say, 'What about this?,' taking off from what they've started or just editing down. With the quality of these musicians, the process happens pretty quickly. Often it's first or second take, with very little rehearsal required."
    -- from "Staying POWER" Story by Kerry Doole, Word and Music, September, 1999.

  • November 1999

    Steve Lawson: Any label pressure [re: Nothing But a Burning Light]?

    BC: No, well record companies like radio air-play - but nothing that affected the content of the songs, or even really the way we recorded them. The choice of T-Bone Burnett to produce those records was a process that involved the record company, but we had a list of people and he was on everybody's list. The sound of those records owes everything to T-Bone, and to the particular to the writing of the songs that set that up.

    SL: Burning Light is an amazing sounding album..

    BC: Nothing But A Burning Light came out really well. Dart To The Heart we didn't get as lucky on, although there's still a lot that I really like about that. But NBABL was one of those instances where everything falls together exactly right. It was such a great band on there - Keltner and Michael Been, Edgar Meyer and Booker T.

    SL: Two albums with T-Bone on the major....

    BC: ..and the Christmas album which was done sort of in between, which I produced though I owe a lot to T-Bone for that, for the inspiration of his attitude towards production more than any of the technical stuff. I guess it was the same as my process of learning from guitar players, I didn't study what he did, but I picked up an understanding from him of how to focus on the essence of a song without screwing it up in the process of adding instruments to it. there are many many ways that you can mess with a song in the studio so there's something very important about uncovering that essence and keeping it in the forefront.
    - from "Bruce Cockburn Interview", Guitarist Magazine, November 1999, by Steve Lawson.

  • 9 February 2000 - When working in the studio he invites guest musicians who are not only skilled players but who are also talented creators

    "Part of the fun of working with other people is to see what they will bring to it. So with that in mind, I have always tried to pick people that bring something distinctive."
    -- from "Sun Shines on Cockburn's Breakfast", Vancouver Courier, February 9, 2000, by Jennifer Van Evra. Submitted by Audrey Pearson.

  • 15 January 2002 - Speaking of boxed sets, so you have much left over from the years or do you use most things up within a short period of time?

    Bruce Cockburn: I tend to use what's there. There are however some things that are around that didn't get released so..if we ever do get around to a box set there will be some stuff people haven't heard before. Now that I'm in the hall of fame I suppose a box set can't be too far away.

    Commenting on putting out an all instrumental album

    Bruce Cockburn: ECM didn't want an instrumental, they wanted an album of songs more or less like Falling Dark but it couldn't be put together for legal reasons. An instrumental album, we've talked about it...another kind of compilation probably. I would kind of like to do that. It's not high on anybody's list as a priority but it's something I would like to do.
    -- from Canoe Online Chat with Bruce Cockburn, 15 January 2002. Submitted by Suzanne D. Myers.

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    Issues Index

    This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.