-- Songwriting/Influences: Musical --

Issues Index


This page archives comments by Bruce Cockburn on the musical influences of his songwriting.

  • 2 November 1981 - Ethnic music, Jazz, The Clash, early influences of Dylan and Lennon taken over by poetry

    Q: Bruce, what songwriters are you listening to? People you have an affinity for?

    BC: I don't know if I think of it in terms of affinity... I listen to a lot of different people. Bowie's one of my favorite songwriters. I couldn't really make a very meaningful list. Being human, you have an affinity with other human beings, but, beyond that, I don't really think of things in that sense. If I listen to music with the intent of stealing ideas, which is what I do quite frequently, it's not other songwriters I listen to, it's ethnic music from other parts of the world, or jazz... all kinds of different things. I like the Clash a lot.


    Q: A lot of people have been talking about a lot of musical influences and other writers. I've noticed that in your lyrics, you're really careful with your lyrics, they're really poetic. I'm wondering if there are any poetic influences or what your background is writing? How important is that to your music?

    BC: It's quite important, actually. There's a lot of that. I've gotten more directed... from poets more than from songwriters. Initially I listened to people like Dylan and John Lennon, and that was a big source of motivation to get writing in the first place, but ever since I discovered T.S. Elliot in high school I think I've been wired to poetry.

    Q: You said to Rolling Stone that you basically had the same message that Bob Dylan has. Only it takes such a different form in your music, it's a much more subtle form.

    BC: More or less. I can't remember exactly what I said, and I don't think they quoted it word for word... Yeah, we're just two different people with two different sets of experiences.
    -- 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.

  • 2 November 1981 - Commenting on the New Wave genre of music circa 1981

    Q: Do you see any contradiction between the warmth of what you're putting out and the new wave facade... ?

    BC: No, frankly... it's fun, and it works as a musical expression for me. For a long time it didn't, until the new wave thing came along, I kind of written off rock as an option for myself. I spent a few years in bands that didn't make it in the music world, and eventually got tired of that. So all of a sudden, this really energetic rock and roll comes along with people writing words that really say something... I don't agree with a lot of what they're saying, but it's got that energy...
    -- 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.

  • January/February 1985 - Commenting on music that appeals to him

    "I am interested in music that makes my body want to move and makes points intellectually. Grace Jones or David Bowie or any of those people who address anything real in life -- or even address dumb things but do it with a sufficient degree of style that indicates some intelligence behind it -- that sort of music appeals to me."
    -- from "Singing in a Dangerous Time" by Eunice Amarantides, TheOtherSide, January/February 1985.

  • January/February 1985 - Comments on current musical influences
    [Interviewer is Eunice Amarantides]

    Eunice Amarantides: What writers and musicians have influenced your work?

    BC: People like Ernesto Cardenal, Allen Ginsberg and Doris Lessing certainly. Bob Dylan, John Lennon, I like listening to David Bowie, Lou Reed and Grace Jones; they're ongoing favorites. I don't like all of what they do, but I always get their albums to see what they're up to.

    EA: How about Dylan now? Do you still listen to him?

    BC: I like his new album. But I haven't liked much of his other recent stuff. It's too propagandistic, and it isn't anywhere near his capabilities as a writer. Actually there are certain albums I used to listen to in the sixties that I still pull out fairly often. I like Dylan's Blonde On Blonde and Highway 61 albums. And Miles Davis's Kind of Blue and John Coltrane's A Love Supreme.

    I like listening to people who don't do anything like what I do or to music I think I can borrow from. Coming from a country like Canada, that has no musical traditions, I try to borrow from everywhere. I like reggae and African pop music. For a while, I went through a period of looking through ethnic bins in record stores and picking out whatever looked interesting. In fact, I got into African traditional music before I became aware of African pop music. The guitar part in my song Joy Will Find a Way, is based on an Ethiopian thumb-harp piece.
    -- from "Singing in a Dangerous Time" by Eunice Amarantides, TheOtherSide, January/February 1985.

  • March 1987 - Talking about the influences for World Of Wonders

    "I've listened to a lot of African pop, reggae, and third-world music," he says. "Not much salsa. The rhythm section knows more about that than I do. It's true that the new songs have a more consciously internationalist sound, but that has less to do with those particular styles of music than with the fact I come from a country with no musical tradition at all. When you travel around and see all the great stuff, why not use it?"
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn - A Voice Singing in the Wilderness" by Steve Perry, Musician Magazine, March 1987.

  • Circa 1991 - On Sam Phillips and Mark Heard

    MC: What musical artists do you like?

    BC: I don't listen to much of anything these days not because I don't like things but because my ears are tired. I make enough noise of my own. I do think that Sam Phillips is an excellent songwriter. There's a lot of good records out there. I like a little jazz, some classical. Mark Heard was one of my favorite songwriters to listen to when he was around.

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

  • 3 April 1992 - Commenting on being acoustic and becoming 'electric'

    All of this, of course, was gradual. "I'm inclined to play things safe most of the time," Cockburn said. "I mean, I don't have anything against the idea of a sudden drastic step in any particular direction, but it would be very artificial. At the time, for instance, when I first discovered reggae and punk music, when punk first came along and kind of revitalized rock for me, it would have been totally artificial by that time to just suddenly pick up an electric guitar and start playing punk music, which is kind of what I felt like doing, because it sounded like a lot of fun.

    "But by that time I had established a certain presence for myself as a singer-songwriter in the acoustic format, and I had been around long enough to know that [if] I'd start playing punk music, I wouldn't have any idea what I was doing because I'd be coming at it as an outsider, adopting it instead of being one of the kids that had grown up with it. So, it was a gradual thing, but you did start to hear, like, a guitar more in the records at that point, or at least, dirtier sounding electric guitar, and more drums and a less jazzy approach to the band, less of an ECM sound and more of something like rock."
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn-A Burning Light and All the Rest", Goldmine, by William Ruhlmann, April 3, 1992, © 1992 Krause Publications.

  • Spring 1993 -

    James Jensen: Was an acoustic guitar your first instrument?

    BC: Well literally it was but I was interested at first in playing electric guitar and as soon as I could convince my parents that I should get a guitar I got an old Kay arch-top which, in fact, was an acoustic until I put a D armond pickup on it. I always maintained a certain amount of interest in the acoustic side of things. This was when I was fourteen and I was interested in playing Rock 'n Roll but the guy I was taking lessons from was more of the Chet Atkins school.

    JJ: That's where the fingerstyle came from?

    BC: No, I didn't learn any fingerstyle from him it was all with a flat pick but that style of music was sort of injected into the equation, the sort of country swing kind of thing that led to my introduction to Jazz and other types of music. I was still thinking of only electric guitar but late in high school I fell in with a bunch of folkies who were into country blues and ragtime and that kind of stuff and that's when I started to fingerpick. My picking style hasn't really changed at all, the right hand technique is the same as it was then. My style is basically a combination of Big Bill Broonzy and Mississippi John Hurt or Mance Lipscomb...

    JJ: The monotonic bass?

    BC: The thumb drone or an alternating bass. You sort of have one or the other and Mississippi John Hurt was a great source of direction, I guess would be the way to put it, because of the beautiful and simple way he used to put the melody over the alternating bass. I mean he just played the melody of the song, and that was like no body else I had heard, it wasn't just licks, it was the actual melody. That sort of opened up a whole new thing and because of my interest in Jazz and other types of music that all got added in so when you take that same sort of right hand technique and apply it to a more complex musical approach you end up with something like what I do.

    JJ: Your first few albums sound like you had quite varied musical influences at that time?

    BC: The influences were alot more obvious on the earlier albums, the Incredible String Band was an influence, Renaissance music per say, and alot of ethnic music from around the world. I went through a period when I listened to every different culture I could find and alot of that ended up in one way or another in my writing.

    JJ: In the 80's with "Humans" you really seemed to be hungry for a change of sound.

    BC: I had been listening to Reggae and Punk music and I'd started to travel outside North America in the later 70's and that effected the content of the lyrics and a lot of other stuff that was happening in my life effected that as well. Like I said before the music in my songs is in support of the lyrics so the nature of the lyrics has alot to do with what the music ends up sounding like. Some kinds of thoughts don't suit the acoustic style that I'd been using and I wanted to learn to play electric guitar. I wanted to have bands that sort of kicked-ass a little more than I had been doing and it's an inevitable escalation once you have a band because you want drums and once you have drums you want electric bass and once you've got that going you better be playing electric guitar or you won't hear anything that your doing. We've licked that problem a lot in the last few years but in the late 70's and early 80's there were no guitar pickups that were any good for acoustic guitar, at least none that sounded anything like an acoustic guitar, so that was part of it too. I really wanted to play Reggae music and Rock 'n Roll and I wanted to make people get up and dance.

    JJ: Getting back to your albums of the 70's "Salt, Sun and Time" seems heavily Jazz influenced....

    BC: That album came out of a phase that involved a heavy infatuation with Django Reinhardt.

    JJ: Were you still playing fingerstyle or did you get a pick out and try to...

    BC: No, no I didn't try to get his tone, I couldn't get his tone in a million years, and still play more than one note at once but it just leaked in, when I talk about these influences, with the exception of the country blues guys that I actually did imitate to try to learn their songs, the other influences are more subtle than that, they're in the music but they aren't the result of sitting down and trying to learn Reinhardt solos note for note or anything like that it's just like absorbing the feel and sound of it and having some come through.

    JJ: That album [Night Vision] also contained a very traditional ragtime sounding piece "The Blues Got The World ...." but "Deja Vu" and "Lightstorm" ....

    BC: That was the Jazz coming back, I was never disciplined enough to be a Jazz player but I listened to an awful lot of it and I played a lot of it in a certain way so that was bound to show up sooner or later too. That's partly responsible for the modal kind of approach to chord structure and all that which was characteristic of the Jazz that I liked in the sixties like Coltrane. The Jazz players of that era were getting influenced by music of other cultures, Indian and Arabic music and so was I.

    JJ: You tend to feature one or two instrumentals on each of your records was that your intention or did lyrics just not fit the music?

    BC: They were never intended to have lyrics. I always have the lyrics first so that the tunes that have lyrics are constructed around them.
    -- from an Interview by James Jensen at Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, circa Spring 1993.

  • 6 October 1995 - Rock 'N' Roll, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles

    "I wanted to play rock and roll when I started playing. Nobody at that time ever thought about songwriting. You sang songs, that's all. You sang other people's songs. That's all there were."

    Then toward the end of his high-school days, he was whomped up the side of the head by Bob Dylan and the Beatles.

    "I'd always loved poetry and I'd always loved writing music and composing music, but I hadn't thought of putting the two together until around that time.

    -- from "Cockburn's Convictions Bring Him to Verde Fest as Well," by Salvatore Caputo, Staff writer, The Arizona Republic, October 6, 1995, Phoenix Newspapers, Inc.

  • 7 September 1996 - Ani DiFranco, 60's Jazz, more Rock 'N' Roll
    [Interviewer is Nora Young]

    Nora Young: So, let's talk about your music pick. What did you choose?

    BC: I chose Ani DiFranco's album, Not a Pretty Girl which is her second, and I wouldn't say that it's been a great influence on me but discovering Ani was a great discovery. I think among the crop of songwriters that's sort of at top of the craft at the moment, that I'd put her at the top of that heirarchy, and as a writer. I've always been attracted to lyrics and I guess that's part of it because she's a really brilliant lyracist but she's also a helluva guitar player and she's got an attitude that I find inspirational. And she's also somebody that doesn't get a lot of exposure probably I would have to guess, on radio in this country. So, I'd like to hear her.

    NY: You've drawn on a lot of different styles over the years. How does that come about - do you actively go out and seek new influences or is it just part of...?

    BC: Rip off everything in sight? Yes. Absolutely. I think - I've used this phrase before, but it seems to be the appropriate one. Coming from English Canada, which has no tradition of its own, one is sort of free to be a cultural pirate, and in fact required to be if you're going to grow musically at all. If you want to get beyond what you're fed on the radio as you're growing up kind of, then you're going to end up listening to a lot of different things and inviting yourself to be influenced by them. And in my case, that has been as many different things as I could possibly get my ears around, and you know, over a long time obviously, but certainly I was influenced heavily by the jazz of the 60s - what was then a sort of progressive or avant garde jazz and by the earliest rock and roll, which is what made me want to play guitar and be a musician in the first place. Since then I've been influenced by all kinds of ethnic elements from everywhere and by the songwriting that i hear around me. That's been a less ongoing influence than other things. I've also been influenced a lot by novels and poems and by everything that touches me in some way that will sort of get the creative thing going.
    -- from "Definitely Not the Opera," with Nora Young, CBC Radio, September 7, 1996, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

  • Circa December 1996 - Commenting on his first and current musical impressions
    [Interviewer unknown]

    Q: What music inspired you to learn to walk? Or to ride a horse?

    BC: I can't quite remember back to when I learned to walk, but I can remember quite close to that. My dad thought his first-born should be exposed to the best of everything so he subscribed to a 'record of the month' club and acquired all these execrable performances of fine classical works. He would indoctrinate me with this stuff. I don't think my mum liked it very much. I'm talking three years old now, and I know it was that age because I remember the house that this all took place in. There's a piece called the Ritual Dance of Fire by some Russian composer - I forget which one - which made a huge impression on me and I could visualise the people dancing round the fire and it would always get me going every time I heard it. After that there was a long gap until Elvis came out and Scotty Moore's guitar playing made me want to play guitar.

    Q: What music produces the same reaction now?

    BC: It's hard to get that same reaction now. Although every now and then it happens and it's like an ambush. The first time I heard Ani DiFranco I got that feeling in a big way. It was live, we were at a festival in Colorado. I'd heard a couple of things about her and went to see her and was completely blown away. A Bill Frisell record a while ago did that. He plays some really great stuff, too. I heard some pygmy music on the radio last year when we were driving along, I don't know if they were bathing or washing clothes or whatever, but they were splashing rhythmically on the water and it was a stunning sound! These little things come out of space at you.
    -- "Tender is the Night," Hearsay Magazine,Vol. 14b, December? 1996.

  • January 1997 - Commenting on his musical influences
    [Interviewer is Paolo Caru]

    Paolo Caru: Who are the musicians that have been a major influence during your career?

    BC: My first real inspiration came from Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. When I was younger, I wanted to play the guitar like Scotty Moore. The music of that era had a major influence on me. During that time I also learned many things listening to jazz music, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman. Then I approached the blues and ragtime. Mississippi John Hurt has influenced me a lot, above all in how to play the guitar. And amongst singer-songwriters, Bob Dylan is a fundamental influence.

    PC: What current musicians do you like?

    BC: Ani diFranco. She is a young, strong, talented and a very definite and formidable musician.
    -- from "BRUCE COCKBURN -- Night Visions" by Paolo Caru, Buscadero,No. 176, January 1997.

  • 18 January 1997 - Commenting upon young new talented artists
    [Interviewer is Scott Simon]

    Scott Simon: Like Annie [Ani] DeFranco [DiFranco] 9ph) for example.

    BC: Well, the most exciting young talent that's highly visible these days, I think, is Ani DiFranco. She's certainly not the only great songwriter out there among a sort of younger wave of people, but she is probably the best one, in my opinion.

    And I felt -- just because I admire her greatly -- I wanted her on the album if I could get her. And by hook or by crook, we got her.


    So, she ended up contributing a small but vital part to a song called "Get Up Jonah."

    -- from "An interview with singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn. His new album is called "The Charity of Night", Weekend Saturday, National Public Radio, interviewed by Scott Simon, 18, January, 1997.

  • 20 September 1999 - Commenting on what music affects him most these days

    The interviewer, Eleanor Wachtel, is referring to Breakfast In New Orleans, Dinner In Timbuktu.

    Eleanor Wachtel: "This new CD, it's not that easy to peg, stylistically --apart from the fact that it ranges from New Orleans to Timbuktu. I think that over the years people have associated you, initially with folk, then with rock and you also have a background in jazz. There are also influences of world music. What music affects you most profoundly these days?"

    BC: "Oh, so much stuff. The music that seems to speak of freedom, that has a sense of exploration and a sense of being out there on the edge --that's the kind of music I like. I guess I've more-or-less always liked that in one way or another."

    EW: "What do you listen to when you go home?"

    BC: "Lately there have been two CDs that I've been focusing on. One is a live CD by a guy named Albert Ayler who was a jazz and saxophone player in the 60's and who died very young. I used to listen to him a little bit then and it was the kind of music that I found exciting and challenging, but I couldn't really grasp what they were doing. Now I can grasp what they were doing and I still find it exciting and challenging."

    "From a composition point of view, he'll string together bits of what sound like church melodies or bad standard pop tunes, and he'll mix that up with anarchistic, totally free improvisation. The group on this particular record is alto, trumpet, two bass players -- one of whom mostly bows -- and at least one drummer. You can't quite tell, there might be more going on."

    [Ayler] .."was a real brilliant guy. I think he took his own life, actually, so evidently he was somewhat troubled. His music is a search for the open sky. That's the feeling I get from it. It's really exciting to listen to."

    EW: "And the other one?"

    BC: "The other CD is Tom Wait's new album, which is really great. Great songwriting."
    -- from a CBC Infoculture Interview: Bruce Cockburn on his new CD Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu, by Eleanor Wachtel, CBC Entertainment, September 20,1999.

  • October 1999 - Commenting on unusual guitar tunings and pickings

    "I use a lot of fingers. It grew out of an attempt to play like Mississippi John Hurt. The basis of his style is an alternating bass with the thumb and the melody over the top. I've got a few peculiar strums, but the finger-picking is usually an alternating or droning bass with some kind of melody on top. I often change the tuning of one string to get some strings that ring in certain keys that you wouldn't usually get. I don't think there's actually anything on the new album in standard tuning."
    -- from "Take Four Singer-Songwriters: Interview: Bruce Cockburn", by Peter Bate, Making Music, October, 1999.

  • November 1999 - Responding to a question regarding his musicial influences during the 80's

    BC: The Clash, Bob Marley that whole new wave thing had a broad non-specific effect but I remember thinking on Trouble With Normal, on Tropic Moon, and I could figure out how to get the right feel, so I remember thinking, 'what would the Clash do with this?' so I did what the Clash would've done with it, that was a conscious decision in the studio - it doesn't sound very much like the Clash at all, but you can hear that mental process... Bob Dylan was still an influence - Blood On The Tracks - he hadn't had much of an influence on me for years and then Blood On The Tracks came out and that was a big album for me. Life in general - at that point I was starting to write life and looking outward...

    Steve Lawson: But there's a musical sophistication that goes beyond those influences, more of a Peter Gabriel kind of vibe -

    BC: That has partly to do with the producers on that album, although I listened to a little Peter Gabriel, though I don't think it was as much Peter Gabriel as listening to the same things that he was listening to and translating them. The producers, John Goldsmith and Kerry Crawford, who worked on World Of Wonders and Big Circumstance - their understanding of album production was bigger in scope than I was used to working with, and that's one of the reasons why I was interested in them. So they got bigger sounds, and used more instruments and tried out more ideas, the music lent itself to that. At that point I'd been in Central America, and been to the Caribbean a bunch of times and I had more direct influence from those cultures - see how I miss you, down here tonight, world of wonders - on that song the imagery is all European, but the music is Afro-Caribbean.

    SL: Which artists have you seen recently that class as 'ones to watch'?

    BC: Ani Defranco is well enough known at this point that she's not really one to watch unless you haven't heard her yet in which case you'd better! But she's to me the best thing happening now, in terms of acoustic style songwriters. And Kelly Joe Phelps is running right up there behind her. They're both completely original really interesting players playing very different styles of music, but very distinctive in their approaches. For guitar players, Bill Frizell - he's somebody that I would go out of my way to see live, and Marc Ribot - the Cubanos Postisos Record - that's an incredible record. I saw him play in New York at one of those weird avant garde gigs and he was excellent - those are the kind of things that interest me. James Blood Ulmer is someone else that interests me greatly, and has done since the 80s.

    SL: Are you influenced by the avante garde?

    BC: I like stuff that's out on the edge, I've always liked that. I've never seen myself as being there, but I've always wanted to be.

    SL: Any plans to work with Jonatha Brooke again?

    BC: I'd love to, but there's no plans to at the moment... She's a fantastic writer and singer and a great person. She's someone who uses a lot of different tunings but really uses them interestingly and doesn't just play the same thing from tuning to tuning. She's got a great sense of sonority.
    - from "Bruce Cockburn Interview", Guitarist Magazine, November 1999, by Steve Lawson.

  • 3-9 February 2000 - Describing his first encounter the 21-stringed instrument called the kora, while visiting Mali in 1998

    "I had the opportunity to play with a brilliant kora player [editor's note: This would be Toumani Diabate] while I was there and started writing some tunes with the instrument in mind. The right hand of the kora player does almost exactly what the right hand of a fingerpicker does, so the instruments are intensely compatible."
    -- from "Mango Man, Bruce Cockburn Tastes Folk Music's Forbidden Fruits", Monday Magazine, February 3-9, 2000 by Ron Forbes-Roberts. Submitted by Audrey Pearson.

  • 6 February 2000 - Commenting upon the influence of the blues and their "roots"
    [Interviewer is Liane Hansen]

    BC:....I did, in fact, during the time that these songs were being written, have breakfast in New Orleans and dinner in Timbuktu; not on the same day.

    Liane Hansen: Is there a connection?

    BC: There's not what I would call a connection exactly. There is a kind of cultural line from the part of Africa where Timbuktu is to the part of the Southern US where New Orleans is, but the connection is through the blues really and through the history of that music. I did--sat in with Ali Farka in a show that he was doing in Timbuktu and when we met, he said, 'Welcome to the birthplace of the blues.'

    Mr.Ali Farka: (Foreign language spoken)

    BC: And I was a little skeptical of that because I've heard his music and it sounds blues-influenced to me, or did, and he was dressed just like John Lee Hooker, wearing a purple suit and a purple fedora, and I am thinking, 'OK. I'll take this with a grain of salt.' But when I got to hear the traditional music that came from around there that was played by people who were very conspicuously not Western influenced, or European influenced, the music sounded so much like the field hollers and so on that I used to listen to on Folkways Records, the early Lomax recordings, that the connection was inescapable. And I have to think that Ali Farka Toure is absolutely right.

  • Commenting on meeting Ali Farka Toure and Tumani Diabate during the filming of the video River of Sand

    LH: And that's where you were introduced to some of the musicians there when you were working on the documentary.

    BC: That's right. It was part of the filming process. Ali Farka Toure, who may be familiar to a lot of listeners, who is from very near Timbuktu, turned up while I was there, and I sat in with Ali Farka on a show that he was doing in Timbuktu, and I had a fantastic chance to play with a kora player named Tumani Diabate. Kora is the traditional harp, the classical harp of West Africa. It's a 21-string thing with a grid resonator, and it's capable of wonderful sounds, and it lends itself really beautifully to being accompanied by a finger-picking guitar.
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn, Musician, Shares History and Songs of his New CD, Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu" by Liane Hansen, Weekend Edition Sunday, National Public Radio, February 6, 2000.

  • 7 February 2000 -

    Brett Bambury: We hear the kora on this record, an 11-string Western African instrument. Have you tried it?

    BC: Yeah. I was in Mali for a month and that's when I was introduced to the kora. I was introduced to an excellent proponent of the instrument. He showed me a couple of things. Interestingly enough -- the kora is like a harp. It's basically a harp and you play it in an upright position like that. And what the right hand does is almost exactly what the right hand does if you're finger picking on an acoustic guitar. That's where the basic rhythm comes from. The left hand is flying all over the place.

    BB: You need two right hands.

    BC: Or maybe six or seven.
    -- from Bruce Cockburn on international cuisine, CBC Infoculture, February 7, 2000, by Brent Bambury.

  • 14 March 2000 - Commenting about the African kora
    [Interviewer is Ousman Jobarteh]

    Ousman Jobarteh:.....I noticed on your most recent album which is Breakfast In New Orleans, Dinner In Timbuktu, there are a couple of tracks that have Africankora.

    BC: Yea! And the kora is there because of that trip to Mali, as we probably talked about there, we did some filming with Tumani Djoubati, as your listeners may know him from, I don't know what all kinds of things your station plays, ....

    OJ: We do play Tumani.

    BC: Yea, he's a brilliant musician and I had heard him on record but never met him and then we set up some jamming time to film together and that music makes up much of the music soundtrack of the film and there's some footage of us playing together.

    Playing a song of mine and a piece of his, and the guitar and kora fit together so beautifully, finger style guitar, so much so that you'd sorta' swear that the guys who invented finger picking were originally kora players, because the right hand technique is almost exactly the same and kora is, of course, a harp, its not a guitar, but its approached with similar rhythmic principles and so on and so the instruments just fit together beautifully and sounded great together and I thought, "I gotta' have this on the next album!"

    We were unfortunately not able to get Tumani, but a Canadian guy by the name of Daniel Janke was able to come in and played really nice kora stuff on the album, so I was very happy with that. There's other elements too from Mali. There's the song Use Me While You Can. Its made up entirely of images from there, from around Timbuktu and from the Dogon country which is where we spent more time while we were in Mali.
    -- from "Mostly Manding," WERU-FM in Blue Hill, Maine, interviewed by Ousman Jobarteh, 14 March 2000.

  • 14 March 2000 - Commenting on how poetry has influenced his music
    [Interviewer is Ousman Jobarteh]

    Ousman Jobarteh: The fact that you used sort of physical principles of light and nature as a metaphor to carry the message is I think unusual maybe in the pop/rock genre.

    BC: Yea, I don't talk about money very much. But it's .. who knows? If its my life, you know, its just the things that shaped me are what tend to come out in the songs and the love of poetry, which was one of the things that shaped me, the discovery at a pretty early age of the power of poetry.

    OJ: Are there any poets that you are particularly in admiration of?

    BC: Many, many, many. Um, who currently? Jeepers, um. I don't know, its a long list, but the people that had a huge affect on me early, I mean, not ... well, I can tell you the first poem that turned that light on for me was a poem by Archibald McLeish called "Ars Poetica". It's a short, little kind of lyric poem.

    I'm not really well versed in McLeish's other work [Editor: See online exhibit from The Academy of American Poets] and I don't know what I'd think of it, but that poem was something we studied in school and it was the first time I read a poem that didn't rhyme and didn't have this sort of stilted language and it just had images that piled images on images and created a picture in almost a tangible presence of the things he was talking about without using any of the stuff that I associated with poetry before that and it just hit me like a ton of bricks.

    We had to pick a poem to learn by memory and I picked that one and ... I can only remember one line of it now... but it made a huge impression and from that point on I was reading what I considered to be the more interesting poets, and they were Dylan Thomas and T.S. Eliot and the people of the earlier part of this century who were breaking new ground at the time, and then I got interested in the "Beat Generation" [Editor: Read "How Beat Happened", and article by Steve Silberman for background on this movement] and Ginsberg particularly and I still consider Allen Ginsberg's poetry really great and go back to it from time to time.

    OJ: And obviously this poetry has influenced your approach to music. A lot of your tracks have spoken passages or chanted passages.

    BC: Yea, and that kind of sprang from a desire to expand the notion of what a song is as much as possible. There are songs that are mostly instrumental with hardly any words and there are more songs that have, as you pointed out, a lot of words that just don't want to be reduced to rhyming couplets and hammered into a melody that need to be recited, so then the trick is to find music that will sort of support that recitation and some kind of various musical elements to pull it together and make it make sense. It's not quite the same as writing poetry because of the dependency on the presence of music, but its similar, I guess.

    OJ: Well, the most ancient poetry had musical accompaniment.

    BC: Yea, that's true. Me and Homer, we're just like that. [Laughs]
    -- from "Mostly Manding," WERU-FM in Blue Hill, Maine, interviewed by Ousman Jobarteh, 14 March 2000.

  • 14 March 2000 - Joking about rhythms

    OJ: Yea, it was rhythmic music (referring to the musical accompaniments to Homer's poetry) and another aspect of your music that I find interesting is that the rhythms you use, I can't pin them down. I can't say they're African or they're New Orleans or Cuban or something. You have your own rhythmic style.

    BC: They're Canadian. [Laughs]

    OJ: Canadian. Yes, that's right. [laughs]

    BC: Yes, perhaps we can even narrow it down further and say Ontario rhythms.
    -- from "Mostly Manding," WERU-FM in Blue Hill, Maine, interviewed by Ousman Jobarteh, 14 March 2000.

  • 11 December 2001 - Guitar has always been one of your strengths. Who did you listen to in the beginning?

    "In the beginning I wanted to play like Scotty Moore, Elvis’s guitar player. I added other styles as I went on. In high school I got into the blues; the finger-picking styles of guys like Big Bill Broonzy and Mississippi John Hurt. I was also starting to listen to jazz. I’m influenced by Wes Montgomery and John Coltrane as well. I don’t have the chops to play like those guys, but the sensibility is what I absorbed."
    -- from "Ready For "Anything" From Bruce Cockburn", Gavin, 11 December 2001.

  • 15 January 2002 - I'm wondering if Lenny Breau has been an inspiration for you, and how you go about balancing melody, lyrics, harmony, rhythm and so on.

    Bruce Cockburn: I knew him slightly, I wouldn't say he was a great influence but a great inspiration as far as the things he could do which are far more complex than the things I could do. As far as multitasking I tend to prefer to think of what I do as making several elements into one.
    -- from Canoe Online Chat with Bruce Cockburn, 15 January 2002. Submitted by Suzanne D. Myers.

  • September 2003 - Commenting early jazz inspirations

    Acoustic Guitar: Your new record has a strong jazz flavor. Who were some of the artists who originally attracted you to jazz?

    Bruce Cockburn: Wow—it goes way back, but one of the first jazz guitar heroes I had was Wes Montgomery. And around the same time, I discovered Gabor Szabo, a Hungarian refugee in the States who played with Chico Hamilton in a band with Charles Lloyd, and they did all Charles Lloyd tunes. The tunes were really good, and in that context Szabo really shone. He made a few albums under his own name that aren't as interesting.

    AG: Did you get inspiration from nonguitarists also?

    Cockburn: As time went on, very much so. [John] Coltrane, Ornette Coleman. Albert Ayler. Ayler made albums that shook the foundations in their day. He was one of the first exponents of real free jazz. The tunes were gospel flavored, but they would do these absolutely hairy improvisations on them that would last hours—amazing stuff in terms of the license to be completely free. These are people whose influence doesn't readily show [in my music]. Coltrane does, in the sense that he was part of what steered me in a modal direction. But as much as I loved that music, I was afraid to actually do it. I didn't want to fuck it up, so I sat on myself and didn't let myself go there. I went somewhere else instead, and it worked out OK.
    -- from "Traveling Light Bruce Cockburn enlivens his new songs with forays into electronica and modern jazz," Acoustic Guitar, September 2003, by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers.

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    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.