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What’s Up Interview: Iconic rocker Bruce Cockburn, coming to Narrows Center March 2

One of rock and roll’s most interesting artists is coming to the Narrows Center in Fall River on Wednesday, March 2.

Bruce Cockburn is not an easy musician to classify, with a range of songwriting credits from the folksy “Wonderin’ Where the Lions Are,” to the forceful peace anthem, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.” He was a staple of FM radio in the 1980s, behind those hits, and more mainstream tunes like “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.”

I spoke to the veteran Canadian musician recently and learned he’s looking forward to being out on the road after spending much of the pandemic at his home in Northern California. He’s a socially conscious songwriter and a busy father.

“I have a 10-year-old daughter,” he explained, “so when I’m not away, which has been the case for the last two years, I have a routine that would be the same with or without Covid … getting her to school in the morning and picking her up in the afternoon.”

“I’ve been really anxious to get back on the road,” said Cockburn who will be playing solo at the Narrows Center. “We had a nice little run on the West Coast right before Christmas which actually went pretty well. I’ve got a bunch of new songs, not quite enough for an album yet. We’re looking at hopefully recording before this year is out.”

Over the course of a 50+ year career, Cockburn has amassed 13 Juno Awards and was inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. He’s a legend on par with Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot.

While developing his sound in the 1960s, Coburn was influenced by a variety of songwriters and artists. He shared some thoughts on his fellow Canadian chart-toppers.

“Joni Mitchell and Gordon were certainly a model for what you could do. They were both doing high-quality, interesting songs, and being successful at it as Canadians. Lightfoot made a point of it. He made sure everybody knew he was Canadian. Joni didn’t do that so much. I had an argument in Ottawa back the day with a guy who was wondering whether or not Joni Mitchell was in fact Canadian. This guy said ‘oh, she can’t be Canadian cause she’s good,’” joked Cockburn. “That was the prevailing attitude in Canada at the time.”

“When he was starting out, most people didn’t know Neil Young, apart from Buffalo Springfield,” he continued. “After Buffalo Springfield, when he was kind of establishing himself (as a solo artist), he came through and played the same club in Ottawa that I was playing. He did a week there just like everybody else, he was kind of warming up his solo thing, and he was great then, as he continued to be now.”

Before he began his career in earnest, Cockburn attended the Berklee Music School in Boston in the mid-60s studying jazz composition.

“Music school in Boston made a big difference to me, more than anything else,” he noted.

“I was in school to study composition, I imagined myself being a composer for jazz ensembles. That’s where I was headed. But I was also captivated by songwriting and folk music that was around at that time too, especially the old acoustic blues stuff. All of those things were big influences. In addition to the songwriters we mentioned, I’d have to add Bob Dylan and the Lennon-McCartney stuff from that era; collectively they were all an influence. I found out there’s this whole thing you can do with songs that I wasn’t aware of before that. There was a whole world of songwriting that kind of opened up in the early to mid-60s.”

Jazz and Blues have always influenced his songwriting, “I don’t feel like I’m obliged to limit myself to any particular genre or musical approach. I see myself as a kind of eclectic artist,” Cockburn explained.

Through the vehicle of his songs, Cockburn has been a longtime political activist, although he downplays his role in directly influencing social change.

“My so-called activism consists of mouthing off about stuff because I have the ear of a certain amount of the public and I feel that’s a good thing to do. The mouthing off has been on behalf of the people who are doing the real work, (who are) out there helping developing countries, people who are trying to make a difference in the world, who are trying to affect environmental choices in a positive way,” said Cockburn.

Looking back at a successful career, what is he most proud of?

“Surviving,” he laughed, “being able to do it. I feel like I’ve done my best to put out quality stuff. I haven’t given in to anyone’s demands, except what the Muse has demanded of me. Not everybody gets to do that. It’s not only something to be proud of. But it’s also been a gift.”

You can experience some of Cockburn’s magic on Wednesday, March 2 at 8PM at the Narrows Center. For tickets to the Narrows Center show, click here.

For more on Bruce Cockburn, click here.

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