Watch a video clip of Bruce Cockburn performing the tune “Deer Dancing Round A Broken Mirror.” From YouTube.
Cockburn made his debut in the USA at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1974 and began to perform there on a consistent basis after the Rumours of Glory tour in 1981. He undertook a solo US tour in 1988. Cockburn shared the stage with Murray McLauchlan on a tour of Japan in 1977, and returned there on his own in 1979. He also made his European debut in Florence in 1977, followed by a second Italian tour in 1979. His international itinerary during the 1980s included concerts in Central America in 1983, in Australia and Japan in 1983, and throughout Europe in 1986 and 1987. A 'world tour' in 1989 comprised more than 90 concerts in Canada, the USA, England, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, and New Zealand. After a year's hiatus, Cockburn gave concerts in Japan for Amnesty International in 1991.
Cockburn, an accomplished acoustic guitarist who also had taken up the electric instrument by 1973, travelled with backing ensembles of varying size. The flutist and saxophonist Kathryn Moses and the violinist Hugh Marsh were among the musicians featured at various times in support roles. Over the years Cockburn's music underwent a marked evolution in both style and tone while remaining consistent to a strong Christian and liberal perspective. As Ian Pearson in 1981 described a younger Cockburn, 'To the generation of Canadians that came of age in the late '60s, [he] was a pure indigenous alternative to popular music: the bearded mystic who crafted fragile melodies on his acoustic guitar and sang with a voice as ephemeral as mist about spirituality and the wonders of going to the country.'
As one of the few English-Canadian singer-songwriters to enjoy success in Quebec, Cockburn sang several of his songs in French, and had the lyrics to his songs translated for publication on the covers or inserts of his albums, beginning with Sunwheel Dance. His 'Prenons la mer,' a bilingual song, was a hit in 1978 in Quebec.
Cockburn's best-known songs in this period included 'Goin' down the Road,' 'Goin' to the Country,' 'Musical Friends,' and 'Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long'. Several of his later singles - 'Wondering Where the Lions Are' in 1979, 'Lovers in a Dangerous Time' in 1984, 'People See Through You' in 1986, 'If a Tree Falls' in 1989, and 'Last Night of the World' in 1999 - were modest radio hits as Cockburn introduced a variety of pop colours and textures into his music. Several songs from the mid-1980s, however - 'If I Had a Rocket Launcher,' 'Call it Democracy,' and 'Where the Death Squad Lives' - signalled a new activism, if not militancy, the product of his fact-finding visits to Central America, which led also to a series of lecture tours. Cockburn later made similar visits to Nepal, Mozambique, and Mali. The critic Craig MacInnis noted, 'Over an ambitious career that has variously explored the essence of folk music, modern jazz, Afrobeat and rock, Cockburn has never once been accused of having a major sense of humor. It seemed beneath him, somehow. Sainted and serene, he has often appeared to be the singular conscience of Canadian pop music; didactic, but in a soft-focus way that made it easy to accept even his thorniest declarations...' (Toronto Sunday Star, 22 Jan 1989).
Cockburn's activism kept him in the public eye through the 1990s. The honorary chairperson of Friends of the Earth and a supporter of the Unitarian Service Committee, the singer applied his energies to various causes. He performed at a UNICEF concert in Kosovo, and was a spokesperson for the movement to ban land mines. He narrated a television documentary on the Mali desert in 1998, the same year he toured Australia. Cockburn tours internationally in support of his causes and critically acclaimed albums, which he continues to release steadily -- though without as much sales success as during his commercial peak in the late 1970s and 1980s. These include 1994's Dart to the Heart; 1996's The Charity of Night; 1999's Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu; 2002's Anything Anytime Anywhere compilation; 2003's You've Never Seen Everything; 2005's instrumental Speechless; 2006's Life Short Call Now; 2009's Slice O' Life - Solo Live; and the 2012 Juno Award-winning Solo Roots & Traditional Album of the Year, Small Source of Comfort (which also won two Canadian Folk Music Awards).
Cockburn's songs were published by Golden Mountain Music and/or High Romance Music and also were recorded by more than 20 other Canadian, US, and British artists including Chet Atkins, the Barra McNeils, John Allan Cameron, Mary Coughlan, Dan Fogelberg, Jerry Garcia, George Hamilton IV, Ron Kavan, Anne Murray, the Rankins, Tom Rush, Leo Sayer, Valdy, and David Wiffen. The Barenaked Ladies recording of 'Lovers in a Dangerous Time' was a considerable success. Several Canadian singers and bands (eg, Barenaked Ladies, B-Funn, Cottage Industry, Rebecca Jenkins) recorded Cockburn songs for the tribute album Kick at the Darkness (Intrepid N41V-0008), issued in 1991. Many of his best-known songs 1969-79 were published in the folio All the Diamonds (OFC [Ottawa Folklore Centre] Publications 1986). The jazz guitarist Michael Occhipinti recorded an instrumental album of Cockburn songs (Creation Dream) in 2000.
Seventeen of Cockburn's albums have been certified gold in Canada for selling 50,000 copies, while sales of Waiting For A Miracle, Dancing in the Dragon's Jaw and Stealing Fire exceeded 100,000.The latter recording was his most successful in the USA to 1990.
Cockburn has won 11 Junos, including the inaugural Allan Waters Humanitarian Award in 2006, from 31 nominations. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame a year later. He was a Member and subsequently an Officer of the Order of Canada, and received PRO Canada's Wm Harold Moon Award for international achievement in 1986. The CBC featured him on the Life and Times series; he received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award in 1998, and was honoured also with music awards from Italy and Holland as well as various other recognitions in North America. Cockburn was featured on a Canadian postage stamp in 2011 and received the SOCAN Lifetime Achievement Award and Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 following VisionTV's airing of a documentary titled Bruce Cockburn, Pacing the Cage that dealt with his life, music and spirituality.
Author Betty Nygaard King, Steve McLean
Links to Other Sites
The website for the JUNO Awards and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Scroll down the page to check out the latest award winners and music clips. Sample the latest JUNO Awards CD. From the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
True North Records
Check out the links for bios and music clips featuring major Canadian recording artists at the True North Records website.
The website for award-winning Canadian folk artist and activist Bruce Cockburn. Features his bio, discography, and a great selection of his videos.
Bruce Cockburn - Deer Dancing Round A Broken Mirror
Watch a video clip of Bruce Cockburn performing the tune “Deer Dancing Round A Broken Mirror”. From YouTube.
Scoll down to page 47 to view a "Billboard" article about winners of the 1994 SOCAN awards. From the Google Books website.
Bruce Cockburn donates archives to McMaster University
A news story about Canadian folksinger, songwriter, and humanitarian Bruce Cockburn donating his archives to McMaster University. From thestar.com.