Origin: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
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Why does Bruce Cockburn remain an artist from Canada, when so many American classic rock artists originally called Canada their home? Maybe it’s his high quality work spanning each decade since 1970. Cockburn is sometimes called Canada’s best kept secret.
His song styles range from folk to jazz-influenced rock and his lyrics cover a broad range of topics that reveal a passion for human rights, environmental issues, politics, and spirituality.
Raised as an agnostic, early in his career he became a Christian. Many of his albums from the 1970s refer to Christianity, which in turn informs his concerns for human rights and environmentalism. His references to Christianity include the Grail imagery of 20th-century Christian poet Charles Williams and the ideas of theologian Harvey Cox.
While Cockburn had been popular in Canada for years, he did not have a big impact in the United States until 1979, with the release of the album Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws. “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” the first single from that album, reached No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US in June 1980, and earned Cockburn an appearance on NBC’s hit TV show Saturday Night Live.
Cockburn’s political beliefs became more evident in 1984, with his second US radio hit, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (No. 88 in the US) from the Stealing Fire album. He had written the song a year earlier, after visiting Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico that were attacked by Guatemalan military helicopters. His political activism continues to the present and his internationalist bent is reflected in the many world music influences in his music, including reggae and Latin music.
In 2009 Cockburn traveled to Afghanistan to visit his brother, Capt. John Cockburn, and to play a concert for Canadian troops. He performed his 1984 song “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” and was temporarily awarded an actual rocket launcher by the military.
Cockburn has written more than 300 songs on thirty albums over a career spanning 40 years. Twenty Cockburn records have received a Canadian gold or platinum certification as of 2013, and he has sold nearly one million albums in Canada alone.
A documentary film, Bruce Cockburn Pacing the Cage, was released in 2013 on television and a brief theatrical showing; directed by Joel Goldberg, gave a rare look into Cockburn’s music, life and politics.
In 2014, Cockburn released his memoirs, Rumours of Glory: A Memoir. No book-length biography of Cockburn has been written, but numerous critics have offered interpretations of Cockburn’s songwriting phases, political views, and relationship with Christianity.
In the fall, Bruce Cockburn is scheduled to release his latest album, “Bone On Bone.” The track from it is titled “States I’m In,” and is now being played on K-ZAP 93.3 FM and streaming at K-ZAP.ORG/apps/
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Bruce Cockburn (1970)
High Winds, White Sky (1971)
Sunwheel Dance (1972)
Night Vision (1973)
Salt, Sun and Time (1974)
Joy Will Find A Way (1975)
In The Falling Dark (1976)
Further Adventures of (1978)
Dancing In The Dragon’s Jaws (1979)
Inner City Front (1981)
The Trouble With Normal (1983)
Stealing Fire (1984)
World Of Wonders (1986)
Big Circumstance (1988)
Nothing But A Burning Light (1991)
Dart To The Heart (1994)
The Charity of Night (1997)
Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu (1999)
You’ve Never Seen Everything (2003)
Life Short Call Now (2006)
Small Source Of Comfort (2011)
Bone On Bone (2017)