Bruce Cockburn picked up his first guitar at age 14. It was a dusty six-string left in his grandmother’s attic.
Within a few years, he was playing in bands. One of them even opened for Jimi Hendrix.
By 1967 he’d gone solo, so he could concentrate on a kind of deeply spiritual and observational songwriting that sustains him even today.
Cockburn’s most recent album, Small Source of Comfort, was released in 2011. Since then, he’s been focusing on a book and a documentary film about his life.
“You get a taste in the film of what it’s like to be on tour,” Cockburn told me by telephone in 2016. “And to some extent, what it’s like to be me. It’s been shown at a few festivals and been received very well.”
Listen to the interview:
Cockburn is a world traveler, and not just as a touring performer. He visits troubled places like El Salvador and Mozambique and records his experiences in song.
He’s been referred to as ‘music’s traveling correspondent,’ with a decidedly ethical and activist approach to his songwriting.
He’s also cultivated his spiritual side in his songwriting, and says it all comes from the same place.
“The songs are the product of my own emotional response to things that I encounter,” said Cockburn.
“That includes a whole range of the stuff that’s in everybody’s life. From romance to God to politics, all the things that touch us and are capable of producing an emotional reaction.”
“As somebody who travels as much as I do, I get to see a lot of things,” he continued.
“I’ve seen a lot of beautiful things, and some not-so-beautiful things. And both of those extremes are capable of generating songs.”