Leonard Cohen’s Gateway To Roy Orbison: Jennifer Warnes At Black & White Night

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“Make it like Roy Orbison would do it”
~ Leonard Cohen

That Leonard Cohen held Roy Orbison in high regard is a certainty, as evidenced by this excerpt from Various Positions – A Life Of Leonard Cohen by Ira Nadel (Random House of Canada 1996):

In rehearsal [for the 1988 tour] Cohen would tell the band to ‘make it like Roy Orbison would do it.’ The musicians had a picture of Orbison pasted into their chart folder.

And, as noted in Roy Orbison’s “House Without Windows” (Or Hank Williams’ “House Without Love”) Is On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox, #6 on Leonard Cohen’s Top Ten Songs Of 1988 list is “House Without Love” by  Roy Orbison.1

It’s significant that these two Leonard Cohen references to Roy Orbison, both dated 1988, are the only allusions the Lord Byron of Rock ‘n’ Roll made to the Big O I found – until I came across a Jan 30, 2017 article about the re-release of Roy Orbison’s Black & White Night video.

Jennifer Warnes Explains How Roy Orbison’s Black & White Night Impacted Leonard Cohen’s Music

Jennifer Warnes was one of the friends at Roy Orbison’s September 30, 1987 Black & White Night With Friends performance. Her entire account of the event, including Jackson Browne inviting her to participate and her work with T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, k.d. lang, and Bonnie Raitt, is a treat to read (and the full article is available at the link below), but the focus of this post is on the influence this experience ultimately had on Leonard Cohen. The following excerpts are pertinent:2

“I told Leonard he needed to be there [at the Black & White Show], because I knew it would be good. He was my friend and my ticket, …  I remember where Leonard was sitting, and Rebecca De Mornay [who was briefly engaged to Cohen] was there…

“In studying Anita Kerr’s arrangements I began to understand how to support a pop record with stacking, and what that does to a song…  She [Warnes]  contrasts stacking (“a slang term generally used in the recording studio, when one singer can compose an arrangement and then sing all the parts in layers”) with the process of “my generation of recording artists, who lowered the costs and risks of recording live by multi-tracking or overdubbing. Meanwhile, digital technology can now ‘clone’ vocals: Virtual choirs can be constructed by an engineer through ‘cut and paste’ technology–infinite construction [such that] the live, real, spirited force in the room when music is created live, is absent.”

A week after the show, then, Cohen, “like he usually did,” sent Warnes a number of new songs to go over and make suggestions. He must have been deeply impressed by the show and was very respectful of Roy afterwards,” she says. “I picked what I thought I had something strong to add to, including ‘Tower of Song’–but didn’t tell him I was taking the information I learned from Anita Kerr and applying it. When he showed up at the studio I told him he probably wasn’t going to like what I did, but to give me a chance. I’d layered up three or four voices on ‘Tower,’ and he just loved it and ended up going with that approach for many years. He was hooked on the idea of making his recordings sound more pop.” [emphasis mine]

So, while it seems safe to assume that Leonard Cohen, the aficionado of jukebox tunes and country music radio, must have been aware of Roy Orbison prior to 1987, it appears that Jennifer Warnes and the 1987 Black & White Night were the catalysts that led Cohen to Orbisize some of his songs and make his “recordings sound more pop.”

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  1. Leonard Cohen – In Eigenen Worten by Jim Devlin []
  2. With Roy Orbison’s landmark all-star ‘Black & White Night’ long form video being re-released in new format, Jennifer Warnes reveals its influence on Leonard Cohen by Jim Bessman (Centerline: January 30, 2017) []

Video: Leonard Cohen Talks About Songwriting, Making Videos, Truth Vs Facts…

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Also Featuring Jennifer Warnes, Harry Rasky, Judy Collins

While this video from ZoomerMedia is labeled only “Leonard Cohen,” I agree with Gordana Stupar’s speculation that it is the CBC broadcast “An Evening With Leonard Cohen.” It certainly fits the description of that show found at Diamonds in the Mine:

3 March 1989 – An Evening With Leonard Cohen – CBC
Documentary featuring interviews and live clips from Paris 1988. Jennifer Warnes, Harry Rasky, Judy Collins, Moses Znaimer provided comments and clips from the BBC Songs from the Life of Leonard Cohen were also included.

Leonard Cohen
Uploaded on YouTube by ZoomerMedia

Credit Due Department: Thanks to Gordana Stupar, who alerted me to this video

“I can think of no more beautiful job than to have loved him” Jennifer Warnes On Her Relationship With Leonard Cohen

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I’m like the waitress. I’m bringing the food. But I didn’t grow the food, you know? And I can think of no more beautiful job than to have loved [Leonard Cohen] and supported him and known him. That to me is like a very fulfilling feeling. There’s no emptiness when I think of him.quotedown2

Jennifer Warnes

 

Born to be his conduit’: Jennifer Warnes remembers her friend and collaborator Leonard Cohen by Randall Roberts (LA Times: Nov 14, 2016). I received the photo as a gift from Jennifer Warnes.

“[Leonard Cohen’s 1972 Tour] went on 24 hours a day and my health is ruined. There are only two people I would do that for – Bob Dylan & Leonard Cohen.” Jennifer Warnes

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From Leonard Cohen Tour A Smash by Mike Jahn (The Palm Beach Post: May 14, 1972). Photo is screen capture from the Bird On The Wire documentary

Note: Originally posted September 26, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Jennifer Warnes on Leonard Cohen as a “real catalyst” with a “shakeup personality”

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[Leonard Cohen] has a way of crystallizing thing for people that allows you to let go of a lot of shit that you otherwise would hang on to. It’s intoxicating. He’s a real catalyst; he has a real shakeup personality.quotedown2

Jennifer Warnes

 

From Jenny Takes A Ride by Bud Scoppa (Music Connection, April 6-19, 1987).

Note: Originally posted at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

More Leonard Cohen Favourite Games – Unified Heart Touring Company Teammates

olyCohencentric published a three-part survey of Leonard Cohen’s sports (see The Favourite Games Of Leonard Cohen: Part 1, Part 2. and Part 3) to commemorate the Rio 2016 Olympics, Now, we offer a few examples of athletic efforts by the folks who work with Leonard.

The Webb Sisters – Gymnastics

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Roscoe Beck – Tandem Dancing Partner

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Sharon Robinson & The Webb Sisters – (Very) Freestyle Dancing

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Jennifer Warnes & Sharon Robinson – Duet Floor Exercises

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The Webb Sisters – Synchronized Nordic Skiing

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Rafael Gayol – Javelin Throw

Note the unorthodox over the shoulder style

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