Donna Washburn 1972 Leonard Cohen Tour Backup Singer – 1970? Not So Much

Leonard Cohen with band and backup singers, Jennifer Warnes & Donna Washburn

More Weirdness From The 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour

The final piece of the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour Backup Singers puzzle is the role Donna Washburn played as backup singer that year.

It should surprise no one who has been following the Heck Of A Guy account of the to discover that, notwithstanding reports found on the official Leonard Cohen site, LeonardCohenFiles, LeonardCohenForum, and 1800+ other sites – including the usually astute Heck Of A Guy – declaring that she served as backup singer at the most famous of Leonard Cohen’s 1970 concerts, the number of times Donna Washburn sang backup to Leonard Cohen in 1970 was zero, zip, zilch, nada, …

She was, however, a backup singer during the Leonard Cohen 1972 tour although she is overshadowed by Jennifer Warnes, Cohen’s other female vocalist that year. And, Washburn had an interesting professional career prior to 1972. But, first, let’s clear up the mistaken notion that she sang backup for Cohen in 1970.

Another Cautionary Tale About Internet-abetted Press Releases

The problem arises from the official blurb for the 2009 release of the Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle of Wight 1970 CD/DVD  put out by Columbia/Legacy:

CD-DVD Cover art – Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970

This excerpt is taken from the copy of the press release from LeonardCohen.com but is identical to that found on hundreds of other sites:

The CD (and double-LP) of ‘Live At The Isle of Wight 1970’ represent the 77-minute concert set as performed by Cohen and his backup band: Bob Johnston (Cohen’s Nashville-based Columbia A&R staff producer), and Nashville musicians Charlie Daniels (electric bass, fiddle), Ron Cornelius (lead guitar), and Elkin ‘Bubba’ Fowler (bass, banjo). They were joined by backup singers Corlynn Hanney, Susan Musmanno, and Donna Washburn. [emphasis mine]

As noted above, that same phrase,”backup singers Corlynn Hanney, Susan Musmanno, and Donna Washburn,” is found by Google at the official Leonard Cohen site, LeonardCohenFiles, LeonardCohenForum, and 1800+ other sites – including this one.

While my attempts to discover through official channels why Donna Washburn was credited as a backup singer on the Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle of Wight 1970 CD/DVD were unrequited, Aileen Fowler aka Susan Musmanno (backup singer, along with Corlynn Hanney, on the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour) offers helpful information:1

… there’s a third girl onstage in the Isle of Wight video; that was the only time I ever saw her. She was a friend of Ron Cornelius’s. I don’t recall ever seeing Donna except at the Isle of Wight. I am assuming that she is the girl sitting behind Ron in the video. She doesn’t appear to be miked, and looks like she is just jamming along. We never rehearsed with her. I can’t think that she would have been paid. And that was the only time she showed up on my watch. Why she got a backup singer credit for that performance at IOW is a mystery to me.

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  1. Aileen and her husband, Elkin Fowler, guitarist during the 1970 tour have been especially useful in filling in the blanks about the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour. See “It was a crazy, crazy time” Leonard Cohen’s 1970 Backup Singers. []

“It was a crazy, crazy time” Leonard Cohen’s 1970 Backup Singers

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The Women Of Leonard Cohen’s Army1

In a previous 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour posting, Corlynn Hanney Talks About Singing Backup On The 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour, I note the following:

When researching Leonard Cohen’s 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival concert2 made me unavoidably aware of ongoing confusion about not only dates, venues, and even the existence of certain 1970 concerts but also who sang backup – and more research in secondary sources succeeded in further  muddying the waters – I finally succumbed to the obvious: I sought out someone who was there.

As it turned out, this was an especially fruitful strategy, the notion of unanticipated consequences about which one reads so much bad press notwithstanding. Both of Leonard Cohen’s 1970 backup singers, in fact, provided not only factual data about that enterprise but also intriguing perspectives of the tour.

The initial goal of today’s post was, in fact, simply to clarify who did – and did not – sing backup for Leonard Cohen during the 1970 Tour. A funny thing, however, happened on the way to this goal. In the process of looking for an accurate roster of female vocalists for Leonard Cohen concerts that took place over 40 years ago, I found instead a story of love, music, danger, celebrities, marriages, an irresistibly charming auberge, an irresistibly charming Leonard Cohen, revolution, a horseback ride through the French countryside, and even a specimen of that elusive, much-longed-for happily ever after ending.

Yep – just another Leonard Cohen Tour.

That romantic tale starts but by no means ends in today’s post – which also begins the original task of delineating Leonard Cohen’s backup angels of the 1970 adventure.

Leonard Cohen and Backup Singers 1970 (venue unknown)

The Boys In The Band

The male membership of the band is clear: Bob Johnston (who was also Cohen’s Nashville-based Columbia A&R staff producer) and Nashville-based musicians Charlie Daniels (electric bass, fiddle), Ron Cornelius (lead guitar, harmonica), and Elkin “Bubba” Fowler (guitar, banjo).

Susan Musmanno, Corlynn Hanney, & Aileen Fowler – Leonard Cohen’s 2 Great Backup Singers In 1970

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  1. The band for the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour nicknamed themselves “The Army.”  More about that in a later post. []
  2. See Leonard Cohen At The 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival – Maoists, Music, Mud, Money, & Mayhem []

1970 Leonard Cohen Shows That Weren’t

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Strawberry Fields Fornever

A change of the venue for the Sept 8 & 9, 2012 Leonard Cohen concerts from Hop Farm to London’s Wembley Arena has triggered a significant brouhaha in the local press and among fans. Similarly, the cancellations of the Sept 4, 2010 Honolulu and Nov 27, 2010  Phnom Penh shows set off fusillades of critical and sometimes angry responses.

Reschedulings, postponements, venue changes, and cancellations of entertainment events are not, of course, unusual. The 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour, which was delightfully and  sometimes dangerously weird in general, was no exception in this regard.

One such 1970 no-show, the August 7, 8, and 9, 1970 Strawberry Fields Festival held at Mosport, Ontario, at which Leonard Cohen was listed as an act but did not perform, is relatively well known and was featured in 1970 Strawberry Fields Festival: 3 Days Of Love, Sun, & Sound In Canada – But No Leonard Cohen.

It turns out that The  Strawberry Fields Festival wasn’t the only scheduled Leonard Cohen event that didn’t take place that year.

Unknown, Unperformed 1970 Leonard Cohen Concerts

I came across this excited report of an August 3, 1970 concert to be held at the Oakdale Theater in Wallingford Connecticut in “Oakdale Lines Up Stars For ’70 Rock Schedule” in the June 1, 1970 Bridgeport Sunday Post:

 The article goes on to note that in 1970 the “Bobby Sherman phenomenon will blow into the Wallingford tent” as would  Melanie, who “has the kind of sound that the Sirens of Greek mythology must have possessed.” That year the same theater would also host “Soul Brother No. 1,  James Brown.”

While Bobby Sherman, Melanie, and James Brown apparently made it to Wallingford that year, we can safely assume that the “radically enlightened” Cohen, who on the date scheduled for the Oakdale Theater performance (Aug 3, 1970) would have been one day post-concert – in France, having completed the tumultuous show in Aix-en-Provence on Aug 2nd, did not appear.

And, there is also this report from the August 7, 1970 Bennington Banner of Bennington, Vermont:

Cohen Concert at Saratoga Canceled

Saratoga Springs, N.Y. — Illness has forced cancellation of the Aug. 10 concert by Canadian poet-singer Leonard Cohen at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Cohen’s was hospitalized in Europe after he was severely chilled during a performance at a music festival in Aix-en- Provence, France, according to his management. Those holding tickets to the concert may exchange them or obtain refunds at the S.P.A.C. main box office on Route 50.

SPAC Poet-Singer Concert Canceled Due to Illness, a short article in the August 8, 1970 Glen Falls, NY Post-Star provided the same information in almost exactly the same words, adding that “Mr Cohen’s management had sent word that the singer was currently hospitalized in Europe and would be unable to fulfill his next three weeks of scheduled engagements.”

Happily, the Canadian singer-songwriter was healthy enough by August 14, 1970 to perform on French TV.  And, he was, of course, still a continent removed from these scheduled North American commitments when he appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival on August 31, 1970.

The 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour August Choice: Europe Vs North America

These three concert cancellations in August 1970, especially given that I serendipitously found news of the Wallingford and Saratoga Springs cancelled shows (concerts that are unlisted on any of the databases I’ve checked), raise the possibility that even more shows in Canada and the US were scheduled and cancelled in order to extend the European leg of Cohen’s Tour, including the now legendary Isle Of Wight appearance.

Note: Originally posted Sept 3, 2012 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Must See Video: Leonard Cohen Performing In Paris – 1970

paris70Jo Meul alerts us to the online appearance of a video clip that is new to Jo & me, titled only “Leonard Cohen at Paris Olympia – 1970” featuring Leonard Cohen and his band playing portions of Partisan, Lady Midnight, & Tonight Will Be Fine.

Note: The images are reversed (unless Leonard & his band were showing off by playing left-handed)

Leonard Cohen:  Partisan, Lady Midnight, Tonight Will Be Fine
Olympia, Paris: May 12, 1970

Photo: Leonard Cohen: “I left my suit home in honor of this occasion” – “My first concert ever” Hartford 1970

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Interviewer: “You did a concert in Connecticut and you walked out in this long trench coat and jeans and said ”I left my suit home in honor of this occasion’”

Leonard Cohen: “That was my first concert ever. I remember it. It was Hartford, Connecticut. You’re right. The trench coat and everything.”

Less than two weeks after posting the above photo, one of four included at Historic Images: Only Known Photos From Hartford Concert That Opened 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour, I serendipitously discovered this reference to that occasion. The quote is from Life On The Ledge With Leonard Cohen by Jon Marlowe. The Miami News: Nov 9, 1977

Note: Originally posted Sept 6, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric