Leonard Cohen On Songwriters Who Influenced Him

Do you identify more with a European cultural tradition of songwriters – Jacques Brel, Mikos Theodorakis, Georges Moustaki, [Georges] Brassens?

Of course those singers and songwriters have meant a good deal to me. But so does Chuck Berry.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


From Radio Interview by Tom Schnabel: July 13, 1988 (Morning Becomes Eclectic, KCRW-FM)

Also see “The thing I liked about [the PEN Award] was that I’m sharing it with Chuck Berry” Leonard Cohen [2012]

Note: This content originally posted Mar 20, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric.

“Music was always the thing closest to me, and I saw poetry as part of that.” Leonard Cohen On His Early Influences


Music was always the thing closest to me, and I saw poetry as part of that. My early poetry was very much influenced by Scottish Border ballads, the Spanish flamenco songs, the Portuguese fado.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


Conversations from a Room by Tom Chaffin. Canadian Forum: August/September 1983. Photo by Pete PurnellOriginally posted June 2, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen lists Pete Seeger & Josh White among “first singers I listened to with any real pleasure”

Who were the singers who you’ve admired?

The first singers I listened to with any real pleasure were Pete Seeger and Josh White and the singers from Wheeling, West Virginia, the country music radio station. Those were the singers I listened to with a lot of pleasure. I used to write to music all the time and it was folk music mostly, Spanish music and flamenco music.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From I Have No Idea of the Sound I’m Looking For – An Interview with Leonard Cohen by Michael Harris. Duel: Winter 1969.

Also see Leonard Cohen Attends First Live Gig: Josh White – Ruby Foo’s Montreal 1949

Originally posted June 9, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

“You wanted to be the Superman who was never Clark Kent.” From Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen


Note: Leonard Cohen was, like me, a comic book aficionado. For more about this often overlooked early influence on the Canadian singer-songwriter, see

Note: Originally posted April 5, 2012 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen Reveals “Biggest Influence On My Music”


Biggest Influence on My Music: The jukebox. I lived beside jukeboxes all through the fifties. There was “The Great Pretender,” “Cross Over the Road.” I never knew who was singing. I never followed things that way. I still don’t. I wasn’t a student of music; I was a student of the restaurant I was in — and the waitresses. The music was a part of it. I knew what number the song was.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From  Yakety Yak by Scott Cohen1 (1994)

Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox

This quotation parallels the following excerpt from a March 2 1985  Leonard Cohen interview with B.P. Fallon (RTE 2, Dublin, Ireland):

Leonard Cohen: It was a great restaurant. I am sorry it disappeared. It was, it was a real funky restaurant, but it had white tablecloths; I don’t know why. (Laughs) And a really good jukebox. Well, it changed over the years. They had good country songs on it, … “Unchained Melody” was a song that I used to listen to a lot on that.

B. P. Fallon: Which version?

Leonard Cohen:

B. P. Fallon: The Righteous Brothers?

Leonard Cohen: The Righteous Brothers, right.

B. P. Fallon: Interesting, here it is.

Leonard Cohen: Oh, that’s a good one.

These comment by Leonard Cohen led to the publication, beginning April 4, 2009, of , first on 1HeckOfAGuy.com and now continuing on Cohencentric. Currently, this series comprises 58 posts, each featuring a song that has won Leonard Cohen’s admiration and this introduction:  All Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox posts can be found at The Original Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox Page.

Note: Originally posted Apr 19, 2010 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric


  1. Full title: “Yakety-Yak : The Midnight Confessions and Revelation of Thirty-Seven Rock Stars and Legends” published by Fireside. The Leonard Cohen section also includes many other quote-worthy tidbits, including “What to Tell a Woman after Sex:  Thank you. []

Leonard Cohen’s Early Influences


Buckskin Boys – Leonard Cohen on guitar

In assisting the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (more familiarly known as the MAC) in preparing for the  2017 Montreal Leonard Cohen Exhibition,1 Cohencentric gathered information in two areas:

  1. Leonard Cohen’s Early Musical Influences
  2. Recordings Of Leonard Cohen Speaking/Singing In French

That data, already forwarded the MAC, is also being shared with Cohencentric readers, many of whom contributed to the effort.  Today’s post focuses on Leonard Cohen’s Early Musical Influences. For context, the original request from the MAC follows:

Ari Benjamin Myers, one of the exhibition’s participating, artists is interested to learn more about the origins of Leonard’s musicality. He is specifically interested to learn more about the encounter(s) that took place between Maury Kaye and Leonard in the 50’s. We of course have listened to Leonard’s first performance at Dunn’s in 1958. [see Leonard Cohen & All That (Montreal) Jazz] Fascinating! Would you by chance have access to the entire recording? Do you know if there is any more recorded material from that period? Ari is also interested to learn about the sings that Masha would sing to Leonard as a child. We have read that she used to sign lullabies in Russian and Yiddish. Would you know anything more about this? As well we are interested to learn if there is any recording available of the Buckskins Boys?

Buckskin Boys, Maury Kaye, & Masha

While no Buckskins Boys or Maury Kaye-Leonard Cohen recordings have been found,  there is a bit of specific information about Masha’s preferences in music. Sylvie SImmons wrote

As noted in the epilogue of my book, Leonard’s mother loved the Donkey Serenade and had a dance teacher teach her a dance step to it. That was the onlyspecific song Leonard mentioned in regards to his mother – other than saying that her favourite of his songs was Famous Blue Raincoat, which he was not so fond of, feeling he had released it before it was ready.

“The Donkey Serenade,” a reworking by Herbert Stothart of Friml’s 1918 orchestral piece “Chanson,” became popular as sung by Alan Jones in the 1937 musical film, The Firefly.2


References: Leonard Cohen’s Early Musical Influences

Mikal Gilmore summarizes Leonard Cohen’s early influences in this excerpt from Leonard Cohen: Remembering the Life and Legacy of the Poet of Brokenness (Rolling Stone: 30 November 2016):

Long before mystery junctions between spirit and flesh made their way into Cohen’s songs, he had already established himself as an unorthodox and powerful poet and author. His mother had encouraged him in those ways. His early influences included metaphysical poets – Andrew Marvell, John Donne, W.B. Yeats – and W.H. Auden, who mixed cultural and religious themes. Nobody affected him so much as surrealist Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, who collected Spain’s folk songs, turning them into poetry, before he was executed by Spanish nationalist forces in 1936. Cohen also heard socialist folk songs from a director at summer camp. “The lyrics of these songs,” he said, “touched me: ‘To you, beloved comrade, we make this solemn vow/The fight will go on. . . /We pledge our bodies down/The fight will go on.’ A very passionate and heroic position.” Around the same time, Cohen started a country band called the Buckskin Boys.


Masha & The Synagogue Cantor

Continue Reading →

  1. See Help The MAC Create The 2017 Montreal Leonard Cohen Exhibition: Une brèche en toute chose / A Crack in Everything []
  2. Wikipedia []