The First Review Of A Leonard Cohen Musical Performance

Introduction: The Buckskin Boys & Leonard Cohen

The above photo features a young Leonard Cohen and his two bandmates. It was a year or two after entering McGill University (accounts vary) when Leonard Cohen formed his first band, The Buckskin Boys, which featured himself on guitar, a friend, Mike Doddman, on harmonica, and a friend of Doddman’s who Cohen knew only as Terry playing bucket bass. This group is sometimes described as a “folk trio” but it seems to have been straightforwardly country western from the description Cohen gave an interviewer from Goldmine in 1993:

“Curiously enough, we found we all had buckskin jackets,” he recalls. “Then it was on the basis of that mutual discovery that we named the group [The Buckskin Boys]. Mine I inherited from my father. Pretty beautiful jacket, it must be over a hundred years old. There was a convention in Montreal in those days where a lot of barn-dancing — square dancing — was done as a social activity,” Cohen explains. “So, we played in church basements and high school auditoria, and we played conventional songs like ‘Turkey In The Straw’ that Terry would call to. You know, ‘do-se-do.’ I was playing rhythm guitar and Mike Doddman was playing harmonica, and we had these instruments amplified. So, we were doing just the appropriate square dance material.”

Additional information about the photo and the group is offered in this excerpt from a a 1992 interview, Comme Un Guerrier (Translated: Come on Gorilla) published in Throat Culture magazine1

It must have been around the time of 1951-1952; I was in college. At the time, one entered college at 16 in Montreal and got out at 20. In the photo we must be 17 or 18. There was Mike, who lived on the same street as me, and Terry. Mike had some contacts with the church and the school. He said we could play there, make some money and have some fun. So we started to cover a lot of country and folk dances like “Little Red Valley.” I wasn’t the singer except for a few folk songs. We lasted one or two seasons (laughs).

In the photo, Leonard Cohen poses with his guitar at the bottom, harmonica-playing Mike Doddman is in the middle, and the square dance caller and bucket bass player, known only as Terry, is at the top.

1HeckOfAGuy.com, predecessor to Cohencentric, in fact, had the honor of first documenting that Terry Davis was the lead singer (or, at least, lead caller) for the Buckskin Boys, backed by Mike Doddman on harmonica and Leonard Cohen, then just a kid with a crazy dream, on guitar.

I heard from Dan Sullivan:

The un-named member of the Buckskin Boys was TerryDavis. He is the gentleman at the top on the picture. While I never had the chance to meet the man, I have enjoyed being married to his daughter for the last 26 years.

When I asked for more information, Sue (Davis) Sullivan wrote,

My Dad, Terry Davis was a student at McGill (actually more of a party scholar) when he became a Buckskin Boy.

I remember my grandmother saying that they would come for dinner on a Friday night and she was never sure what single meal she could to serve a Catholic, a Protestant & a Jew!

The girls must have swooned around the group – when my father died at 40, (Sept 1976) during open-heart surgery we received a couple of sympathy cards, saying how much they loved being entertained by him.

Terry was not what I’d call musically gifted but he did love to entertain.

Mom & Dad were married in 1958. My dad became a top-notch Group Insurance salesman, winning many sales contests. His personality and charm suited this profession very well. He had 3 children: Sue, Ian & Heather.

We like to say “Our dad & Leonard Cohen were buddies in a band.”

The First Leonard Cohen Review

Date: February 26, 1954
Venue: Chambly County High School, Saint-Lambert, Quebec

Review:

The Square Dance held on Feb. 26th was a success in every way possible. The Buckskin Boys, who supplied the music and instructed the dancers in the different sets, and their leader, who did such a wonderful job of calling, certainly made sure that a good time was had by all. The evening was a bustle of excitement and fun from beginning to end.

Source: Review is from Rant & Roll by Jack Anderson: Alumni Connection. Photo is from Leonard Cohen En Espana by Albereto Manzano (Barcelona: 2010). No photographer named.
______________________

  1. The interview was translated by Sophie Miller from its original publication in the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles. The interview was conducted by Christian Fevret. []

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *