Leonard Cohen’s First Rehearsal With Jenny & Donna (AKA Jennifer Warnes & Donna Washburn)

First LC tour-H.P. Schmid photo-2 2900Jennifer Warnes & Donna Washburn weren’t the first to audition for the roles of backup singers for the 1972 Leonard Cohen Tour. This is the story of their first rehearsal with Leonard:

It’s all coming down to the wire now. Home to roost. It’s Tuesday night and this is the first rehearsal with Jenny and Donna, the two new singers, who’ve just got in from LA. The excitement is so strong in here you can touch it. The tour begins in two days. The lights are low and the garbage can is stuffed with ice, wine and champagne. These girls have got to work.

Jenny is tall, with straight blond hair down to her shoulders. She stands holding her body straight but easy, a feeling of calm to her. She came from playing the lead in Hair in Los Angeles. Donna is a bit shorter, with a fuller more sexual body, long light blond hair falling in natural curls over her shoulders. She’s less calm than Jenny, more in need of reassurance.

The singing is going well. The first song. If it’s going to come together, it’s got to be now. Leonard is looking truly adolescent. Worn brown sneakers, favorite black slacks, old favorite grey sweater hanging loosely from his shoulders. He’s listening to the girls and smiling as he sings. Standing at the mike, shoulders in their slight hunch, feet together, tapping, swaying slowly from side to side. *Oh you are really such a pretty .little one / I see you’ve gone and changed your name again. Peter, on electric bass, is tapping away smiling, David looks happy, too. Just as I’ve climbed this whole mountainside / To wash my eyelids in the rain. The music takes off. Ron starts smiling, Bob too, *Oh so long Marianne / It’s time that we began / To laugh / and cry / and cry / and laugh /about it all again.

The new girls respond beautifully and they sing the last refrain again. The song finished, Leonard turns to the girls, he’s smiling, delighted. “Fabulous . . . fabulous . . . just fabulous,” he can’t get over how well the song went. He’s shaking the girls’ hands saying, “Congratulations.” He’s just like a kid, he’s so happy. People break to get some drink, but Leonard is too excited. Com’on, let’s keep going. Hey seriously that was fabulous. I’m so excited I’ve lost the capo from my guitar.” He is stumbling around through the mike booms and chairs looking on the floor and table and chairs for his capo. “Hey, anyone seen my capo . . .?” The girls are giggling they’re so happy it’s come together. Leonard is still stumbling around: “Those sounds were so beautiful I couldn’t sing, like music to my ears . . . I’m so happy there are voices out there, the voices came.” He’s standing still now, overcome.

They get back together, Leonard saying, “Let’s do Thin Green Candle . . . no, no, let’s do Joan Of Arc.” They begin and suddenly in mid-verse Leonard stops: “I’m sorry we might as well cool this right now, I can’t sing. It’s too beautiful.” They look at each other. “The reason I need girls to sing with me is that my voice depresses me.” Donna protests, “No . .. no,” but Leonard goes on, “No, seriously, that’s the truth. I need your voices to sweeten mine. No really, that’s the truth. So please try to sing something simple in harmony with my voice.” And they swing back into another song . . . and it works.

From Famous last words from Leonard Cohen by Paul Saltzman (Macleans: June 10, 1972). The photo of Jennifer Warnes & Donna Washburn taken by Sherry Suris at the April 19, 1972 Tel Aviv soundcheck was a generous gift from Jennifer Warnes..

“I understand what the blues is now… It’s just talking to your baby.” Leonard Cohen After Stevie Ray Vaughan Performance

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Roscoe [Beck] and I took Leonard to hear Stevie [Ray Vaughan] one night at the Hollywood Bowl, and Leonard was silent for a good half-hour after the show. We were walking in silence to the car. And finally Leonard said: ‘I understand what the blues is now.’ I said, ‘What is it you understand?’ And he said: ‘It’s just talking to your baby.’ In other words: It’s intimate. It’s as close to the truth as possible.quotedown2

Jennifer Warnes

 

Let’s Go To The Well by Brad Buchholz (Austin American-Statesman: 2002). Accessed at Jennifer Warnes website. Photo by Paul Lannuier. Originally posted July 18, 2010 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Examining Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat Album Of Leonard Cohen Songs


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Ann Powers’ [Greatest Albums by Women] list is incomplete without Famous Blue Raincoat, which brought both fierce intelligence and the gorgeous sound of Jennifer Warnes’ voice to us, one more time.quotedown2

Robrt L. Pela

From The One Record That’s Missing from NPR’s Greatest Albums by Women List by Robrt L. Pela (New Times: August 2, 2017). This essay offers insights into the significance of Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat album. Highly Recommended.  Excerpts follow:

More than 30 years after its initial release, Famous Blue Raincoat — particularly in its original vinyl Cypress Records version and its more recent Impex 45-rpm wax reissue — remains an aural benchmark among audiophiles, who cite its pristine engineering and mastering by studio legend Bernie Grundman.

Raincoat speaks also to listeners who care less about sonic quality than they do about good, solid pop music. Its centerpiece is Warnes’ own “Song of Bernadette,” co-written with Cohen on a bus during his 1979 European tour. An exquisite composition since covered by Judy Collins, Bette Midler, Anne Murray, Linda Ronstadt, and Aaron Neville, among many others, “Bernadette” recalls the sainted woman who “saw the queen of Heaven once,” a vision she steadfastly refused to deny. The song’s proto-feminist message alone ought to have secured its parent disc a place on Powers’ list.

Zen’s 10 Oxherding Pictures & Leonard Cohen’s “Ballad of the Absent Mare”

In Let The Grief Inform Your Throat (JenniferWarnes.com), Jennifer Warnes offers, among other matters, her account of how Leonard Cohen introduced “Ballad of the Absent Mare” to her.

After being away on a silent retreat, Leonard Cohen came over to my house wearing an old beige MacGregor jacket, and his face was radiant. There was a little leap inside him. It’s impossible to be sad around Leonard when he is filled up like this because his smile comes from deep places. He came over to share a brand new song, called The Ballad of the Absent Mare. Not every day this happens

… Leonard had found some old pictures somewhere. They were called The Ten Bulls, old Japanese woodcuts symbolizing the stages of a monk’s life on the road to enlightenment. These carvings pictured a boy and a bull, the boy losing the bull, the bull hiding, the boy realizing that the bull was nearby all along. There is a struggle, and finally the boy rides the bull into his little village. “I thought this would make a great cowboy song”, he joked.

A scholarly examination of the relationship of these images, used for centuries to illustrate “the stages of a practitioner’s progression towards the purification of the mind and enlightenment, as well as his or her subsequent return into the world while acting out of wisdom,”1 can be found at Green, R., (2017). Teaching Zen’s Ten Oxherding Pictures through Leonard Cohen’s “Ballad of the Absent Mare”. ASIANetwork Exchange: A Journal for Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts. 24(1), pp.29–58. The abstract follows:

This paper describes how to teach Zen’s famous Ten Oxherding Pictures through Leonard Cohen’s song “Ballad of the Absent Mare.” It also explains how instructors can contextualize these pictures within the history of Buddhist visual culture and thereby frame Cohen’s adoption of them as a cowboy ballad motif. The essay begins by describing the metaphor of the ox. It then reviews three theories about the origin of the pictures, contextualizing them within the history of Buddhist visual culture. Finally, it provides a PowerPoint presentation that connects each of the Ten Oxherding Pictures to verses of Cohen’s song and offers comments for instructors’ use in class.

Credit Due Department: Graphic atop post by Tenshō Shūbun – Shokoku-ji Temple website, Public Domain, Via Wikipedia Commons

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  1. Wikipedia []

One More Special Photo From Jennifer Warnes: Leonard Cohen Soundcheck – Israel 1972

First LC tour-H.P. Schmid photo-2 2900In addition to the images featured in yesterday’s post, Singular Photos From Jennifer Warnes: Leonard Cohen Soundcheck – Israel 1972, we have received this shot of Jennifer Warnes & Donna Washburn as backup singers at the April 19, 1972 Leonard Cohen Tel Aviv soundcheck.

Credit Due Department: Photo by Sherry Suris

Note: Originally posted Oct 4, 2013 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric