From ‘Don’t Pass Me By,” Sings Cohen, But The World Passes Him by Mike Collins. Leeds University Union News: June 26, 1970.
Note: Originally posted March 5, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric
On Valentine’s Day, Cohencentric offers a tale of romance replete with lovers galloping through the French countryside, an idyllic auberge in Provence, danger, music, Leonard Cohen, and, believe it or not, living happily ever after (well, at least 40+ years so far).
This is the story of Susan Musmanno,1 one of Lenard Cohen’s backup singers, and Elkin “Bubba” Fowler,2 a guitarist in Cohen’s band, who met, fell in love, courted, and became a couple during the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour.
This adventure is told here in the words of Aileen and Elkin Fowler.3 The resulting narrative is enlightening, entertaining, and often poignant. It is a wonderful gift from the Fowlers.
Update: The Fowlers have contributed much more about the 1970 Tour. That material can be found at The Picaresque 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour
Bubba Signs On: My group, the Avant-Garde was signed to Columbia Records on the basis of a song I wrote called Yellow Beads. Bob was also producing a group that Ron [Cornelius] was in. I forget the name of that group,4 but they were all from northern California. We were all working together on many of Bob’s productions, among them Flatt and Scruggs, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Marty Robbins, and others. Bob got Marty Robbins to record one of my songs, “Jolie Girl,’ which became a Top Ten song for him, and for which I still receive a modest royalty several times a year.
Somewhere along the way during that time, Bob resigned his position as head of A&R and became an independent producer. Perhaps it was Bob who suggested that Leonard tour. I don’t know, but the idea arose, and Leonard said basically that the only way he would tour would be if Bob put it together and also accompanied him on the tour.
So, Ron and Charlie and I were Bob’s core group of studio musicians, and we all were very close. Charlie and Ron were hired to join the tour. Charlie and Ron were both guitar players, so Bob asked me if I could play bass. I didn’t, but I wasn’t going to get left out of the European tour. So I said, “Sure,” and then quickly began learning all of Leonard’s songs from his first two recordings and, when we finally met in the spring to rehearse, I was probably the most prepared.
It was during that time that Charlie first started playing the fiddle, and it ended up that I brought my banjo along and played Tonight Will Be Fine and Charlie played the fiddle on that.
Susan Signs On: I was hired on April 5, 1970, and the first show was the 9th in Hartford. Not much time to learn the repertoire. Corlynn5 and I had been in a group together in L.A., where I still lived.
She got the job with Leonard and gave Bob Johnston6 my name.
He contacted me by phone and asked me to come to Nashville to audition. I had some other opportunities in California, and told him I couldn’t come.
He persisted, calling another couple times. He finally said, “I’ll send you a plane ticket. If it works out, what’ve you got to lose?” So I went.
I arrived at the airport in Nashville and was picked up by Charlie Daniels,7 one of the guys in the band. When we got to Columbia Studios, we knocked on the door to Studio B, and it was opened by Bubba. I met everyone, and needed to audition.
I looked around the room and Bubba was holding a guitar.
I asked him if he knew “Last Thing On My Mind.”8
He did, he accompanied me as I sang it, and I got the job.
Susan: As I eagerly scanned the archives at your website, I was thrilled to see the pieces about the festival in Aix. Especially the photo of Leonard on the horse.
We all rode horses onto the stage. Bubba and I rode together. I just happened to have a buckskin dress with fringe and boots to match, so we went all Native American, and it is a great memory. I remember Leonard’s horse rearing up. It was Bob Johnston’s idea. There was no way to the festival by road — traffic, roads blocked, etc. — and Bob had a flair for the dramatic, anyway — so the horses were the perfect solution.
The Groop – A shortlived sunshine pop act, formed and disbanded in 1969. It consisted of Susan Musmanno, Corlynn Hanney [also a backup singer during the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour], Brian Griffith and Richard Caruso. They recorded one self-titled LP in 1969, which remained an extreme obscurity until it was finally released on CD in 2007. At its best, it’s sunshine pop at its finest, with soaring harmonies and elaborate string arrangements. [↩]
Psychedelic pop duo the Avant-Garde teamed vocalists Chuck Woolery and Elkin “Bubba” Fowler, who were backed by session musicians on each of their three singles for the Columbia label. The duo debuted in late 1967 with “Yellow Beads,” capturing a sweeping acoustic sound that crested with the follow-up, “Naturally Stoned,” a minor classic of orchestral pop that reached number 40 on the Billboard pop charts in mid-1968. The more overtly psychedelic touches that distinguished the Avant-Garde’s first two efforts were scrapped for their third and final single, “Fly With Me” — when the disc barely dented the charts, the group dissolved. Fowler then went folky and in 1970 Columbia issued his lone solo LP, And Then Came Bubba — he later played guitar on Bob Dylan’s Self-Portrait, Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate, and a handful of other sessions. Woolery, meanwhile, went on to much greater fame as a television game show host, helming Wheel of Fortune in its original daytime run as well as the long-running Love Connection, Scrabble, and Greed. He also founded MotoLures, a company that manufactured his signature line of fishing lures. In 2003, Woolery — now host of the Game Show Network program Lingo — was also the subject of the channel’s first-ever reality series; dubbed Chuck Woolery: Naturally Stoned, the show also featured the Avant-Garde’s biggest hit as its title theme.
After years as a backing guitarist, Cornelius formed the group West, which would bring his first national recognition. West appeared in numerous national showcases across the country which resulted in bids from 8 major record labels. In 1967, they signed with Epic Records and appeared in Las Vegas at the CBS Convention. Two albums were cut in Nashville for the label. A single, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (a Bob Dylan composition), climbed to #17 on the national charts. The group went on to record a third and final LP for Paramount Records before dissolving. Altogether, Ron Cornelius has had 5 major record deals as an artist, others included A&M Records and Polydor Records.
In 1969, Ron found himself with Johnny Cash in San Quentin as part of the production team for Cash’s album “Live at San Quentin”. Soon after, Ron returned to backing other acts as a lead guitarist, but this time on a remarkable chain of hit albums with some of the biggest names in country and popular music, such as Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, Hoyt Axton, Loudon Wainwright III, and many others. Most notably, Cornelius supplied lead guitar work on seven multi-platinum albums for the legendary Bob Dylan. [↩]
Researching Leonard Cohen’s 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival concert 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, disproving the notion that those unanticipated consequences about which one reads so much bad press are always catastrophic. 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.
Today’s post features Corlynn Hanney.
In addition to serving as backup singer on the 1970 tour, Corlynn Hanney (the blond woman wearing glasses in the1970 photos) is credited as a vocalist on Leonard Cohen’s Songs from a Room, Songs Of Love And Hate, and Live Songs albums.
She still sings and maintains a MySpace page which includes music from her 2007 album Shine and other songs in a genre characterized as Christian/Gospel /Healing & Easy Listening.
Corlynn Hanney has been good enough to personally provide information about the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour and her role in it. The following excerpts (in red) are taken from her emails (the questions that prompted her replies are in blue):1
How did you became a backup singer for Leonard Cohen?
I was a young singer living in LA, trying to make a living as a studio singer. I had been singing with The Jimmy Joyce singers. We had sung on the Smothers Brothers Show, things like that that were singer/dancer things sometimes. I was called to audition!
I had been a Cohen fan for awhile. Never went anywhere without a book of his poetry or his novel in my purse. It was a dream. Leonard’s then manager (name forgotten but he stayed manager through the making or the Songs of Love and Hate CD) heard me sing with my guitar. It was something original.
They offered me the job immediately……I asked to have the night to think about it After all, I was just beginning to get calls as a session singer. When I awoke in the morning I had my answer! A perfect job for me! Needless to say, I said YES. No looking back after that!
Susan and I had been singing together in a group called the GROOP. We auditioned a couple of other girls but Susan and I had always had a fabulous blend and musical rapport. She got the job, too. Next stop, Nashville.
This is an especially silly query: Leonard Cohen and the band famously rode horseback to the Aix-en-Provence Festival concert. Since hearing that story, I’ve wondered – did you and Susan Musmanno travel to the show the same way?
I still have no super-clear memories about horses . I am afraid of horses, so I could have blocked it out. I do have a clear memory of the landscape. It was surreal! And a bit scary. so many people in one place! So many tiny lights. I remember the Isle of Wight better. The horse memory is taking shape.
The place we stayed for this concert was amazing. It was very old, had two streets and had a very old Church on the hilltop. Every hour the church bell would ring the hour. The town was surrounded by fields of various crops. People drove their produce etc, in horse drawn carts.
We ate at the hotel…..amazing food! Everything was made right there. Great local wine. Fresh produce. I have gone back to try to find it again. The place was tiny and I can’t remember the name. So my search has been fruitless.
You mentioned that you had been a Cohen fan prior to your audition for the Tour. How did the real Leonard Cohen (the one you worked with on tour) differ from the Leonard Cohen you had envisioned from his poetry, prose, and music?
When I met Leonard, he was even more gentle, more wise and more gracious than I had expected. When it came to music, he was incredibly generous.
What makes working with Leonard Cohen so unique is his generosity of spirit. In rehearsals Leonard is very positive. He appreciates the creativity of the band and backup singers. He is so humble, you feel unafraid to try new ideas. He is always grateful for the suggestions. His willingness to try different musical ideas makes the other musicians feel valued.
Credit Due Department: Joe Way, who had been in contact with Corlynn Hanney for some time, provided my introduction to Corlynn and paved the way for our email exchange. The photo of Leonard Cohen and his backup singers are the Isle Of Wight was contributed by Dominique BOILE. Leeds University photos are copyright John Rettie – www.rocknrollphotographs.com
Note: Originally posted Nov 2, 2011 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric