“He had that wonderful balance of knowing what he wanted, trusting his music director and trusting his musicians.” John Miller Talks About Working With Leonard Cohen In The 1970s – Q&A + Photos

John Miller & Leonard Cohen

John Miller played bass on the 1974-1976 Cohen Tours and served as musical director on the 1976 Tour. Miller’s role in the Cohen tours is elaborated in Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows, Harvey Kubernik:
Miller also became the unofficial photographer of the 1976 Tour when Leonard bought him a Nikon camera.1 The photos displayed in this post were taken by him.

John Miller Q&A

1. You’ve worked with a multitude of musicians. Was there anything unique about performing with Leonard Cohen?

Playing with Leonard you cannot help but explore the space between the notes. The Buddha of slow tempos.

2. How did you happen to end up in the band for the 1974-1976 Leonard Cohen tours?

John Lissauer had called me to play bass on “New Skin For The Old Ceremony.” Not long after that, John asked me to go on tour with Leonard.

3. How did Leonard manage rehearsals and performances (e.g., was he insistent, laissez-faire, demanding, democratic…)?

He had that wonderful balance of knowing what he wanted, trusting his music director and trusting his musicians.

4. It’s my impression that you enjoyed a close relationship with Leonard. What was it like hanging out with him between shows and soundchecks?

Late at night, after we got back to the hotel, Leonard would often call my room and suggest that we go out and explore the underbelly of whatever city we happened to be in. we’d usually wind up at a small restaurant and hang with the workers after closing hours.

Leonard Cohen and Laura Branigan

5. Cheryl Barnes, who was a backup singer with Laura Branigan in 1976, is not well known, at least as far as her work with Leonard goes. Any information you can provide about her from the tour would be helpful.

I auditioned background singers. I thought that Laura and Cheryl would would sound great together. They did.  I find out years later that she had been in the movie of “Hair”.

6. I have a personal obsession with the song. Do I Have To Dance All Night. Since one of the two tours in which it appeared was 1976, I have to ask if you have any feelings or information about how the song was created or performed.

I remember arranging it for the tour. a little funkier than his other tunes, but Leonard seemed to love it and we played it every night.  Leonard (or Marty) wanted to record it while we were on tour. i don’t remember where we did the tracks, but i do know that they had me fly to London to use 3 female studio singers there. Not quite sure why we didn’t have Laura and Cheryl sing the background parts when we did the tracks.

John Miller

John Miller’s multifaceted career is startlingly impressive:

For over 30 years, John Miller has been the musical coordinator on over 100 Broadway productions, from as far back as 1980’s Barnum to 2012’s Tony-winning revival of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. He also serves as a contractor for touring shows, movies and commercials and is an accomplished bass player who freelances for recordings and concerts, including The John Miller Quartet + 2 at 54 Below and The Cutting Room. He’s also a contractor for touring shows, movies and commercials. And yes, he freelances as a string bass player (though not in his musicals) for recordings and concerts, including at the nightclub 54 Below. 2

In 2014, Miller made his acting debut as the drug-dealing tympanist Dee Dee in the Amazon Original comedy Mozart in the Jungle.3

As a bassist, Miller has worked with a dream list of artists including Leonard Cohen, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Smashing Pumpkins, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, Jimmy Page, Ray Charles, Luther Vandross , Mose Allison, Larry Coryell, Tommy Flanagan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Madonna, P Diddy, Bob Dylan, Bette Midler, Carly Simon, Portishead, Tim Buckley, Gil Evans, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, John Pizzarelli, Pete Seeger, and the New York Philharmonic…4

Credit Due Department: All photos property of John Miller
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  1. Leonard Cohen: A Remarkable Life by Anthony Reynolds Omnibus Press: October 1, 2010 []
  2. Bassist & Broadway Music Contractor John Miller by Caryn Robbins (Broadway World: March 8, 2013) []
  3. Source: Revolvy []
  4. From Amateur to Pro: A Discussion with John Miller by John Kuhlman (Bass Musician: March 1, 2013) []

More Photos From 1976 Leonard Cohen Paris Show With Backup Singers Laura Branigan & Cheryl Barnes

Leonard Cohen Plays The Olympia, Paris – June 5, 1976

Ongoing readers may recall Laura Branigan And Cheryl Barnes – 1976 Leonard Cohen Backup Singers: Photos, Info, Video, the  post (originally published June 11, 2011) that offered the only concert photographs featuring Leonard Cohen with backup singers Laura Branigan and Cheryl Barnes existent on the Internet. Dominique BOILE, who took the  photographs in that earlier post at the June 5, 1976 Leonard Cohen concert at the Olympia Theatre in Paris, has forwarded anther set of shots from that show.

While the quality of the photos, as Dominique points out, is not as high as one might wish (Dominique was, after all, attending the concert to hear Leonard Cohen’s music, not take his photo), the rarity of such images and the significance of the 1976 Tour mandate their posting as well as our appreciation of Dominique’s graciousness in sharing them.

Laura Branigan and Cheryl Barnes

Laura Branigan and Cheryl Barnes were vocalists for the 56 concerts of Cohen’s European tour from April 22 to July 8, 1976.

John Miller, who served as Musical Director as well as bassist for the 1976 tour, writes:

I auditioned background singers. I thought that Laura and Cheryl would would sound great together. They did.  I find out years later that she had been in the movie of “Hair.”1

The band members for this tour were John Miller (bass), Luther Rix (drums), Sid McGuinniss (guitars), and Fred Thaler (keyboards).2

For more about Laura Branigan and Cheryl Barnes, see Laura Branigan And Cheryl Barnes – 1976 Leonard Cohen Backup Singers: Photos, Info, Video,
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  1. Personal communication []
  2. “Is This What You Wanted?” by Jim Devlin. 1997 []

Leonard Cohen & Laura Branigan – On 1976 Tour

quoteup2
My first paying job was touring Europe singing back-ground for Leonard Cohen, the folk poet. That was my first honest-to-God real job. I really learned a lot from that because I was behind a performer who is very big in Europe. I was on-stage for the first time in front of 8,000 people. I could make my mistakes behind him rather than doing it cold on my own. quotedown2

Laura Branigan

 

Laura Branigan: a shining new star by Dick Clark. The Times-News: Dec. 7, 1982. Photo property of John Miller

Hear This Brilliant Recording Of Leonard Cohen Live in Paris – 1976

Leonard Cohen From The Shadows: Paris – Olympia Theatre, Paris: June 5, 1976

Jo Meul writes

I haven’t heard this performance in such a bright and clear sound balance. There’s hardly any tape gliss or sound drop-out. Judging from the picture it’s a bootleg recording, I guess straight from the soundboard. Leonard and the band sound quite eager. Highlights : The French verses in ‘Bird On A Wire’, ‘Store Room’ and ‘Do I Have To Dance All Night’ (!!!)

From The Shadows is an unauthorized release based on the national radio France Inter broadcast (in early July 1976) of the June 5, 1976 Leonard Cohen Olympia Theatre concert in Paris.1 The photo (atop this post) of Leonard Cohen in concert at Olympia Theatre, Paris: June 5, 1976 was taken by Dominique BOILE.

Update: This video is no longer online

Tracklist
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  1. More about this bootleg at Details Re Unauthorized Leonard Cohen CD: From The Shadows. []

Two Photos: Hoodie-wearing Leonard Cohen & Thomas Vogel – Ludwigshafen April 27, 1976

Thomas Vogel is a singer-songwriter who wrote and sang German versions of Leonard Cohen’s “Do I Have To Dance All Night” (1977) and “Who By Fire” (1970). This photo was taken April 27, 1976 when Leonard Cohen performed at Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Ludwigshafen.

“You don’t really think of his music as particularly funky, but hey, it was ‘76 and disco was in the air” Leonard Cohen’s 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival Show

Aquarium Drunkard Features Leonard Cohen’s 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival Show

There’s no shortage of Leonard Cohen live albums from over the years, but there’s never been an official release from the man’s 1976 summer tour of Europe. This masterful two-hour Montreux (June 25, 1976) set would do the trick nicely – backed by a versatile band, Cohen leans into his hits with a swagger worthy of Sinatra and offers up a handful of less-traveled tracks. You don’t really think of his music as particularly funky, but hey, it was ‘76 and disco was in the air; “Lover Lover Lover” and “There Is A War” are darkly comic boogies, with Cohen savoring every syllable. And then there’s “Do I Have To Dance All Night,” his unabashed plunge into disco, which he was playing that summer, but only released as a limited single in Europe. It’s fantastically sleazy:

Excerpt from Leonard Cohen :: Montreux Jazz Festival, June 25, 1976 by T Wilcox (Aquarium Drunkard: Aug 21, 2017). The entire piece, including a download of a recording of the concert, is available at the link.

Note: Do I Have To Dance All Night has been the subject of several posts on this site; these entries are collected at 

1976 Leonard Cohen Olympia, Paris Show: Watch Video Gems: Is This What You Wanted & Do I Have To Dance All Night

6-Jun-1976-5The June 5, 1976 Leonard Cohen concert at the Olympia Theatre in Paris is the source for a number of delights, including the rare photo atop this post taken by Dominique BOILE (also see more of Dominique’s shots of this show).

Do I Have To Dance All Night Release

do i have to dance all night cover art french900Although Cohen sang Do I Have To Dance All Night frequently in 1976 and 1980 concerts, it was released only as a seven inch single of the  June 5, 1976 performance. (For more information, see Do I Have To Dance All Night – The Best Leonard Cohen Song You’ve (Probably) Never Heard). There was, however, no video – until I created one.

Is This What You Wanted Video

Because I could not find a high quality video of Is This What You Wanted online, I created one, again using the recording from the 1976 Olympia concert. (For more information, see Video: Is This What You Wanted by Leonard Cohen – Paris 1976)

Leonard Cohen: Is This What You Wanted