The Do-se-do Guy In Leonard Cohen’s First Band

The joy of Heck Of A Guy Confessionals1 lies in readers contributing unsolicited, engaging information. Today’s Confessional offers a bonus; not only did this interesting information arrive unexpectedly but it is also, as far as I can determine, unavailable elsewhere in print or online.

The Buckskin Boys

Some background is necessary: The photo of an 17 or 18 year old Leonard Cohen and his two band mates previously published in the Heck Of A Guy post, Leonard Cohen – Boy Wonder, is one of my favorites. The graphic and accompanying text follow:

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.”

Leonard Cohen With His First Band: The Buckskin Boys

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 magazine2

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.

The preceding constitutes the documented history of the Buckskin Boys.

Daddy Was A Buckskin Boy

Then 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”.

And the Heck Of A Guy blog has the honor of 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.

Credit Due Department: Buckskin Boys photo by John Hand, published in Songs of Leonard Cohen, Herewith: Music, Words and Photographs, Amsco Music Publishing, New York, 1969. Thanks to Dick and Linda Straub for the scan from their book

  1. This is a Heck Of A Guy Confessional post. For the description and background of this format, see Meet The Confessionals. []
  2. The interview was translated by Sophie Miller from its original publication in the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles. The interview was conducted by Christian Fevret. []

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