Susan Musmanno, Corlynn Hanney, & Aileen Fowler – Leonard Cohen’s 2 Great Backup Singers In 1970

The Women Of Leonard Cohen’s Army1

As I pointed out in the previous 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour posting,

When researching Leonard Cohen’s  1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival  concert2  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.

That previous post, Corlynn Hanney Talks About Singing Backup On The 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour, featured Corlynn Hanney’s thoughts on touring with Leonard Cohen.  The primary goal of today’s post was to simply clarify who did – and did not – sing backup for Leonard Cohen during the 1970 Tour.

A funny thing, however, happened on the way to this goal. In the process of looking for an accurate roster of female vocalists for Leonard Cohen concerts that took place over 40 years ago, I found instead a story of love, music, danger, celebrities, marriages, an irresistibly charming auberge, an irresistibly charming Leonard Cohen, revolution, a horseback ride through the French countryside, and even a specimen of that elusive, much-longed-for happily ever after ending.

Yep – just another Leonard Cohen Tour.

That romantic tale starts but by no means ends in today’s post – which also begins the original task of delineating Leonard Cohen’s backup angels of the 1970 adventure.

Leonard Cohen and Backup Singers 1970 (venue unknown)

The Boys In The Band

The band membership is clear: Bob Johnston (who was also Cohen’s Nashville-based Columbia A&R staff producer) and Nashville-based musicians Charlie Daniels (electric bass, fiddle), Ron Cornelius (lead guitar, harmonica), and Elkin “Bubba” Fowler (guitar, banjo).

Left rear: Backup singers. Front left to right: Ron Cornelius, Leonard Cohen, Charlie Daniels. Paris, May 12, 1970 (Photo by Jean-Pierre Leloir)

Corlynn Hanney

And it’s clear that Corlynn Hanney was a backup singer for  the 1970 tour. Otherwise, Heck Of A Guy has perpetrated a fraud in publishing  Corlynn Hanney Talks About Singing Backup On The 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour.

Susan Musmanno Vs Aileen Fowler

It’s the identity of the second backup singer that lead to perplexity. Susan Musmanno is mentioned in concert reviews but is not credited on “Live Songs” for the 1970 tracks.  On the other hand, Aileen Fowler is credited on “Live Songs” for the 1970 tracks but is not always mentioned in concert reviews.3

As as often proves the case in matters Cohen, Tom Sakic has provided the solution to this conundrum: it turns out that during that 1970 Tour, Susan Musmanno and Bubba Fowler – the same aforementioned Bubba Fowler who played guitar and banjo during the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour – fell in love. A name change (see below) followed and confusion, as it is wont to do, has reigned ever since.

Hidden in a LeonardCohenForum thread about the Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970 CD/DVD, a post by Tom Sakic includes the text of a 1999 email Susan Musmanno sent to the Leonard Cohen Newsgroup; pertinent excerpts from that message follow:

Yes, I am Susan Musmanno. I met and fell in love with Bubba Fowler on that first Cohen tour in 1970.

His full name is Elkin Thomas Fowler. Bubba was a nickname. We use his first and middle names professionally, and I use my middle name, Aileen — Aileen and Elkin Thomas. The names were first given to us by Cohen and company.  After we began courting, the group ‘dubbed’ us Aileen and Elkin, and the names stuck. They represented our alter egos to us – and they came with the vision of a simpler, more integrated life, which has become our reality.

Leonard loved it that we met and fell in love on tour with him — he called us ‘the Lovers’ and warmed himself at our fire. He was, and is, a great artist — certainly the greatest one we have working in song.

CD-DVD Cover art - Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970

If you have seen the movie of the 1970 Isle of Wight festival (called Message to Love), I am the brunette standing next to Cohen.

It was a crazy, crazy time — the Kent State killings happened when we were on tour in Germany — Leonard addressed it with some kind of beautifully obscure poetic reference during a concert, and when we got to Munich we were met with police and German police dogs, and things got pretty strange. He gave the Nazi salute, and a hiss went up from the crowd. But he wooed them and won them with his hypnotic charm. (The police were another matter entirely.)

At the Isle of Wight, we went on at about three AM after Jimi Hendrix (it turned out to be his last concert) It was beginning to feel like people were dropping all around us. Interestingly, Charlie Daniels (who became a country music star) was in the Cohen back-up band with us, and threatened to quit, saying, “I didn’t come over here to fight no war — I’m just a guitar player!” LOL  Well, the story is too long to tell, and we are literally heading out the door right now for a three-week concert tour — still playing and singing music for a living.

After Elkin and I met, we retreated to the wilderness for a number of years, living aboard a boat at first, and then settling on a farm on the north Texas prairie.

The music business, as it turned out, is no fit place for artists — it is peopled largely by freaks and monsters and exhibitionists, not to mention the lawyers. The constant pressure for product, preferably ‘hits,’ has been the death of greater talents than ours. Leonard wanted us to accompany him to Europe again, but we were determined to create a life for ourselves.

After several years of no music at all, we began harvesting some songs from our own little lives, and picking and singing them on guitar, banjo, and bass. (I learned how to play the electric bass when Elkin insisted idle hands were unthinkable in a duo) We have carved out a little niche for ourselves in the small-time folk music scene — we think we have the best of all possible worlds.

We make a good living, own 100% of ourselves and our recorded work, live simply, and create songs that we love like children. Mostly, we have the greatest luxury of all — time alone to enjoy one another and live the mystery called Life. …

Warm regards,

Aileen

Susan Musmanno’s transition to Aileen Fowler thus resolves a major aspect of the confusion about the 1970 Tour backup singers – and offers up a pretty nifty love story in doing so.

But there is more – about both the love story and the backup singers.

For example, in regard to the latter issue, what’s missing in this photo of the 1970 Tour backup singers?

Left to right: Corlynn Hanney and Susan Musmanno

Well, if you’re the sort who obsesses over album credits and reviews of Cohen’s 1970 concerts, you are no doubt leaping from your chair to shout “I know, I know – Donna Washburn and Michelle Phillips are missing from that so-called photo of Cohen’s 1970 backup singers.”

The rest of you – i.e., the sane folks – are thinking about the love story.

All of you will have to wait, but be assured there are answers in the offing in the form of …

More About The 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour From Susan Musmanno/Aileen Fowler & Elkin/Bubba Fowler

When I contacted Aileen (let’s go with Aileen Fowler  from this point on), ostensibly to make certain of a detail or two, she and Elkin were gracious enough to offer far more than a few dry facts.  They provided, in fact, a perspective on the 1970 Tour that is very personal, rich in insight, and intriguing.

Coming Attractions: Upcoming posts in the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour series will address such burning questions as

  • How the heck did Michelle Phillips end up singing backup to Leonard Cohen?
  • If all these sites say Donna Washburn sang at the Isle Of Wight Concert isn’t she a 1970 backup singer, too?
  • How did the band for the 1970 Tour form?
  • What’s it like to fall in love during a Leonard Cohen Tour with a revolution going on?
  • How come everyone in the 1970 Tour dressed like gol-darned hippies? And why was Leonard Cohen so scruffy?

Credit Due Department: All photos used in this post (except the cover of the Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970 CD/DVD) were contributed by – of course – Dominique BOILE.

  1. The band for the 1970 Leonard Cohen Tour nicknamed themselves “The Army.”  More about that in a later post. []
  2. See Leonard Cohen At The 1970 Aix-en-Provence Festival – Maoists, Music, Mud, Money, & Mayhem []
  3. Is This What You Wanted by Jim Devlin, p 2 []

6 Responses to Susan Musmanno, Corlynn Hanney, & Aileen Fowler – Leonard Cohen’s 2 Great Backup Singers In 1970

  1. Excellent! Thank you very much and I’m looking forward to more information.

  2. Keep it coming!
    Now you’ve started something! You know you could keep going with more interesting info from each of the following tours til 2010!
    Bev

  3. You are certainly filling in the blanks Allan – much appreciated!!!!!

  4. Great research Allan.

    You go boy!

  5. And way back in 1999 Aileen used the phrase LOL in an email! You and Tom are clearly competing for the nerdiest nerd on the planet prize. I had no idea you had so much free time Allan! :-)

    • It’s a puzzlement. One would think that my recent marriage would have reformed me but my beloved Duchess of Durham seems insistent that I pursue such nonsense. Go figure.